Mears vs. The Marion County Machine

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Mears vs. The Marion County Machine

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and I have known each other for a long time and I think I can say with some certainty that Saturday was not one of his better days.   By a ten-vote margin, members of his own party rejected his candidate for Marion County Prosecutor, special Counsel Tim Moriarty and instead chose Ryan Mears, who had the support of Terry Curry who stepped down last month due to health reasons.

Moriarty wasn’t a bad candidate and he is a smart guy, although I did wonder how an attorney who has never filed an appearance in a criminal court in Marion County could effectively be its top prosecutor?  His team did all the stuff you would expect, they made calls, had signs made up, they had the greeters outside the building where they caucused, etc.   Mears ran a campaign that included an air war and ground game. He received a ton of earned media with his announcement to no longer prosecute simple marijuana possession under an ounce and he also personally engaged precinct committeemen (PCs). I had a number of them at the caucus tell me that Mears came to their homes and sat down one on one and made his case. One PC thought he was a door-to-door salesman at first.  I’m not kidding.

Moriarty also had the backing of the Hogsett machine, which some folks argue did everything in its power to tip the scales in Moriarty’s favor.  For example, of all the days the Marion County Democratic Party decided to “clean up” its PC list, it was the week of the caucus.  It also called the caucus less than two weeks after Curry’s announcement. The party did not allow the candidates to give short speeches to spell out their qualifications. And there was even talk that to garner more African-American support, promises were made that if Moriarty were to get the job, he only stay to fill out the remainder of Curry’s term and he would appoint a black female as chief deputy prosecutor so she could take over once he left the office.

Obviously, none of that worked.  In fact, it was the fact that Mears had been a prosecutor for more than a decade and Moriarty had never tried a criminal case had more to do with his victory.  Also, several PCs I spoke with said they did not appreciate some of the strongarm tactics that were coming out of the Mayor’s office to “encourage” them to vote for Moriarty. Also, there is still bad blood among the party faithful over the appointment of union activist Stuart Mora as party vice-chair, which I am told nobody wanted in that job and the rank and file told me is pretty much M.I.A. most days.

And what also made this a stinging defeat was the Mayor was not alone in his support of Moriarty.  Moriarty also had the backing of Indiana Congressman Andre Carson, City-County Council President Vop Osili and City-County Councilor Leroy Robinson who chairs the public safety committee.  These guys are all heavy hitters and they couldn’t convince six people to change their votes to get their guy elected.

So what are the implications of all this and what impact will it have on the Mayor’s race?  I think as far as the Mayor’s race goes, it gives Republican Jim Merritt’s campaign an issue to hit for a couple of days.  Already on social media, some Merritt supporters have been trolling Hogsett.   And it does raise the question about the internal organizational strength of the Mayor’s campaign.  Now granted a couple million in the bank and 20+ point lead in the last public polling goes a long way to mitigate damages, but situations like this don’t help.  

I think the bigger implication of all this is what happens to the Marion County Democratic Party?  Chairwoman Kate Sweeny Bell had already been skating on thin ice with a lot of the PCs, and I would not be surprised if this most recent exercise doesn’t embolden the masses to rise up and demand her resignation or worse, challenge her the next time around.   And if you’re Carson, Osili or Robinson, the perception now is your political strength has been grossly diminished and you should have just stayed out of the race because there was no good outcome for you. Either Moriarty would have won and you would have made half the party mad or we would have the situation we do today.

Luckily for all parties involved, a day in politics is like a lifetime and I’m sure after Saturday, there are a lot of people just waiting for the next lifetime to get here.

Photo:  Ryan Mears Facebook Page

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