Provincial thinking, lack of leadership holding city back

It was a snow day, very cold and overcast. I began brooding over why can't we move forward in Evansville and the problems the Republicans are having in finding a mayoral candidate. Several glib phrases found themselves on the page that we have all read a thousand times before - lack of vision ... political bickering ... crony deal- making contractors and architects ... personal and professional conflicts of interest ... lackluster leadership.

No, no, no. We have heard all of that before. We need a fresh perspective.

I called my friend - we will call him "Gottlieb," a very successful local businessman with whom I have had several similar conversation - for some further advice on the matter.

To my initial inquiry he responds: "Would you really want to run a city of this size with all the headaches for less than $90,000 a year?"

He had a point but was just getting warmed up. "We are so conservative, so provincial in our thinking that proposing anything that would truly be in the public's best collective interest - aside from a gambling river boat or a huge new jail - is considered an enormous waste of money." "We do very little to promote good health, physical fitness or athletics in this community," hence, an enormous number of people get their noses knocked out of joint when the city and the county pass a public smoking ordinance.

"Go out to a buffet restaurant tonight and look around at the people eating there. They are very happy with being 30 or 40 or 50 pounds overweight, and fire and brimstone be rained down on anybody who would dare challenge their way of life."

Couldn't argue with any of those points, either. Go on old wise one.

"We are so inward-looking and insular here that we have truly cut ourselves off from the rest of the state and the rest of the world. This is not only true of the average Joe on the street, but it applies to the thinking of most of the corporate executives around here, as well."

"Outside of city-county unification, when was the last time that the mayor or other civic leaders from here went to another community to really learn about how they solve problems or what they are doing to encourage economic development?

"We have a total lack of concern or understanding of the needs or desires of young people; hence, all they do is graduate from our local universities and leave.

"There are virtually no leaders of either political party who inspire confidence, a positive vision for improving this community and the overall quality of life for its citizens. Were such an individual to emerge, he would be viewed as a grave threat to the powers that be around here and would have no chance to actually win an election.

"Oh, by the way, when a candidate for re-election is more preoccupied with advancing his political fortunes to a higher public office, you know the interests of his current constituents will not be his primary preoccupation."

Ouch. I thought he might be getting a bit personal on that note, but soon he was back on track:

"In large part, since we spend so much time hiring out- of-town consultants, pointing fingers at one another, playing the blame game and preoccupying ourselves with little intramural issues of relative insignificance, we have completely lost sight of what we should be doing to move this community forward. "We talk about building $90 million baseball stadiums Downtown instead of spending similar sums of money addressing the nuts and bolts things in the various neighborhoods - such as new sewers on the Southeast Side or fixing neighborhood swimming pools."

I started thinking to myself that much of this conversation with Gottlieb could be viewed as a critique of the Weinzapfel administration, but then, upon further reflection, I realized that the same could be said for several mayors over the past 30 years. It was also a fairly solid indictment of the corporate executives who abide such mediocrity.

While much of what Gottlieb said was uttered with his tongue firmly placed in cheek, I couldn't for the life of me believe that, for at least part of the time, he was dead serious.

David Coker is a free-lance writer and community activist.