Ho-hum mayoral race highlights problem


The editorial "Areas for Debate" published on these pages recently points to some obvious issues pertaining to the mayoral debate in Evansville next year.

From what can be considered the conventional wisdom of this community, we could easily forgo the 2007 general elections, as many within the power elite of this community consider Jonathan Weinzapfel a shoo-in for re-election in November. While many may not agree, what passes for public debate in this community may easily make the whole matter

As many of the questions posed in this article answer themselves as easily as they are asked, any one or two could serve as a topic for a master's or doctoral thesis for an energetic academic candidate enrolled in an institution of higher learning.

The truth is, however, that no matter how persistently we continue to ask questions, conduct research, make suggestions or pose plausible scenarios for courses of action throughout this community, rarely do our efforts bear fruit. The devil, as always, is in the details.

Part of it stems from an obvious reluctance of some - usually those with significant political or economic power - to talk seriously with others about the problems in this community.

Another factor stems from the rather parlous condition of our local political culture: one-party domination of city elections - a situation first outlined in the Fantus study published in the late-1950s.

For those of us who care about such things, the situation continues to cry out for attention.

Finally, it is obvious that a good deal of the problem rests with the failure of local educational institutions of higher learning, civic organizations and media outlets to facilitate an open, robust and hopeful political commentary regarding the future of our city and the economic region as a whole.

In recent years, most serious public discussions - be they involving the future of our parks and recreational facilities, sewers and flood control, city-county unification, economic development or other issues of importance to residents - have been so heavily moderated that the outcome or the reports of the events are designed to validate or endorse a specific public- works project or set of preconceived determinations supported by those responsible for facilitating the discussion.

These are frequently substantiated by reports by out-of-town consultants and experts of dubious distinction.

On the other hand, as local media outlets and public broadcasting have devolved into little more than headline services for the daily diet of local news and succumbed to the enormous economic pressures imposed from without or from within by advertisers, their day-to-day operations work, in many cases, to limit access of other worthwhile voices to the public airwaves.

At the same time, serious local talk radio has disappeared.

This tendency could function as a topic of serious academic examination, but then to issue such complaints backed up by irrefutable facts is simply not the way things are done here.

Finally, we consider the role of civic organizations, corporations, the Chamber of Commerce and local universities.

While many might hope they would frequently sponsor or sanction events that would facilitate the free and open discussions of serious public issues to augment what transpires in a contemporary political debate, again, the concerned citizen is left wanting.

Speakers who hold views outside of the mainstream or who do not support the orthodoxy of the local business establishment rarely obtain any authoritative respect or are allowed legitimate participation in what passes for the public debate.

Their names are not included among those who win local civic leadership awards. More likely, they are characterized as pariahs, political gadflies, naysayers, extremists or people who have some sinister political agenda that allegedly gets in the way of progress.

For all of these reasons and more, residents can look forward to the mayoral debate with little more than a ho and a hum.

It's part and parcel why we cannot seem to move forward.

David Coker is an Evansville free-lance writer.