Voters in Anderson are like train passengers who’ve reached a depot after a long ride and must decide whether to remain on the current track or board a different, less familiar train.
The community’s four-year ride under first-term mayor Tom Broderick has included some smooth stretches of progress and some rough patches, as well. Two other conductors, Republican Rick Gardner and Libertarian/independent Rob Jozwiak, are beckoning voters to hop on their train and see where it goes.
All destinations considered, the community would be best served to stick with Broderick, a Democrat, in Tuesday’s election.
The mayor has taken Anderson mostly in a positive direction, fueled by the following:
• Broderick’s decision to retain Greg Winkler as the city’s economic development director has enabled Anderson to build on the momentum established under former Mayor Kevin Smith, whom Broderick unseated in the 2015 election.
• Growth at the Flagship Enterprise Center, expansion of existing manufacturing plants and the establishment of the Purdue Polytechnic center and the Anderson Advanced Manufacturing Program are among the highlights. Bolstered by a stable national economy and a business-friendly state economic development climate, Anderson has added jobs, though much of the community still works in the low-paying service industry.
• The Broderick administration has managed to avoid the slew of lawsuits that plagued past administrations, thanks in large part to the mayor’s experience as an attorney and his cautious nature.
• Throughout his four years as mayor, Broderick has been highly visible at public events, where he projects an air of both confidence and humility.
• The Broderick administration has been active in seeking and securing grants for infrastructure improvement. The city still has some houses that need to come down, some lots to be cleaned up and some rough streets, but progress has been made.
Travelers on the Broderick train do have legitimate complaints, including poor leadership and performance in the Anderson Police Department. The mayor made the mistake of basing his selection of police chief on politics in 2016, and recently demoted that chief, Tony Watters, because of his behavior when state police arrested his son, Anderson police officer Adam Watters.
The mayor says he’s willing to consider external candidates to be the next chief, but he expresses concern that hiring an “outsider” would spell more trouble for the APD. This signals that the department’s spotty record under political appointee chiefs is likely to continue under Broderick.
The other persistent complaint about the mayor is the hiring of his family members and friends into city government during his tenure. While he says that he didn’t make the hires directly and therefore they don’t constitute a violation of the city’s nepotism law, the spirit of the nepotism law has been violated, given the mayor’s influence over the hiring process.
One of his sons, Evan, was hired as the assistant city attorney but has since resigned after pleading guilty to drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident.
Broderick’s opponents, Gardner and Jozwiak, have been hurling accusations of “nepotism” at Broderick and attacking his record as the incumbent. But neither has made a compelling case that he would be a better mayor.
Gardner, the Madison County auditor, is a former county councilman, a former grocery store manager and an owner of rental homes. He knows how government works and has some good ideas, most notably to promote new housing additions on the west side to draw a grocery store and other commercial outlets.
Gardner has blasted the mayor for the condition of local parks and other infrastructure, and he’d likely pour resources into improvements in those areas. But the mayor has a plan for park upgrades, too, recently proposing a $2.7 million bond issue for that purpose.
Jozwiak, a campaign veteran who has never won an election, is a feisty foil to major-party candidates. But many of his ideas — including the establishment of a direct link to the mayor’s office to report illicit drug activity — seem untenable.
As Anderson voters consider which train to board at the 2019 election depot, they might not like everything about the one they’ve ridden to this juncture. But at least it’s a train they know and one that promises continuity. The other alternatives offer an uncertain destiny.