News and Tribune

November 4, 2010

Eyes turn to 2011 New Albany city races

GOP chair says mayor’s seat top priority


NEW ALBANY — After the dust settled from Tuesday’s historic Republican triumph, local party leaders focused Wednesday on the next battle — the 2011 New Albany city elections.

Topping next year’s race will be the mayoral and city council contests. All nine council positions are up for election, and eight of the seats are held by Democrats.

“Mayor is the top goal, and control of the council is second, no question about it,” Floyd County Republican Party Chairman Dave Matthews said.

Kevin Zurschmiede is the lone Republican on the council. The mayor’s office is held by Democrat Doug England, who has already announced he will seek re-election in 2011.

Despite sweeping every race at the local, national and state level in Floyd County Tuesday, Matthews said it would be foolish for Republicans to assume that momentum will carry the party to victories next year.

“We have to keep working and keep making people excited about our principles,” he said.

Even the local Republican victories this year were influenced in some ways by the national scene and voters that were angry with Democratic leadership such as President Barack Obama, Matthews said.

“Certainly you’re not going to get these kind of votes without a reaction from the populace — the people themselves,” he said. “It was nothing less than a mandate.”

Matthews said he’s spoken to several potential Republican candidates considering running for either council or mayor next year, but did not mention any names.

Floyd County Democratic Party Chairman John Wilcox said the city elections won’t be impacted by national politics as strongly as this year’s races.  

As for lessons learned, Wilcox said the local party has some room for improvement before the May primary.

“I think organization is always something you can work on, and we need to get more organized,” he said.

But is the Floyd chapter out of touch with traditional Democratic platforms?

“I can’t agree with that,” Wilcox said. “I think we’ve got a big tent. We’ve got our share of really liberal folks, a share of really conservative folks, and a huge share of the middle.”

Despite sporting an overwhelming majority on the council and controlling the mayor’s office, Democrats have disagreed on key issues including the city budget since 2008.

New Albany’s general fund could run between a $1.4 and $1.8 million deficit this year, and despite coaxing by England the council has yet to allot more reserve money to cover estimated deficits in 2010 and 2011.

Some on the council, including Democrats Dan Coffey and Steve Price, have called for cutbacks in pay for some members of England’s administration.

Matthews said there’s already a “consensus of dissatisfaction with the city council as a whole.”

“You don’t have to look far to see the City of New Albany needs new leadership.”

But England said city leaders have been successful in dealing with financial hardships caused by deductions in the amount of property taxes New Albany receives.

“I think we’ve done a good job, and I think the council has done a good job to manage [the city] and improve it,” he said.

England agreed with Wilcox in that he believes the 2011 election will have more to do with local issues as opposed to party lines.

He added the budgetary process will be scrutinized by voters.

“I’m closer to the people. When you’re in Indianapolis all the time or Washington all the time, it’s hard to evaluate,” England said.

“It’s easier for most voters — if they take away the politics — to look at what I’ve gotten done, what the council has gotten done and what we haven’t gotten done, and make a decision.”

The last Republican to hold the mayor’s office was Regina Overton, who defeated England in 1999.

England bested incumbent mayor James Garner in the 2007 Democratic primary on his way back to office. He received 52 percent of the vote in 2007 to beat Republican Randy Hubbard.