OK sports fans. We’ve got less than two months before the primary in the Mayor’s race and things are about to get hot.
Here’s an angle you all might want to keep an eye on: The Mayor and City Council have to adopt a budget by late March. Between now and then there will be a lot of wrangling over it, both in public meetings and behind closed doors, and a few major events.
One aspect of the process that will make it interesting is that the budget will go through the Council’s Finance and Audit Committee, which is chaired by Deb Hermann, who is running for mayor against Mark Funkhouser, who also serves on the committee.
Watch for Funkhouser to use the budget to make news and to try to prove himself as a better candidate than Hermann.
There’s precedent for this. During last year’s budget process, Funkhouser pushed for money to hire a bunch of cops. Never mind that the Chief of Police said they weren’t needed.
Funk used the issue as a way to tap into people’s fear of crime and to show that he was doing something to help protect us. Which he pretty much wasn’t.
We should see the first blows in this fight on January 15, when the Mayor is required by city charter to deliver a draft of the budget to the City Council. He and his staff will likely working very hard over the next week or so to craft a letter to go along with the budget. It’ll be designed to make news, with sensational lines in the first several paragraphs that news reporters will be unable to resist.
You can be certain that he’ll also hold at least one press conference about it and probably a publicity stunt or two out in the city in an attempt to get a mayoral-looking picture of himself on the front page of the Star, or at least the front of the Metro section. (Hey, Star people: You should snap a picture of Gloria when you cover these events and run an image of her with the story because she’s the one who’s really in charge on the media whore front.)
Then he’ll probably go head-to-head with Hermann several times during the Finance and Audit meetings.
So all you TV news people out there, you might want to set your alarms early on Wednesday mornings so you can make it to City Hall by 8:30.
It’s a little harder to predict how Hermann will handle the budget and use it to the benefit of her mayoral campaign. My best first guess is that she’ll lean heavily on her endorsement from the BizPac, the political organization that represents the Chamber and the Civic Council, a secretive consortium of area CEOs. Both organizations have been heavily involved in the budget process over the last several years, working behind the scenes to influence Council members and occasionally making news by sending letters to lawmakers.
I’d bet that some of the more high-profile members of both organizations will make a big show of working with Hermann to produce a good budget.
And then there’s Jim Rowland. He chaired the city’s Budget committee before he left City Council for a gig at the Sports Authority. He’d be remiss if he didn’t hold his own press conference about the budget and issue his own proposal for how to balance it.
Another thing to keep in mind: A lot of this budget angle hinges on whether or not Funk makes it out of the primary.
If he somehow makes it to the finals against Hermann, City Hall is going to be one hell of a news factory, because the budget has to be agreed upon the same week that voters go to the polls for the general election.
And those last couple weeks of budget season are extremely intense.
There’s all kinds of horse trading that goes on in those final days. Huge groups of community activists storm City Hall to protest cuts and members of the Council are constantly looking for ways to use the budget to their advantage.
If Funk doesn’t make it, it’ll likely be less crazy — that is unless Funk and Gloria decide to go out in a blaze of vengeance and grandstanding, which is a strong likelihood, actually.
If Hermann is one of the final two candidates, she’ll have an excellent opportunity to look mayoral as she guides yet another sane budget through the City Council meat grinder. Her opponent — be it Rowland or Mike Burke or whoever — will probably have to seize on some aspect of the budget and make a big stink about it, which will probably be easy considering that every time you make a cut to the budget it’s going to piss somebody off, and pissed off people tend to make news.
Beyond that, there are a million variables.
For instance, a lot depends on who the Star decides to endorse.
If it’s Hermann, she’ll have a steady stream of free, positive publicity while she campaigns and guides the budget process. If it’s someone else, the reportage on the budget process will likely take a more negative tone and the Star’s favored critic will get good play in every story.
A lot also depends on which candidates the various members of the City Council are supporting.
If some of the more Machiavellian members of the Council are in favor of Rowland or Sly James, for example, you can expect them to severely fuck with Hermann by making a big deal out of certain cuts or whatever.
The one thing we can know for sure, the members of the Council will be more or less allied against Funkhouser’s reelection.
So anything he does, expect opposition from every last one of his peers.