Jerame Davis

Joanne Sanders: Et tu, Brute?

Filed By Jerame Davis | May 28, 2008 8:15 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
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Late last month, Bil reported about a letter sent by the Marion County Democratic Party to Precinct Committee persons and elected and party officials. That letter offered barely veiled threats of retaliation for anyone who did not work to pass the official party slate (and most importantly Andre Carson) on Primary Election day. I received one of these letters too, but I was certain better judgment would prevail and that this was just a simple mistake in the heat of campaigning in the national spotlight.

After what I've learned over the last few days, I'm not so sure. It seems that at least some folks in Marion County politics have taken this letter to its most extreme. Originally rumored by our good friend Abdul at Indiana Barrister, there is indeed a coup afoot in the City-County council Democrat caucus against council minority leader Joanne Sanders.

You might be wondering why anyone would want to unseat Joanne Sanders, the second most popular Democrat in Marion county and replace her with Mary Moriarty-Adams, whose homophobic remarks have long ago alienated many Democrats. It seems that raising money for a fellow Democrat over a month before the election is Sanders' crime.

Sanders, who worked her precinct for 12 hours passing out the official Democratic party slate on election day, who has been a faithful public servant, and who gets more votes county wide than anyone other than Bart Peterson could get the shaft for raising a couple bucks for another hard-working, faithful Democrat.

In a phone call today, Sanders said she had indeed heard about rumblings of discontent, but that "none of them has discussed this with me directly." Her concern was moving forward with council business and working toward regaining the majority in the next cycle.

City-County Councilor and HRO co-author Jackie Nytes, who also had heard rumors of the scheme had this to say,

This is a hugely important time for our city. Democrats need to be tackling the issues facing Indianapolis instead of focusing on retaliation.

I would think with the tolerance for Dane Mahern on taxes and Mary Moriarty-Adams on the HRO and Sherron Franklin on the police merger and how people hung with Monroe Gray despite his actions - we went on without retaliation for not being in step with the Party. I'm really disappointed that someone's not able to do that now.

Others on the council were more select in what they would say on the record while others would only speak off the record. Councilor Dane Mahern, who recently lost his bid for a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives, said simply, "The Democratic caucus certainly has some things to discuss."

In a telephone conversation yesterday afternoon, MCDP Chair Mike O'Connor was circumspect. "While I may have a personal opinion on timing, the caucus will make the final decision; they're the ones with the votes - not me."

Privately, fingers are being pointed in many different directions. No one seems willing to take responsibility for leading the charge and apparently none of the players wishing to oust Sanders are willing to own up to their concerns to her directly.

When pressed, some councilors can list bullet points as to why Sanders should be replaced, but then claim they've talked with no one else regarding the issue. Oddly, no one talked up Moriarty-Adams as the best replacement.

In fact, one Democrat on the council even went so far as to shop names other than Moriarty-Adams when told the gay community would strongly object to her as leader due to her strong anti-gay sentiments during the passage of the HRO.

Sources tell me Councilors Monroe Gray, Dane Mahern, and Vernon Brown and even the newly elected Brian Mahern would like to see Sanders ousted. It isn't exactly clear if one or all of them are leading the charge, but some have postulated that Gray is seeking redemption and/or revenge for losing his position as leader of the Democratic caucus while others think Dane Mahern is angling for the position himself. Only Gray, Brown, Brian Mahern and Cherrish Pryor voted against Sanders for Minority Leader while Dane Mahern abstained from voting claiming he was going to the State Legislature. He lost his primary race and will stay on the Council.

I have a great deal of respect for all of the Democrats on the City-County Council, but apparently some of our good Democrat friends need a little reminder why Joanne Sanders has earned her place as minority leader:

  • In 2003 and 2007, Joanne Sanders received more votes than any Democrat other than Bart Peterson. Further proving her merit, she was the only At-Large Democrat councilor reelected last November.
  • Sanders served as vice president of the council for a number of years including the period when former council president Monroe Gray was mired in scandals being pushed by Republican council members. She competently and dutifully navigated the Republican maneuvers and showed skill and poise under fire from all sides over the allegations against Gray.
  • Sanders is extremely popular with women, labor and the gay community. These three constituencies make up a huge portion of the Democratic vote. (Probably explains that pesky popularity in vote totals too.)
  • Sanders supported the expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance from the beginning. Her leadership helped persuade other councilors to pass this important legislation.
  • Sanders is a nearly life-long union member. She is currently an International Representative for the IATSE and sits on numerous labor councils and committees.
  • Since elected in 1999, Sanders has been a loyal and dedicated public servant who has stood steadfast for Democratic principles even when her fellow Democrats did not have the courage to do so.
  • As a loyal Democrat, Sanders dropped out of the race for the 7th Congressional District when Andre Carson won the Special Caucus. Rather than run against the incumbent and the slate, Sanders exited the race.

There is plenty more, but I'm not here to be a cheerleader.

To conclude, let's revisit the transgression that supposedly makes Sanders unfit to lead. After years of loyal service to Democrats and her constituents, after competent leadership and unrivaled popularity at the polls, and even after proving her skill and acumen as a leader, some Democrats on the City-County Council would throw Sanders under the bus because she put her name on a fundraiser for another Democrat.

Not because she's incompetent.

Not because she's infirm.

Not because she shirks her duties.

Just because she is a woman who thought for herself. She lent her name to a private fundraiser for a fellow, hardworking and loyal Democrat and then went out on election day and campaigned against him as the Party demanded.

Tell me, friends, does it sound to you like this punishment fits the crime?


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I am absolutely disgusted by the Council Democrats' shenangans recently. After the Monroe Gray debacle, you'd think they'd want to keep their noses clean and provide the best possible example of leadership possible. Eh. Guess not. Apparently having 5 leaders in 4 years shows some sort of leadership quality that I'm missing.

And Mary Moriarty-Adams? Absolutely unacceptable. No chance whatsoever. I'll raise bloody hell over that. I've already called several councilors and the county party over this. They just want her in as the leader so they don't have to face the racism charges that allowed Joanne to finally be elected Minority Leader over a black person, or the sexism charges since she was passed over repeatedly in favor of a man. This way, they get a white woman puppet who will do as they say. Bah.

So they "stuck with the slate" last go around and refused to denounce Monroe Gray (and anyone who tried to say his antics made no difference in that election never walked door to door that year). This year, Sanders didn't stick with the slate and now they are ready to dump her. Sounds logical!

If any of these members have problems, say so to the voters. You can be they are the same ones who supported Gray!

Wilson46201 | May 29, 2008 1:32 PM

Lest "Chuck" forgets: Monroe Gray was just re-elected by the voters as City/County Councilor in District #8.

Wilson, I remember full well that he was re-elected. Too bad his antics had a spillover effect outside his District and helped to cost some of them their jobs.