The mini-storm that started when another blog accused the Costas campaign of strong-arm tactics has died-down. It became clear that if anything was amiss, it wasn't because Costas had endorsed it.
In fact, there were several recent endorsements in the race. Obviously Costas got the Governor's endorsement and Zoeller got Steve Carter's endorsement. Of course an elected official endorses his deputy like a father endorses his son to be team captain in Pop Warner.
Costas picked up several endorsements himself on Friday. The press release reads:
Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas today received the endorsement of Lt. Governor Becky Skillman (R-Bedford), Secretary of State Todd Rokita (R-Munster), State Auditor Tim Berry (R-Ft. Wayne) and State Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R-Evansville).
“Jon Costas is the candidate we support to serve as a partner in state government,” Lt. Governor Skillman said. “The combination of his successful executive experience as Mayor of Valparaiso, his nineteen years of private legal practice, and his track record of proven results are just what we need to keep Indiana moving forward. We enthusiastically endorse Mayor Costas and urge his nomination at the State Convention.”
Also endorsing Costas today are former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Kyle Hupfer, Indiana Election Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Charlie White. All three men had considered running for Attorney General before choosing to endorse Mayor Costas.
That's about as powerful a set of endorsements as one can get.
As we reflect on the last week in the race, it was heartening to see so many people come to the side of Mayor Costas. Myself, I thought back to the first time Jon ran for mayor in 1999, when he lost by 196 votes against an entrenched 16-year Democrat incumbent. (In 2003, Costas beat the same incumbent in a rematch.) For the benefit of people who aren't familiar with Jon Costas, here is a column from local Republican Pat Bankston that ran in the Times following Costas's loss in 1999. This shows the sort of character Costas brings to the table. It's worth reading the whole thing.
Dec 4, 1999: Costas campaigned for a better city
"Victory finds a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan."
-- Count Galeazzo Ciano, The Ciano Diaries, 1946
Two good men ran for mayor in Valparaiso last month. In the end, David Butterfield won re-election to his fifth term by less than 4 votes in each of the 25 city precincts.
This was the result despite the fact that, by all accounts, even from Democrats, Jon Costas ran the best campaign Valparaiso has ever seen.
What then caused the majority of voters to think that David Butterfield was a better choice to lead Valpo for the next four years than Jon Costas? What could the Costas campaign have done differently to win four more votes per precinct?
There is never a reliable or satisfying answer to this kind of question, but one thing is very clear. Costas' campaign was based on the notion that, if he presented himself as a more youthful, more positive, more energetic, more enthusiastic and more forward-thinking alternative to the current mayor, voters would see the difference and vote for him.
One goal was to make his campaign itself a means to make Valparaiso a better place. The strategy worked for the most part, because it was among the closest mayoral elections in Valparaiso history.
Would a better strategy have been for Costas to be more negative about Butterfield's record? Probably not. In a small town, absent a scandal and with a generally popular incumbent, negative campaigning would backfire.
But clearly, Butterfield is not a perfect mayor, Valparaiso is not Shangri-La, and one could point to the dissatisfied police department or the ugly east and west entrances to our city or the lack of plans for the future as failures.
Costas refused to use those issues to campaign negatively.
The closest he came was to suggest that he would make a change in police chief.
And neither would Costas exploit the breakdown of the deal on the new Pratt Industries plant in the last weeks of the campaign. Negotiations were still going on and were delicate. Costas felt that any attempt to politicize the situation might hurt the chances that Pratt would come back to the table. He was right, and now Pratt looks like it will be making cardboard boxes with Valpo workers.
Costas' decision to be positive rather than negative has been viewed by some in both political parties as a weakness, a lack of the killer instinct. Some have said that Costas is too nice to be a politician. Some have charged that it was a political mistake not to go after the mayor on the Pratt deal when Costas had the chance.
Maybe. We'll never know if Costas might have won if he had been a more typical political campaigner. However, plenty of politicians are great at campaigning, but not good at governing. And plenty more campaigners also say regrettable things or use the most negative ad campaigns to get elected.
Often, those tactics result in animosities so strong that governing is impossible.
In Valparaiso, perhaps despite the wishes of the Democratic and Republican zealots, governing is largely done on a non-partisan basis. The votes of the City Council are almost never on a strict party line. Costas, as a sitting councilman, thought that his success as mayor would be hurt by campaigning negatively. Costas felt that he could keep his principles high and still win.
So, if Costas had a weakness, it was that he wanted to help govern Valparaiso and help make it a better place, more than he was willing to compromise his principles to win. His campaign did nothing that would hurt Valparaiso, even if it might have won a few more votes. In fact, the debate on the issues in the campaign -- community-oriented government, better annexation policies, Valpo storm water pollution of Lake Michigan -- will help set the agenda for city government for years. Clearly, the Costas campaign succeeded in its goal of having a positive impact on our city.
At a time when political advisors tell candidates to use any tactic, to tell any lie or to exploit any opponent weakness (personal or public), most of us admire a person who puts principles above modern political strategy.
Costas can walk away with his head held high and with a pocket full of good will from the citizens of Valpo, who, even if they didn't vote for him, appreciated his efforts to run a dignified, positive campaign. His character showed, and people will remember. Valparaiso is the real winner.