New Albany brewer Roger Baylor explains why he’s taking a break from his businesses to run for mayor
The New Albany electoral process is in full flower, and this year the modest river town elects a mayor. Local brewer-turned-independent mayoral candidate Roger A. Baylor is seeking to challenge the traditional two-party race and offer the city something he feels it desperately needs: proper management.
It’s clear in speaking with Baylor that much of the hype surrounding him is due to the fact that he is outspoken about his city. He believes a more transparent and better managed city government would serve the people of New Albany and support the city’s growth in a sustainable way. He levels criticism at the current New Albany administration with focused and researched responses — no mud-slinging to be found.
In the race, Baylor is up against incumbent Mayor Jeff Gahan and David White, both Democrats, and Republican Kevin Zurschmiede.
“The criticism I think is valid is that we’re spending an inordinate amount of money that we’re in a sense borrowing from the future in the form of a TIF (Tax Increment Financing),” he says. “The TIF mechanism is the sort of thing that could seem very strong right now but could become very shaky pretty quick.”
Baylor is sensitive to the shifts in New Albany, both in the city center and throughout the town of nearly 37,000. After all, he’s been on the forefront as the owner of Bank Street Brewhouse — the venue he opened to accommodate a downtown clientele. His other business, The New Albanian Brewing Company Pizzeria and Public House, serves regulars in the east end of town. (Baylor took a leave of absence from the businesses in March to focus his efforts on running for mayor.)
Baylor sees a need for new civic voices.
“My judgment is that the traditional entities are not really offering a coherent response or a plan for this,” he says. “I think there is room in the election for mayor to have a principled independent voice. The longer I’m in this and the longer I think about it, the more the case can be made for someone outside of the traditional party structure to step forward and try to articulate some things that might not have been said previously.”
Baylor senses that some of the decisions of the current administration are putting New Albany’s growth at risk, and he’d like to see New Albany work in a way that creates sustainability for residents and businesses alike. This would include a measured growth that spends city funds on projects that have the connective tissue to support long-term growth, create jobs and provide greater quality of life to larger sections of the populace. As such, he cites the current East Main Street Renovation Project as evidence of a missed planning opportunity.
“The Main Street Project is a good example, because we had some state money that was given to us for the upkeep of Highway 111,” he says. “We used $2 million (or so) of that money to beautify a very small section of the street. You could take that same $2 million and convert large cordons of the downtown street network for multiple uses, according to Complete Streets or Livable City. If we spend something, it really needs to serve multiple purposes.”
By not considering these big projects more carefully, Baylor says, New Albany loses valuable resources — including revenue and educated young people who move away looking for work.
“You need to look at every big capital project in a planning sense and a future sense. These projects are undertaken without being linked in any coherent way. It’s not coordinated. It doesn’t seem to be according to any plan, and what plan we have is diverted from frequently out of expedience.”
Not only is he critical of the Main Street Project but also the old thinking about the trickle-down effect of how the city spends its funds.
“When it comes to money, we have seen quite a lot of top-down thinking,” says Baylor. “To me — I’m not opposed to spending money — but I think the way we do it, we end up spending money in ways that certainly gratify the whole two-party system, but I’m not sure it does as much good as it might for the broader population. We need to look at these capital projects and ask how they connect.”
Currently running a grassroots campaign, Baylor is operating with a small crew of six and a limited budget. Plus, he still has another hurdle to overcome: He needs to get the signatures of 300 registered voters in order to get on the official ballot in the fall.
But Baylor is confident he’ll have the signatures and wants his supporters to understand that the primary season is for the traditional party-affiliated candidates.
“The way it works in Indiana is that the primary is entirely for the political parties to winnow their candidates,” he says. “I don’t really have any place in that. It doesn’t mean I can’t campaign.”