Monday, November 7, 2011

Candidate Profile: Vop Osili (D-District 15)

Vop Osili is no stranger to Indianapolis or politics. He was the Democratic nominee for Secretary of State in 2010, gaining a majority of votes in Marion County ensuring the Democrats get placed first on general election ballots for the next four years. Before that, he has a lengthy resume of activism within the Democratic party and the Indianapolis community, including being a member of the board of directors at the Children's Museum.

I was discussing my interview with some Democratic friends of mine last weekend, and I commented how Osili jumped straight to the point with no beating around the bush. What usually takes about half an hour to get to, he took 15 minutes, so my interview with him was more like a conversation than anything else (Which is how good interviews should go, but I digress).

I'll admit that choosing to write about Osili's candidacy seems a bit off at first. After making it out of a contested primary, district 15 (which consists of most of downtown and the Haughville area) is heavily Democratic, so it's pretty much a guaranteed win. But district 15, more contemporarily, has one issue that interested me more than anything else: It's had three council representatives over the past four years. Of those three, one was forced to resign after it was revealed that he didn't live in the district, and another was MIA for several weeks without explanation.

How does that affect Osili? He's seen by some as a potential rising star in the Democratic party, not just in Indianapolis-Marion County, but in Indiana. I asked Osili directly if he can commit to a four year term. He reflected a bit on the question and said that, during the primary, he really felt that this race was exactly what he should be doing at this time as a public servant and he said he can commit to four years.

When asked what issues are a priority for district 15, he pointed out two issues that I haven't heard many candidates talk about: homelessness and employment for non-violent ex-convicts. He explained that the homelessness problem shouldn't just be viewed as a way to clean up the streets and make downtown more appealing, but as a humanitarian effort. In both cases, he points out that vocational training can help so they become more desirable to employers. I asked him about some municipal initiatives that the Ballard administration has undertaken to employ ex-convicts, and he said that the government can't employ everyone, but it can create an environment to make them more employable.

Asked about a comprehensive smoking ban, Osili made it clear that he's in favor of a comprehensive one. But he said he'd vote against any proposed ordinance that would provide exemptions.

Osili and I talked a bit about the politics of the race, and he asked how things look in his district. I mentioned it heavily leans toward Democrats, and after a Democrat candidate makes it through the primary (Osili faced two challengers during his May primary), it's smooth sailing from there. Osili mentioned at one point that he once read that district 15 is the most diverse districts in terms of ethnic diversity, and I'd agree with that. But I'd also point out that almost every other part of the county is becoming more diverse as well, and that's causing a lot of the county to trend Democrats with only a few pockets here and there that trend Republican.

But I quickly mentioned that this doesn't mean a win for Kennedy. I told Osili that there is a perception (regardless if it's a "true" perception or not) that Mayor Ballard is seen as an average guy who is working on the nuts and bolts issues of the city and people appreciate that, and typical Democrat votes might cross over for him. When I said there's also a perception that Ballard isn't a "political guy", Osili repeatedly loudly tapped his Starbucks cup and had a bit of a grin on his face.

After meeting with Osili, I really appreciate his passion that he has for Indianapolis. I hope his passion can transfer into getting some work done if he's elected. Because right now, there is a real lack of leadership on the City-County Council.

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