Ballard rallies crowd for preschool before Council vote

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard cheered the city’s proposal to fund preschool for poor children with his supporters Monday night as city leaders braced for a close City-County Council vote.

The City-County Council will vote tonight on the measure, which survived months of political bickering and dealmaking. That resulted in a proposal with bipartisan support to serve up to 1,300 three- and four-year-olds in high-quality programs starting in 2016. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

“The hours upon hours just to get to this point has been unbelievable,” Ballard said to a sea of people gathered at Indianapolis City Market. They wore matching bright blue shirts that city leaders passed out as they entered. “It took a lot of anguish sometimes. I’m hoping that everything goes just as planned tonight.”

The preschool program cleared a critical hurdle last month when it unanimously passed a council committee. But some opposition remains from council members in both parties who think the state, not the city, has the responsibility to fund preschool.

Republican Councilor Ben Hunter, who spoke in support of the plan at the rally at Indianapolis City Market, said he expects the vote will be close, and not along traditional party lines. There are 29 City-County council members. There are 15 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

“[Council Vice President John Barth] thought the vote was going to be right at 16,” Hunter said. “That gives us one vote for error. I told him I thought it was around 17. We’ll see. I’m going to do a lot of talking to my caucus. If this doesn’t pass, we are not impacting children in a meaningful way as if it did pass. That is a vote against children.”

Barth, who helped broker the deal between Ballard and Democrats, said he was hopeful the vote would go as anticipated.

“This is a big deal for us all to be here tonight,” Barth said. “Let’s get this done.”