3 northern suburbs prepare to select new mayors

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Jim Brainard

Change is coming to three suburban Indianapolis communities as a trio of mayors prepares to step aside and a roster of candidates looks to fill those shoes.

Mayors Jim Brainard of Carmel, Andy Cook of Westfield and Emily Styron of Zionsville announced in recent months they would not seek reelection this year.

Brainard will not seek an eighth term in office, while Cook will retire after four terms. Both are Republicans.

Styron, a Democrat, will leave after a single term in office.

Three Carmel Republicans—Sue Finkam, Fred Glynn and Kevin “Woody” Rider—will compete in the May 3 primary. The winner is expected to face Democrat Miles Nelson in the general election.

Andy Cook

Only Republican candidates filed to run in Westfield and Zionsville before the primary deadline, but Democrats could still join the race later this year.

Kristen Burkman, Jake Gilbert and Scott Willis hope to succeed Cook, while Jane Burgess and John Stehr will go head-to-head in Zionsville.

New mayors will take office Jan. 1, 2024.

Brainard said each of the three cities with an open mayoral position “is in a different place.”

“Carmel is more built out than any of the others. Westfield is just beginning its growth. It will take a lot of thoughtful planning to get it right,” he said. “Zionsville has a beautiful downtown but still has a lot of opportunities to the north and west to expand on.”

Emilly Styron

Hamilton County Republican Party Chair Mario Massillamany said candidates in Carmel and Westfield will need to articulate their visions before the primary because people are familiar and comfortable with Brainard and Cook.

“What is the plan on making sure that Carmel stays as good as it is, and what other ideas do mayoral candidates have for taking Carmel to the next level?” Massillamany said.

“In Westfield,” he said, “I think there’s a different story because there is so much development still to be had.”

Each new mayor will go through a learning process. Brainard, who was first elected in 1996, said there are three keys to success for a newcomer: listen to the community, research and understand the issues, and make data-based decisions.

“Government doesn’t do enough of that,” Brainard said. “Many times, we just respond to our emotions or the emotions of the people we’ve talked with. I think you counter that with lots of research and lots of good data analysis.”

Cook, who was Westfield’s first mayor when he was elected in 2008, said new mayors should realize they are a salesperson and must know their community’s product.

“Like any rookie, I had no idea what I was doing,” Cook said. But Westfield and its residents were also new to being a city. “They never had a mayor. I’d never been one. So, we had equal expectations.”

“Whoever is going to be the next mayor has got to step into a machine that’s already operating,” he added.

In Carmel

Two members of the Carmel City Council and a former Hamilton County councilor will face one another in the Republican primary election in two months.

Rider is a 35-year Carmel resident who is in his fourth term as an at-large Carmel city councilor. He is also a member of the Carmel Plan Commission and owns two Carmel restaurants: Woody’s Library Restaurant and Divvy.

Finkam, a three-term city councilor, is the principal of Carmel-based FireStarter LLC, a marketing and public relations firm she founded in 2010. She also serves as a member of the Hamilton County Solid Waste Management board.

Glynn, a loan officer, served two terms on the Hamilton County Council before he stepped down last year to run for the District 32 seat in the Indiana House of Representatives, a race he lost in a tight election to Democrat Victoria Garcia Wilburn.

Glynn is making his second run for mayor; he unsuccessfully challenged Brainard in the 2019 primary.

Nelson, who was elected in 2019 to represent the city’s West District, is serving his first term on the Carmel City Council. He is the first Democrat to ever serve on the council.

He is president of Zionsville-based executive search firm AOI Today and the first Democrat to run for Carmel mayor since 2007.

Carmel’s population has increased from about 30,000 residents in 1996, when Brainard first ran, to more than 100,000 people today. During that time, Brainard oversaw the redevelopment of areas that have become some of Carmel’s most prominent, including the Arts & Design District, City Center and Midtown.

Rider, who raised just shy of $365,000 in 2022, leads the candidates in fundraising with nearly $507,000 in cash, according to campaign finance reports.

Glynn’s political action committee, Friends of Glynn, reported having about $58,000, while Nelson had about $43,000 in hand, and Finkam reported having just under $42,000.

In Westfield

Two Westfield city councilors and a member of the city’s plan commission will present their cases before the primary.

Burkman, a 13-year Westfield resident, is a certified master citizen planner who has worked in marketing and strategic planning. The MCP certification program teaches basics of community development, such as land use and regulations related to development and zoning.

A member of the Westfield Advisory Plan Commission, she would be Westfield’s first female mayor if she won the primary and general elections.

Gilbert, who has coached the Westfield High School football team to four state championship games and the Class 5A state title in 2016, was elected to the city council in 2019.

Willis works as vice president of executive recruiting firm Theoris Search and previously ran Arnett Management Solutions Inc., an executive search firm he founded in 2006. The Purdue University graduate was a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps for 30 years before retiring last March.

Westfield is one of the state’s fastest-growing communities, with a population that increased from 9,293 in the 2000 U.S. Census to more than 50,000 today.

The growth coincided with the construction of Grand Park Sports Campus. The city is currently reviewing bids from seven companies interested in owning or operating the 400-plus-acre complex through a public-private partnership.

However, commercial and residential growth have stalled in the past couple of years as some city councilors took a more skeptical eye toward development.

Willis reported having more than $251,000 in cash at the end of 2022 and leads the candidates in fundraising. Gilbert reported just less than $107,000, while Burkman’s campaign had $500 in hand at the end of last year.

In Zionsville

A former member of the Zionsville Community Schools board and a familiar face from local television news are looking to replace Styron, who announced in January she will not seek a second term.

Burgess served on the town’s school board from 2008 to 2020. She worked as an elementary school teacher in Zionsville before she became a consultant with the organization Help One Student To Succeed, where she worked with school corporations to set up mentoring programs for at-risk students.

Stehr, a 28-year Zionsville resident, currently serves as president of the town’s Board of Parks and Recreation, but he is most well-known as a news anchor at WTHR-TV Channel 13 for nearly 23 years. He retired in 2018.

Zionsville, which reorganized its system of government in 2014, is one of two towns in Indiana to have an elected mayor. The reorganization merged Zionsville’s government with Perry Township in southeastern Boone County and created the position of mayor to serve as the town’s chief executive.

Styron, a Democrat, defeated former Mayor Tim Haak by 88 votes in 2019.

Styron and the Zionsville Town Council have battled over who has authority over personnel and spending decisions and how the council reviews the town’s finances.

One of the issues—related to the demotion of the town’s fire chief—led to a court battle, while another played out in a state audit, which raised questions about an overdrawn payroll account and $200,000 that Styron’s administration spent on building renovations without council approval.

Styron said in January her quarrels with the council are “not unique, but it’s not a fun experience.”

“I know I can do a lot of good work in the state of Indiana outside of being an elected official,” she said. “I’m ready to go on to something new.”

Burgess reported having about $52,000 in cash on hand at the end of 2022, while Stehr had about $20,000.

Elsewhere in the suburbs

Republican mayors Scott Fadness of Fishers and Chris Jensen of Noblesville will both run unopposed in the May primary.

Fadness is seeking a third term in office, while Jensen is looking for a second term.

In Lebanon, Mayor Matt Gentry will face a Republican primary challenge from Boone County Commissioner Kevin Van Horn.

Gentry, who was just 26 when he was elected mayor in 2015, has faced pushback from some city and county residents over the past year as the Indiana Economic Development Corp. looks to build the LEAP Lebanon Innovation and Research District, a planned 11,000-acre, high-tech innovation park in Boone County.•

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One thought on “3 northern suburbs prepare to select new mayors

  1. How journalistically flawed that you would not mention Styron’s well publicized bombastic and profane battles on social media that further evidenced her unfitness for public office. She is embarrassment to Zionsville; you get what you vote for.

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