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EDITORIAL: Politicians shouldn't misread huge victories

May 9, 2015

It would be easy for some of the leading politicians in the wealthy northern suburbs to interpret their handy wins in the May 5 primary elections as resounding mandates to take on more debt in the interest of spurring additional private development.

While politicians like Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard and Westfield Mayor Andy Cook indeed got a resounding pat on the back from primary voters, their ambitious development agendas involve real risks that need to be held in check. We hope their takeaway from voters is not to up the ante even further.

Both men shellacked their opponents, garnering more than 60 percent of the vote. The Republicans are shoo-ins during the November general elections considering the party’s dominance in the county, meaning voters in effect decided May 5 whom they want atop their cities for the next four years.

Carmel voters in particular rejected warnings from Brainard challenger Rick Sharp, the city council president, that the city’s debt and interest obligations—which approach $1 billion—had gotten out of hand as the mayor pressed ahead with his ambitious City Center development.

Voters ousted Clerk-Treasurer Diana Cordray and two Brainard critics on the council, Eric Seidensticker and Luci Snyder, leaving Carol Schleif as the sole council critic to survive the election.

In Westfield, firefighter Jeff Harpe wasn’t able to persuade voters to back off Cook’s heavy spending on developing the Grand Park youth sports complex.

The danger for politicians who enjoy such high levels of approval—or anyone else experiencing huge successes for that matter—is hubris, thinking the party will go on forever.

Brainard in his 20 years in office has presided over building one of the most livable suburban communities in the nation, and for that he deserves congratulations.

Similarly, leaders in Westfield and Fishers deserve praise for striving to build communities of character, not a suburban sea of sameness. Investing in amenities that boost quality of life is a wise course.

But those leaders should not forget that, just a few years ago, the Carmel City Council stepped in to refinance $195 million in debt incurred by the Carmel Redevelopment Commission after the CRC found its revenue streams stretched thin.

Brainard claims the city’s AA+ bond rating from Standard & Poor’s is a vote of confidence in the city’s finances.

He also notes that, because of Carmel’s strong commercial tax base, the city has one of the lowest tax rates in the state. No doubt, many residents could absorb a small hike in taxes without feeling overly pinched.

But Hoosiers of all stripes value low taxes. And they don’t want to saddle their children and grandchildren with ominous debts. So while we’re pleased the northern suburbs have progressive leadership, we also urge restraint. Splashy real estate projects garner headlines and acclaim. But wise financial stewardship is a crucial part of any successful mayor’s legacy.•

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