Out on the campaign trail, candidates vying for a seat on a shrunken and rearranged City-County Council say they aren’t sure how the Nov. 3 election will play out.
The top of the ticket sets the tone, and the race between Democratic mayoral candidate and front-runner Joe Hogsett and Republican and self-described underdog Chuck Brewer has been a tame one.
That’s worrisome for both Republican and Democratic council candidates, because at stake is majority control over the governing body. Democrats currently hold a slim majority.
Without some excitement, the turnout will likely be low. And that means anything could happen.
“When I’m going door to door, very few people are talking about the mayor’s race,” said Republican incumbent Ben Hunter, who is facing a challenge this year from a Democratic newcomer. “I’ve yet to hear anyone say a bad word about Hogsett or Brewer. There’s not been this divisiveness between them. It’s hard to say how voters are going to take them.”
Some Republicans are worried because Hogsett appears so far ahead and could pull other Democrats along on his coattails. But Marion County GOP Chairman Kyle Walker said voters should look at outgoing Mayor Greg Ballard’s record as a reason to elect Republicans.
“Our record over the past eight years has been about progress and getting things done,” Walker said. “Mayor Ballard led that charge. It’s been the Democrats who have slowed progress during the last four years at every single turn.”
Democrats, meanwhile, have been wary about this election because the General Assembly voted to eliminate four at-large council seats, which were all held by Democrats. And Republicans controlled the City-County Council when the current district maps were drawn in 2011.
If the party makeup of the 25 remaining district seats stays the same, Republicans would hold a majority.
“It was a power grab and ridiculous,” Marion County Democratic Party Chairman Joel Miller said of the map changes. “But we’re comfortable and solid that we’ll retain a majority on the council.”
Democrats and Republicans agree that races in six districts are especially competitive: Districts 2, 3, 6, 16, 19 and 21.
Several candidates in those districts said they are worried about how voter turnout will affect results. Turnout for early voting has been low so far.
“I really believe the top of the ticket is going to drive voter turnout,” said Republican Christine Scales. “I’m concerned that many will believe [Hogsett] is a shoe-in, not understanding how important their counselor is and how we dramatically affect their everyday lives.”
Here’s a look at the key races:
The race to represent the north-side district covering parts of Meridian-Kessler and Broad Ripple is shaping up to be a spirited one.
Attorney Kip Tew, a former Indiana Democratic Party chairman who has raised $80,000, is aligning himself closely with his longtime colleague Hogsett. Their lawn signs look nearly identical.
“I’m going to be a partner with Joe Hogsett in getting things done,” Tew said. Like Hogsett, Tew wants to add 150 police officers and support summer youth programs.
Meanwhile, Ballard is seen in an ad championing a “new leader” in Republican small-business owner Colleen Fanning. She has raised $55,000, including a $20,000 donation from former Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle, who has been active recently in supporting LGBT rights.
Like most candidates, including Tew, Fanning said public safety is the council’s top issue. She wants to equip police officers with body and dash cameras and wants to work on curbing gun violence.
“We need stiffer penalties and minimum sentencing so there is some kind of deterrent factor,” Fanning said.
Meanwhile, Libertarian Sam Goldstein is hoping someone hears his message. Goldstein, who has raised $3,380, said he “has the best ideas for leaving people alone.”
Two incumbent councilwomen are vying for the District 3 seat, which covers parts of the north side, including the Keystone and Castleton areas.
Scales, a Republican known for her independent streak—something that has alienated her from her party—faces Democrat Pamela Hickman, who previously served in one of the eliminated at-large seats.
Libertarian Chris Bowen is also running. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment and has reported no contributions so far.
Scales, who has raised $9,700, said public safety, infrastructure and improved government efficiency are her biggest goals for another term. She wants to help small-business owners by reviewing and speeding up the permitting process.
She also wants to focus on getting infrastructure dollars out to her district—especially to focus on drainage problems, which she said make for costly flooding repairs.
“The cleanup and the destruction of your personal property is very hard spiritually on people’s emotions,” Scales said.
Hickman, who raised $13,300 from April through October, said she wants to focus in her next term on advocating at the state level for more preschool funding. The council passed a city program last year.
She also wants to “enact real ethics reform” at the city level.
“We just want to make sure that none of the councilors cross the line without knowing it,” Hickman said.
She said she believes she has a more cooperative leadership style than Scales does. Scales, however, has prided herself on her willingness to take people on with whom she doesn’t agree.
“When you tune people out, you don’t get them to work with you,” Hickman said.
On the far-west side, first-time candidate Democrat Frank Islas, a technician at Rolls-Royce, is going up against Republican incumbent Janice McHenry, a retired teacher who has long been politically active.
Islas said he decided to run because “we need a better voice on the west side.” He said his main focus would be trying to attract economic development to the area. He has raised $8,200.
“I love going downtown to Mass Ave and Fletcher Place,” Islas said. “They’re doing a fantastic job. There’s a lot of small businesses. I want to see that come to our side of town.”
McHenry said getting infrastructure dollars to her district and “improving and maintaining” Eagle Creek Park and several smaller parks through the district are her priorities. She has netted $12,500 in contributions.
She also wants to encourage residents to take part in crime watches and bring neighborhood groups together to communicate about public safety problems.
“Our homes are relatively safe, but people want to keep them that way,” she said.
“You need to bring it” by racking up neighborhood accomplishments if you want to keep your seat in District 16, Republican incumbent Jeff Miller said about the competitive nature of his district that covers parts of downtown, Fountain Square and the south side.
“It’s a very pragmatic district,” Miller said. “People are going to vote not for their party but for the person that’s going to represent them the best.”
Miller is trying to hold the seat against newcomer and Democrat Emily Shrock, a deputy prosecuting attorney for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. Shrock has far outraised Miller, netting $41,000.
Miller, who has raised less than half that, said he wants to build on the economic-development success of Fountain Square and Fletcher Place and move that growth into other, long-neglected neighborhoods. That means taking on banks to fight the problem of abandoned and blighted homes, he said.
“The bank-foreclosure issue is something that has plagued the area for a while,” Miller said. “If I’m re-elected, I’m going to fight as hard as humanly possible for banks to maintain the properties they have in foreclosure.”
Shrock said she wants to be a fresh voice for the district. She said she has “seen a side of Indianapolis that people … don’t want to see” during her time in the Prosecutor’s Office.
Some areas of the city are thriving, but it’s not all that way, she said.
“You hear about all the women on welfare,” Shrock said. “Those are the women I work with. A lot of these women are just trying to make it work and they don’t have the resources and that’s a problem. Trying to even that out can only help all of us.”
The far-east side needs a councilor who is going to think differently about public safety, said Democrat David Ray, a project manager for an electrical contractor who is running against Republican incumbent Ben Hunter, who had a long career in law enforcement before becoming Butler University’s chief of staff.
“The little old ladies seem to have the pulse on the crime better than the police do,” Ray said. He said he supports a plan to hire more police—but stressed that there needs to be more communication between neighborhood leaders and police officers.
Hunter said the district’s chief needs are economic development and infrastructure.
“It’s getting in there and advocating as a councilor for all those resources,” he said.
Hunter, who has raised $13,000, said meeting with new neighborhood groups who seem eager to work on “brand identity” for the far-east side has energized him.
“I’ve been impressed with the people I’ve met,” he said. “They are absolutely dedicated.”
Ray, who has earned $25,000 in donations, said he wants to bring more jobs to the district. He’d also advocate the expansion of the Pennsy Trail, which he called the “east-side Monon.”
“That lack of positive attention to the east side hurts when you’ve got plenty of open areas that you could house new businesses in,” Ray said. “I’m serious on that trail. That kind of infrastructure seems to start economic development. It’s a small thing but maybe it leads to more.”
Democratic incumbent Frank Mascari isn’t mincing words about why he believes District 21, which covers Beech Grove and other south-side neighborhoods, is competitive this year.
“I’m being targeted because I’ve been a critic about a lot of things the last four years,” said Mascari, who led the effort against Ballard’s Vision Fleet electric car contract. “I still think somebody should have went to jail over it.”
Facing Mascari, who has raised $24,000, is Republican Anthony Davidson, who currently serves on the Beech Grove City Council.
Davidson, who has raised $8,700, said he wants to focus on public safety and economic development.
“It’s been stagnant in the district here,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of growth toward the downtown area, but it seems like this area has been forgotten about. We need to promote it and sell it.”
If Mascari is re-elected, he’ll focus on increasing infrastructure dollars to the area.
“More than anything, it’s streets and sidewalks,” Mascari said.
And about his odds of getting re-elected?
“It is what it is,” he said.•