EDITORIAL: With field set for mayor’s race, it’s time for thoughtful debate

Late last year, IBJ called on Republicans to field a credible candidate to challenge Mayor Joe Hogsett because—no matter what you think of the city’s Democratic leader—a robust conversation about the issues facing Indianapolis is key to improving its future.

Now the field is set and we expect that conversation to commence.

Republican Jim Merritt—who has represented an Indianapolis district in the state Senate for nearly two decades—will take on Hogsett in what is already proving to be a more spirited contest than the race four years ago, when Hogsett whipped Republican Chuck Brewer.

And that’s a good thing.

Brewer’s campaign never really got off the ground in 2015. He didn’t have the money or the status to challenge Hogsett, a former secretary of state, federal prosecutor and veteran politician who started with the advantage of the city’s Democratic-leaning demographics.

Merritt, in contrast, has been in the public eye for years, recently stepped down as Marion County Republican chairman and has a vast network of connections from whom he should be able to raise enough money to be competitive.

It’s an uphill battle for Merritt, of course. Hogsett is an incumbent with a hefty war chest—some $2 million at year’s end—and, again, there’s that Democratic-leaning electorate.

But Merritt certainly has the chops to challenge Hogsett on key issues, which is what matters most. The city’s voters deserve weighty conversations about violent crime, infrastructure, development and more.

During the last election and Hogsett’s first term, he managed to avoid taking a position on a number of key issues: a tax increase to pay for mass transit, a tax increase to boost funding for Indianapolis Public Schools and the formation of a taxing district to pay for additional security, beautification and other programs downtown.

Those issues are now behind voters: The first two proposals passed; the third failed.

But there are plenty of questions left for the mayor to tackle.

Hogsett has yet to develop a plan—or at least reveal one publicly—for the redevelopment of the city’s struggling Circle Centre mall, which the city partially owns. He hasn’t yet taken a public position on Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir’s proposal for a taxpayer-funded soccer stadium.

Look for Merritt to challenge Hogsett on issues related to infrastructure (think pot holes), violent crime (a problem that has vexed his predecessors as well) and homelessness and panhandling (separate issues that need different solutions). IBJ does not suggest Merritt will have better answers to these frustrating problems or that Hogsett hasn’t worked to address them. He has. What we welcome is a dynamic debate about how to tackle them going forward.

IBJ would like to see that debate remain civil—but that doesn’t mean it can’t be vigorous. In 2015, Brewer and Hogsett seemed to go out of their way to be complimentary of one another. That’s easy when one side is so dominant. That probably won’t be the case here—and that’s OK as long as the campaign focuses on the issues and doesn’t turn personal.

We think these two candidates have it in them to run thoughtful, in-depth campaigns that will make the winner a better mayor. The city and its voters are counting on it.•

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