Some Indianapolis Democrats are looking for a candidate, raising money and strategizing other ways to defeat a Republican state senator who has been a frequent thorn in their sides.
Aaron Freeman, a Senate Republican and former Indianapolis city-county councilor, has become known for frequent legislation that seeks to derail policies and plans implemented by Democrat-controlled city-county government in Indianapolis and its public transit agency, IndyGo.
Now a group of Democrats are seeking to unseat the south-side attorney as he tries to secure a third term. He faces no opposition in the May 7 Republican primary and no Democrat has yet filed to run in the primary.
About 40 people assembled Thursday night at Futuro, a pizza shop off of Washington Street, for a strategy session to help find a candidate that the Marion County Democratic Party could put on the ballot by the November election.
“We’re going to unseat Aaron Freeman,” newly-elected Indianapolis City-County Councilor Jesse Brown told the crowd. “And I promise you we have the power to do that regardless of the money that he’s got.”
In addition to defeating the two-term senator, the group said they also want to stop his pending legislation that would bar IndyGo from moving ahead with plans to establish bus-only lanes on Washington Street for the planned Blue Line.
Part of the plan is to hound Republican state senators with letters in support of dedicated bus lanes for the Blue Line, which IndyGo has said would be jeopardized by Freeman’s legislation because it would endanger the project’s federal funding.
The group of Democrats also expressed frustration over Freeman’s efforts to undo what they see as other street-safety focused measures. Freeman has tried to undo the city’s turn-on-red ban at certain downtown intersections, though he agreed to a compromise this week that would put those efforts on hold for a year while the impact of the city’s policy is studied.
Freeman told IBJ in a text that he was unaware of the push to unseat him.
“God bless them. I will not be bullied, intimidated and will never back down from fighting for what I believe in,” Freeman wrote.
Freeman’s ability to raise campaign funds and his strongly Republican district in southeastern Marion County and northern Johnson County likely will make him a difficult target.
Freeman had over $174,000 cash on hand at the end of 2023, and he easily won his first two races for state Senate. In 2020 Freeman defeated Democrat Belinda Drake by a decisive 18 percentage points. Four years prior, he beat Democrat Sara Wiley by 20 percentage points.
Tara Wolf, a Republican supporter of the south-side senator, told IBJ in an email that Freeman is open to feedback when she has concerns. “I think Senator Freeman represents our district well and is a wonderful advocate for his constituents,” Wolf wrote. “I would expect him to advocate and focus and what is best for our district and its future.”
Brown, the new city-county councilor, points to his own success in unseating the former city-county council vice president Zach Adamson in last year’s Democratic primary as providing a road map for how to defeat Freeman.
Brown, a self-described Democratic Socialist, noted that he wasn’t able to secure major endorsements or outspend his opponent. But he said he believes he was able to win by motivating voters and that the same motivation could be used to defeat Freeman if voters know his policy positions.
Brown has launched a campaign fundraising web page against Freeman, called “Freedom from Freeman.” It had raised had raised $3,220 for the cause by Thursday evening.
Former mayoral candidate Clif Marsiglio is joining Brown in his effort. Marsiglio ultimately endorsed an opponent in his race to become the Democratic nominee for mayor of Indianapolis last year, but he used the platform to build support for causes like pedestrian and cyclist safety.
Freeman has gained the ire of some in the pedestrian and cycling movement by calling one Indianapolis pedestrian-related policies “astronomically dumb.”
Brown said he has committed to knocking on 1,000 doors in Senate District 32—which includes portions of Franklin Township, Beech Grove and Greenwood—for any qualified candidate seeking to challenge Freeman. At the event Thursday, he and Marsiglio spent over an hour outlining the fight ahead and answering questions from attendees about the push.
The pair also worked to recruit potential candidates, volunteers, canvassers and volunteer organizers. Sixty-four people had signed an online form to help the campaign as of Thursday night.
Brown told the group that multiple people at Thursday’s gathering had expressed a willingness to run for the Senate seat.
Drake, Freeman’s 2020 opponent, was floated as a potential challenger to Freeman but denied interest in running in an interview with IBJ.
“I’m not saying never, it’s just not right now. And Indianapolis deserves public transportation, full stop,” Drake told IBJ.
Tina Ahlgren, a teacher that worked on a previous campaign with Brown, gave a rallying cry to the newly-formed group Thursday.
“Jesse said our goal here is to punch back, right? But I want to be clear: we can win this. We absolutely can win this.”