At their final debate before the Indianapolis mayoral election, Democratic incumbent Joe Hogsett and Republican challenger Jefferson Shreve clashed on issues involving criminal justice, economic development, city policies and animal welfare.
The hour-long televised debate was hosted Thursday night by WXIN-TV Channel 59 and WTTV-TV Channel 4, and sponsored by IBJ. Fox59 anchor Dan Spehler and IBJ Editor Lesley Weidenbener moderated the debate.
The meeting offered the most tense public discussion between the candidates so far, as the pair went back and forth on the events during the social justice demonstrations and riots that broke out in the city in 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The candidates also argued about the Hogsett administration’s announcement earlier Thursday that the city would change the location of the long-planned new animal shelter, which has become a late flashpoint in the election.
Spehler asked the mayor to discuss upon his actions in 2020 as the riots caused destruction in downtown Indianapolis.
Hogsett said he answered the question Monday night during a previous debate: He worked from home the Friday evening the riots began, worked from the Mayor’s Office on the 25th floor of the City-County Building all day Saturday, and held press conferences.
When asked if had any regrets about his response that weekend, Hogsett said if he has one, “It’s not walking around with [Fox59 reporter] Russ McQuaid when he asked me to [at] 7 seven o’clock Saturday morning,” Hogsett said.
Shreve reiterated his response from Monday’s debate, saying he would have been on the scene downtown as the riots broke out.
“I would have led, I would have been visible, I would have been communicative with the leadership of the [Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department],” Shreve said.
During the riots, officers were ordered by Hogsett to stand down, which created fear for the officers and had “long-term consequences to the IMPD,” Shreve said. He blamed those events for the departure of some officers from the force.
Throughout the debate, Shreve brought up IMPD’s officer-shortage issues during discussions ranging from pedestrian safety to police-involved shootings. The department has 300 fewer officers than the 1,843 called for in the city budget.
Hogsett addressed his opponent directly, saying, “Jefferson, you obviously weren’t listening to what I was saying.” The mayor repeated that he did not work from home the entire weekend and defended his decisions when it came to IMPD’s actions.
“No one was ever ordered to stand aside. That simply did not happen,” Hogsett said. “Were orders given to stand back and give the protestors some room? I think they were, and I think for the time being, helped the situation.”
Crime and public safety
Hours after the 10th police-involved shooting in Indianapolis since August (which took place on the east side Thursday afternoon), Hogsett was asked by Spehler to respond to calls from faith-based activists for a Department of Justice investigation of IMPD. Louisville’s police department recently underwent such an investigation.
Hogsett said he welcomes any outside review, but pointed toward steps his administration has already taken, such as implementing a use-of-force policy and mandating civilian majorities on the IMPD Use of Force Review Board.
“[The administration has taken steps that] I think have made the process of investigation of police-action shootings, or any use of force, more transparent and more accountable than has ever been the case in the history of the city of Indianapolis,” Hogsett said.
Shreve said the increase in police-involved shootings is underpinned in the police shortage. He criticized the Hogsett administration as slow to implement tools such as body cameras and dashboard cameras.
The 2024 budget includes a $2 million increase that will in part outfit 75 marked police cars with dash cameras. There are currently just 25, IMPD Assistant Chief Chris Bailey said in August.
When asked how he would uniquely deal with a shortage of police officers that cities around the country face, Shreve said the problem is extra acute in Indianapolis. The department is losing veteran officers to nearby police departments, he said. He blamed the lack of officers on a lack of leadership from the incumbent mayor.
In response, Hogsett pointed to increased salaries of $72,000 for first-year officers and $75,000 for second-year officers. Officers also receive a $2,500 retention bonus at the end of their first year.
Officers beyond the second year are part of the Fraternal Order of Police, and thus subject to the union collective bargaining agreement. When the contract ends next year, Hogsett said the city would enter into a “favorable” agreement with the FOP.
He also pointed to the $323 million budget for IMPD, the largest in the department’s history.
On gun violence, both candidates have proposed local plans that would increase the legal age to buy a gun from 18 to 21, repeal permitless carry and ban “assault weapon” sales. While Shreve plans to lobby the Republican-led state Legislature to allow the local measures, the Indianapolis City-County Council passed an ordinance that would only go into effect if the Republican supermajority at the Indiana Statehouse changed a 2011 law preventing municipalities from regulating guns.
The city has implemented a $150 million, three-year anti-violence plan using American Rescue Plan Act funds, Hogsett said. He also pointed to the ordinance as proof the administration has taken action specifically on gun violence.
Shreve said there are too many guns in the hands of criminals and blamed that on the so-called “revolving door” in which people are arrested and then released with soft sentences. Shreve voiced support for the measures in his proposal, such as raising the age to purchase a gun and repealing permitless carry.
The Republican candidate has argued that he would be more effective at shifting the law than the incumbent mayor. He said he would start by immediately lobbying state legislators for a preemption exemption for Marion County.
Hogsett said it needs to be underscored that the city is not asking the law to change for the entire state.
“Indianapolis is a fundamentally different, more densely populated city, unlike any city in Indiana,” Hogsett said.
Indianapolis saw a record 271 homicides in 2021, but there were 17% fewer homicides in 2022. Still, homicides increased 41% from Hogsett’s first year as mayor in 2016 to 2022.
Because of the so-called “revolving door” of Marion County’s criminal justice system, Indiana State Police Supt. Doug Carter has called for a complete review. Candidates were asked Thursday to respond to his call.
Hogsett pointed to the fact that the judicial system officials are selected by Indiana’s governor and the county prosecutor.
“Much of what Doug defines ‘wrong with the system’ really doesn’t involve the mayor’s control,” Hogsett said. “But really it is prosecutorial and judicial in nature.”
Shreve hit back, saying it was a “somewhat of a cop out” for mayors to say these elements are beyond their control.
He said he would use the mouthpiece of the Mayor’s Office to “get the system together.”
“If it relates to the safety of the citizens of this city, it will be my responsibility,” Shreve said.
Indianapolis saw a record of 40 pedestrians and cyclists killed by drivers last year, according to public safety officials.
The Indianapolis City-County Council this year limited when drivers in certain areas of the city, especially downtown, are able to turn at red lights. Downtown councilors cited the need for more pedestrian safety measures.
Hogsett said he supported the no-turn-on-red shift, noting his presence at the announcement of the proposal. He said that proposal has already had a “profound” impact.
The ordinance currently on the books allows Department of Public Works engineers to determine when no-turn-on-red restrictions need to be implemented within several zones that have been determined to be dangerous for pedestrians.
“We are looking at the data and we are making investments in safe streets,” Hogsett said.
Shreve said there was no enforcement of the turn-on-red prohibition or other traffic violations because of the lack of police presence. He said he disagreed with attempts from the Indiana General Assembly to block the city’s ability to implement intersection restrictions, but would prefer for decisions to be made by individual councilors.
The Hogsett administration has taken over the construction and management of a $500 million Signia by Hilton convention hotel. Shreve and hoteliers contend that it gives the Signia a leg up against privately-owned hotels.
Hogsett said the decision was necessary economically for the city to maintain its standing as a major convention destination.
“I think we would’ve been negligent without picking up the ball and forwarding it even more into the future,” Hogsett said.
Shreve said he supported the project when it came before the Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee and the City-County Council, of which he was a member. But he said the development deal with Kite Realty Group Trust was poorly managed and the city should have had tighter constraints on the developer.
He also disagreed with the concept of a hotel owned by the city.
“We’re going to dissuade others from investing because we will now be competing with them,” Shreve said.
Shreve said, generally, the Hogsett administration’s usage of economic development incentives and tax-increment financing districts has been “too rich” and puts the tax burden on those outside of downtown.
Instead, he said more should be left up to the market.
“We don’t need to create single-site TIFs for a residential project right on Mass Ave. But we did, we have,” Shreve said.
Keystone Group is planning to construct a 20,000-seat soccer stadium along the White River and add a 4,000-seat entertainment venue, a project totaling $1 billion. Hogsett was asked if the city would provide incentives to build the soccer stadium for Indy Eleven.
Hogsett said the administration and Keystone Group are nowhere near a completed deal. But he said sports stadiums such as Lucas Oil and Gainbridge Fieldhouse have been a “tremendous asset.” In ongoing negotiations, Hogsett said he looks forward to balancing the interests of the stadium ownership and Indianapolis taxpayers.
After the Hogsett administration selected a $175 million redevelopment proposal from Gershman Partners and Citimark to redevelop the block including City Market, vendors were notified that the struggling downtown market would temporarily close for construction.
Hogsett said the market closure will be as short as possible, and the administration has already been helping out vendors during these “global pandemic, difficult days.”
The City Market block will become the most densely populated block in all of downtown Indianapolis when complete, Hogsett said. The redevelopment includes more than 400 apartments.
A Shreve administration would be more communicative with vendors, Shreve said.
Companies receiving city incentives in 2019 began being required to provide an $18 minimum wage.
Hogsett said the policy should not be changed or reviewed. He pointed toward the administration’s recent insistence that developers back their own bonds.
Shreve said the market should set the rates, but the policy isn’t being implemented effectively now. He pointed to vacancies at Indianapolis Animal Care Services and the Indianapolis Department of Business and Neighborhood Services.
Animal Care Services
Animal welfare has unexpectedly become a key issue, particularly after the Republican challenger held a press conference weeks ago over the Hogsett administration’s failure to break ground on a new animal shelter.
On Oct. 4, Shreve pledged to donate his salary to not-for-profit Friends of Indy Animals if elected and accused the Hogsett administration of ignoring the animal-care problem.
On Thursday morning, the Mayor’s Office announced plans to move on from the previously planned Sherman Park site to a property at 5001 E. Raymond St. In a press release, Shreve accused Hogsett of “playing dirty politics using animals as collateral.”
Hogsett hit back at that characterization. He said the shift was due to the need for site remediation at Sherman Park, and switching the location will allow the city to construct the planned new shelter more quickly.
“I think that’s humane politics to provide the animals the care they need,” Hogsett said. He said his administration has increased the live-release rate at the existing shelter from 60% to 80%.
Shreve called the administration’s handling of the city shelter “disastrous” and said the shelter site likely would not have been moved if he had not spotlighted the issue. He said the condition of the current Harding Street shelter is “abysmal.”
Hogsett pointed to the fact that the administration had budgeted the funds for the shelter years ahead of Thursday morning’s announcement.
Jerry Knoop, executive director of the Westside Chamber of Commerce, asked the candidates how they would address the need for workforce housing.
Hogsett said housing is needed across all price points. Five thousand new units of affordable, workforce and below-market-rate housing have become available this year, he said.
“We have tried to balance affordability and equity with a commitment to keep longtime homeowners in their residential neighborhoods,” Hogsett said. He pointed towards a property tax credit provided to most homeowners as part of the 2023 budget.
While Hogsett said housing can’t really be built fast enough to keep up with demand in “a growing city like Indianapolis,” Shreve countered that other cities, like Nashville, add housing stock more quickly than Indianapolis.
The Republican candidate said rents are increasing at a faster rate than salaries, which is due to a lack of supply.
“We have made the process too gummy, too unpredictable, too slow for the investor developers that want to add more market-rate housing,” Shreve said.
He referred to the exit of formerly Indianapolis-based redevelopment show “Good Bones” over difficulty with the city’s permitting process as an example of the city’s policies around building and redevelopment involving too much red tape.