When Democrat Joe Hogsett announced last year that he would seek a third term as mayor, he said he wanted a chance to complete unfinished business stalled by the pandemic.
Still dealing with persistent gun violence and the challenges of refilling downtown office buildings amid the work-from-home trend, Hogsett now faces his strongest mayoral challenger yet in the Nov. 7 municipal election.
Republican Jefferson Shreve, a successful businessman, is largely self-funding his campaign and more than able to match Hogsett dollar for dollar in what is expected to be—at a combined $10 million or more—the most expensive Indianapolis mayor’s race ever. But it remains to be seen whether Shreve can overcome Hogsett’s heavy advantages of incumbency and a strongly Democratic electorate.
Critics of the mayor say he hasn’t earned a third term, mostly due to an increase in violent crime, a worsening shortage of police officers and a lack of downtown vibrancy, despite being more than 2-1/2 years past the pandemic’s peak.
But supporters say he’s made progress on those problems and chalk Indy’s difficulties up to national trends spurred by the pandemic and to an uncooperative Indiana General Assembly dominated by the opposing party. They also point to a number of Hogsett accomplishments, ranging from completion of the Community Justice Campus to $9 billion in planned downtown development.
Meanwhile, Hogsett is pitching a continuation of his downtown resiliency strategy and pointing to a planned expansion of the Indiana Convention Center. On crime, the incumbent mayor touts record funding for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and funding for new, non-police violence-reduction and crisis strategies.
Marshawn Wolley, a leader in the African American Coalition of Indianapolis, credited Hogsett with creating a dialog with the Black community about criminal justice issues and police reform that has landed “in a positive space.”
But overall, Wolley, CEO of equity consulting firm Black Onyx Management, said Indianapolis voters are still looking for a “big vision” from both mayoral candidates.
Hogsett knows there’s more to do.
“All I can see are the things left undone,” Hogsett said at the announcement of his reelection bid. “The train of progress [was] brought to a screeching halt in March 2020.”
In his announcement, Hogsett listed several goals and development projects that he believes were hampered by the pandemic. Large-scale implementation of the city’s crime-reduction plan and landing more money for city road construction and repairs were among them.
Since then, Hogsett has touted the city’s five-year, $1 billion infrastructure improvement plan.
But except for a small victory this year, winning big funding increases from the state or through regional cooperation has proven elusive.
The Hogsett administration in 2019 proposed a regional approach to road funding through which central Indiana counties would pool income tax growth and distribute the funds based on traffic volume. Republican leaders in counties surrounding Indianapolis opposed the plan, and it never came to fruition.
Hogsett now says his administration will work with the Indiana General Assembly to “once and for all fix the state’s road funding formula” that favors rural counties and creates huge funding gaps for Indianapolis and other urban areas.
His administration’s newest plan would give Indianapolis and Marion County an additional $49 million a year for roads. But getting the largely rural and suburban Republican majority in the Legislature to approve and implement the plan will be an uphill battle. It would decrease funding to 40 rural counties.
Regardless, critics say the proposal should have come sooner.
“We’ve given him eight years to get that plan in place,” said Brian Mowery, the Republican minority leader on the City-County Council.
Still, this year, the administration saw a small win with a technical fix to the state’s road funding formula that gives Indianapolis and Marion County an additional $8 million.
While critics have slammed Hogsett for a lack of vibrancy around the office buildings on and near Monument Circle, he is quick to point out an eye-popping pipeline of nearly $9 billion in development either underway or expected to begin downtown in the next few years.
“That is, to me, an indicator of success in Indianapolis and potential growth that … may very well supersede our pattern and experience with growth over the next four or five years,” Hogsett told IBJ.
Those projects include a $500 million convention center expansion, a $300 million proposed redevelopment of the CSX building across Pennsylvania Street from Gainbridge Fieldhouse, a $4.3 billion Indiana University Health complex on the north side of downtown, and a $100 million headquarters campus for Elanco Animal Health.
“Unemployment is at historic lows, and the only thing higher than job growth are the cranes that are dotting the sky,” Hogsett said at an Indy Chamber event last month, just a few weeks before nabbing the endorsement of the chamber’s political action committee.
“It shows proof that there’s positive momentum and economic activity happening,” said Kip Tew, former chair of the Indiana Democratic Party.
Hogsett is promoting a vision for downtown that prioritizes residential living and public spaces, while maintaining the city’s status as a top convention destination. Recent emphasis on public spaces includes a temporary pop-up park on Monument Circle and an upcoming pedestrianization of Georgia Street.
Indy’s peer cities have shown that downtowns cannot rely on office workers and business travel, Hogsett told IBJ.
Columbus, Ohio, for example, has invested heavily in public spaces to complement its attraction as the home to competitive research university Ohio State.
Hogsett said more housing downtown at a variety of income levels would create a place for future students of Indiana University Indianapolis and Purdue University at Indianapolis to “live, work and play.”
But not everyone is happy with all of Hogsett’s development endeavors.
Hogsett decided in May that the city would take over financing and ownership of the $510 million Signia Hotel planned to support the convention center expansion. The city made the move after the developer determined it wasn’t possible to secure practical interest rates to finance the project on the private market.
Shreve joined downtown hoteliers in criticizing the move as a “flawed policy” that would unfairly put a city-owned hotel in competition with private hotel owners and investors.
Hogsett’s redevelopment of City Market also has faced criticism from vendors who say they have been left in the dark in the city’s plans to close the market next year to renovate and attempt to rejuvenate it. The $175 million project includes refurbishing the adjacent 20-story Gold Building into 350 apartments and constructing an 11-story, 60-unit apartment tower to replace the City Market’s east wing. The moves are expected to bring hundreds of residents—and potential City Market customers—to the area.
But even as that development gets underway, long-awaited plans for the redevelopment of Circle Centre Mall have yet to be announced. And the city is still working on a redevelopment strategy for Indiana Avenue, which once was the hub of African American commerce in the city.
Wolley said the next mayor must ensure Black history on Indiana Avenue isn’t further erased as IU and Purdue expand. And he said Black neighborhoods near downtown, including Martindale-Brightwood and Riverside, should be protected from gentrification.
The Hogsett administration recently launched a pilot program to decrease property tax bills in Riverside.
On the Circle
Monument Circle—the core of downtown—has suffered over the past five years, in part due to the pandemic and resulting work-from-home policies. During the pandemic, homelessness on the Circle and throughout downtown increased. And the area was hit hard during racial justice protests and violence in 2020.
But even before the pandemic, Elevance Health—then called Anthem Inc.—vacated its headquarters in the Circle’s northwest quadrant. The space has remained largely vacant.
Last month, Emmis Corp. put its headquarters in the southwest quadrant on the market, saying it no longer needs the space. And Starbucks made big news a year ago when it closed its Circle location. (Locally owned Command Coffee said last month it will open in the space.)
To address the problems, the mayor last year announced $3.5 million in investments aimed at increasing cleanliness and public safety downtown. And he’s supporting a proposed economic enhancement district that could impose a fee on property owners in the Mile Square to help maintain homelessness and cleanliness initiatives.
Shreve has not said whether he will back the proposal, which was authorized by the General Assembly earlier this year.
In July, the city unveiled a four-month closure of the southwest quadrant of Monument Circle for a pop-up park that features tabletop games, food and a rotating lineup of local artists and performers.
Hogsett has said the experiment might give city officials a “road map” to deciding whether all or a portion of Monument Circle should be permanently closed to traffic.
Shreve opposes closing Monument Circle to vehicles, saying it should be a bustling center and not the home of empty office buildings. He noted that, in addition to the vacant Anthem space and Emmis decision to market its building, the owners of Circle Tower in the southeast quadrant are facing foreclosure.
To help address downtown homelessness, Hogsett announced last month the city has purchased land near the 1000 block of East Georgia Street for a low-barrier homeless shelter.
Mark Lubbers, a Shreve adviser and longtime Republican political strategist, said Hogsett’s recent flurry of activity isn’t helping him.
“It is reminding voters that he’s had eight years to make these proposals but instead has been doing nothing,” Lubbers said.
But Beck, the Democratic strategist, said Hogsett is taking a page from former Gov. Frank O’Bannon. He “used to say, ‘Good government is good politics,’” Beck told IBJ. “I think because of what the Hogsett administration has done, he’s got a good record to run on.”
Crime and police shortage
Hogsett said another reason he is running for reelection is to complete his $166.5 million anti-violence plan that is funded with federal COVID-relief money.
The plan provides $33 million for traditional law enforcement efforts, $82 million for community-led programming such as a community peacemakers program, and $51.5 million toward “root cause” services like mental health care, hunger relief and workforce development.
Robin Winston, a former leader of the Indiana Democratic Party, said Hogsett’s two terms as mayor and his stint as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana “gives him a broad-based understanding of all the myriad of issues to address crime and criminal justice.”
But despite the anti-violence plan and the record 2024 budget of $323 million for IMPD, critics say Hogsett hasn’t lived up to his commitment to become the city’s “public safety mayor.”
Indianapolis saw a record 271 homicides in 2021, but there were 17% fewer in 2022. Still, homicides increased 41% from Hogsett’s first year as mayor in 2016 to 2022.
Police recruitment and retention also have been problems.
In 2016, Hogsett pledged to hire 150 police officers and bring staffing to 1,743 officers by 2019. Today, IMPD has fewer officers than it did in 2016.
During Hogsett’s tenure, Indianapolis has suffered a net loss of about 130 police officers, losing 888 to retirement or departure while hiring 755.
At an Oct. 8 debate, Hogsett said it’s a sign of progress that his administration has hired nearly half of the officers on the force today.
“This is not an Indianapolis problem alone,” he said. “This is a problem that police departments all over the country are having. We are taking meaningful steps to make up and bridge that gap.”
Mowery, the City-County Council’s minority leader, said the officer shortage and increase in violent crime are concerning.
“For a mayor that said he was the public safety mayor, I would want to know where that’s at if I was [an everyday] voter,” Mowery told IBJ. “I’d be asking those same questions.”
But state Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said the crime problem is exacerbated by the Republican-dominated Legislature’s decision to prevent Indianapolis and other cities from regulating guns locally as well as by the state’s elimination of the permit requirement to carry a concealed weapon.
Taking nothing for granted
Except for a recent week that he took off to nurse what his office said was a busted lip from a fall taking out the trash, Hogsett has spent the last months attending events throughout the city, making his case for reelection.
He started a busy Saturday morning last month at the Riverside Neighborhood Parade. “How many stops do I have today?” he asked his staff jovially. “Ten?”
He was widely recognized and well-received by the majority Black residents at the parade kickoff. Several asked him for photos, hugged him and video-recorded his remarks as he presented a proclamation honoring a Riverside historian.
At Shreve’s outing on the same day, some people recognized him. But Shreve also used an organizer to help introduce him to many voters.
Hogsett, however, said he’s still taking nothing for granted. Volunteers have knocked on 25,000 doors and made 150,000 phone calls, his campaign estimated.
The campaign has offices led by field organizers in the northern, northwestern, eastern and near-western parts of the city. Each hosts weekly phone banking and canvassing opportunities.
Hogsett has also leaned more heavily into advertising than in the past because his previous competitors never had enough money to mount much of a challenge. Now, up against Shreve, this race will be the most expensive in city history.
Hogsett has countered Shreve’s negative, crime-focused ads with his own attack ads focused on the Republican’s positions on guns and abortion. A recent ad shows Shreve stumbling to answer a question during an endorsement interview with the not-for-profit, nonpartisan ReCenter Indiana about why a man with a gun tucked into his waistband appeared in a photo the candidate shared on social media.
Hogsett declined to sit for a ReCenter Indiana interview, leading the group to endorse Shreve.
But Nov. 7 will be the real test of whether the mayor’s messaging and record were strong enough to earn him a third term. Hogsett says he remains optimistic that he will have an opportunity to complete his unfinished business.
“I’m excited about the progress we’re making,” he said at a recent town hall. “I’d love to finish the job.”•