At the first televised Indianapolis mayoral debate of the election cycle, Democratic incumbent Mayor Joe Hogsett and Republican Jefferson Shreve sparred Monday evening over public safety, policing, housing and inequality issues.
The hour-long debate, hosted by WISH-TV and moderated by Phil Sanchez and Katiera Winfrey, saw Hogsett frequently leaning on accomplishments during his two terms as mayor, with Shreve pointing out the mayor’s unfulfilled promises.
Shreve pointed to the ongoing homelessness problem in Indianapolis, even though Hogsett’s administration announced a five-year plan in 2018 to end homelessness. He also brought up the Hogsett administration’s failure to construct a new animal shelter.
“In 2017, the mayor opined that two terms was sufficient for a mayor to accomplish his objectives,” Shreve said. “And his presence tonight is indicative that the work that he set out to do remains to be done eight years into it.”
Hogsett touted the financial health of the city. He inherited a $50 million structural budget deficit in 2016 that was eventually eliminated, he noted, and the Indianapolis City-County Council just passed the seventh straight balanced budget of his tenure, including the third to pass unanimously.
Throughout the discussion, the incumbent pointed to investments in mental health, food access and policing. Shreve, a businessman and former City-County Council member, countered that the mayor’s policies have been either ineffective or haven’t been enacted soon enough.
Racial justice riots
A question repeatedly posed by the Shreve campaign and other Marion County Republicans was asked Monday: Where was Hogsett during 2020’s downtown riots?
“I was working from my home,” Hogsett said. “I was in constant contact with my representatives, with [the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department]. After things started to dissipate that evening, I got about two or three hours of rest, got up at 4 o’clock the next day, worked the rest of the weekend meeting with organizers of the protest and ultimately issued the order to have the protests ended. And that was effective.”
Hogsett said he embraced a report from an independent commission about his administration’s response to the riots that found a lack of planning, coordination and communication by IMPD and the city. The report found law enforcement was not adequately prepared or trained to respond to the events, contributing to a situation that resulted in significant property damage.
“I’m glad to say that we’ve had 300 protests since then without incident,” Hogsett added.
Shreve alleged that Hogsett’s retelling of his whereabouts during the riots was inconsistent with accounts from IMPD, the Indiana Governor’s Office and the 911 staffing center.
“I can tell you that a Mayor Shreve would be on the scene, whether at the emergency command center or at least on the 25th floor of the City-County Building,” Shreve said.
In his rebuttal, Hogsett said he was in touch with officials.
“And Jefferson may be able to allege that he would have been on-site, I’m not altogether sure what either he or I could have done in terms of wading out into the crowd,” Hogsett said. “I don’t think that would have been responsible.”
Housing investors, evictions
A report by the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana released this year found that an estimated 27,000 single-family homes in Marion County are owned by out-of-state investors. The moderators asked the pair of candidates how they would deal with the issue.
To build healthy neighborhoods with a high rate of homeownership, Shreve said his administration would aim to limit outside investors buying up blocks and assist individual homeowners.
He would use the Community Reinvestment Act, a federal law, to encourage lenders to support homeownership in Indianapolis. In order to drive down the cost of housing for everyday consumers, Shreve said his administration would work with the Department of Metropolitan Development to increase the housing supply.
Hogsett said his administration has been proactive in providing more affordable housing.
On out-of-state landlords, Hogsett pointed toward the lawsuit his administration brought against JPC Affordable Housing in conjunction with Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office and Citizens Energy Group.
Hogsett also noted programs in the last two city budgets meant to decrease taxes for homeowners. In 2023, most homeowners received a homestead tax credit. The 2024 budget creates a pilot program in the Riverside neighborhood to prevent displacement of longtime residents.
Indianapolis renters have recently experienced a higher rate of evictions than the rest of the nation. In the first six months of 2022, 6.7 evictions were filed for every 100 rental households, according to The Polis Center at IUPUI. The same report says that Indianapolis ranks among the top cities in the country for total eviction filings, behind New York and Detroit.
Hogsett said the council in 2020 passed an ordinance intended to prevent evictions. The proposal was then overruled by the Republican-led supermajority at the Indiana Statehouse.
Hogsett pointed to the city’s work through the Indy Rent program. The program was created in 2020 and has provided nearly $200 million in rental assistance, but was paused in late June and has yet to reopen applications.
Shreve said the landlord registration was well-intentioned, but not enforced. He called the Business and Neighborhood Services department “ineffective” and said no landlords have been punished for not being part of the city’s landlord registry.
The two candidates diverged on whether the city, especially downtown, is safe.
Downtown is the safest neighborhood in all of Indianapolis, Hogsett said, and generally speaking, Indianapolis is a safe city.
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.
Hogsett said homicides are trending down this year, but “the truth is, we have a problem with guns.” He attributed the problem to a law passed last year by Indiana lawmakers removing the requirement that those carrying handguns have a permit.
Shreve said the crime rate is only down because of a police shortage, which leads to the underreporting of crime.
The department is currently short about 300 officers of the budgeted 1,843. A portion of the city’s allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act funding pays salaries for 100 of those positions.
Shreve said other cities share the issue, but Indianapolis acutely loses officers to other departments.
“We have lost 880 officers to other departments from the IMPD, either to early retirements [or] oftentimes they just go to departments where they feel better led, better supported and backed,” Shreve said. He called the shortage a leadership issue, rather than a fiscal issue.
Shreve said he would work to increase the maximum age at which someone can become an officer to 40 years old instead of 35 years old. He said he would make working for the department “a point of pride.”
Hogsett said 700 officers have been hired since he took office in 2016, which accounts for 45% of the current force. The 300 open officer positions were fully-funded by his administration, but he said the challenge of recruiting is widespread.
“We just are having difficulty like the rest of the country, the rest of the urban areas, in finding people who want to be police officers, but we have raised the first-year and second-year pay and we’ll continue to do so,” Hogsett said.
Shreve and Hogsett previously met in a debate that was broadcast over radio on Oct. 8. They will debate one more time, when WXIN-TV Channel 59 hosts a televised debate Oct. 26. at 7 p.m.
The election is Nov. 7.