Jim Brainard says he won’t seek eighth term as Carmel mayor

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Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard, who has overseen the city’s transition from a traditional suburb to a destination city with a new downtown and more roundabouts than any other U.S. community, announced Tuesday that he will not seek an eighth term in office in 2023.

Brainard’s decision to step aside means the Hamilton County city will have its first new mayor in more than a quarter-century following next year’s election. He made the announcement during a press conference at Carmel City Hall.

Brainard, 68, said leaving office has been on his mind for several months. He added that while he is leaving public office, he is not retiring and plans to enter the private sector.

“I’ve often been asked to offer advice on matters of city design development, sustainability and livability, and I look forward to possibly helping other communities and business sectors learn from Carmel’s success,” he said.

Carmel has grown and changed tremendously during Brainard’s seven terms as mayor.

The city’s population increased from about 30,000 residents in 1996 to more than 100,000 people, while Brainard oversaw the redevelopment of some of Carmel’s most prominent areas, including the Arts & Design District, City Center and Midtown.

“When I first ran for mayor, I knocked on thousands of doors and asked people what their hopes and dreams and aspirations were for the city,” Brainard told IBJ in May. “I heard a lot of things, but one thing I heard was we didn’t have a downtown.”

Jim Brainard

Downtown Carmel now features shops and condos near the Monon Trail, while the 1,600-seat Palladium concert hall and a 500-seat theater called The Tarkington highlight the Center for the Performing Arts. The city is also home to more than 150 corporate headquarters.

Brainard, a Republican, might be best known for Carmel’s transition to a city with more than 130 roundabouts—more than any other city in the United States. He says they are practical, good for the environment and reduce serious crashes.

“I see these things continuing,” he said Tuesday. “I see future leadership building on this base and continuing to make this the premier [medium-sized] city in the Midwest, in the United States.”

Brainard was first elected in 1995 when he successfully challenged Republican incumbent Ted Johnson. He’s faced a primary opponent in the Republican-heavy suburb in every subsequent election, but none came close to defeating him.

In 2007—the last time Brainard had a general election opponent—he received 66% of the vote against Democrat Henry Winckler and independent Marnin Spigelman.

Brainard has been criticized for heavy spending on development projects, the amount of debt Carmel has accrued and the number of public-private partnerships the city has undertaken. However, he has argued that spending is necessary to improve the city’s quality of life, which helps attract corporate headquarters.

Brainard is Carmel’s longest-serving mayor. No candidates have publicly announced their intention to run for the open position.

Brainard’s term will end Dec. 31, 2023. He said there are still a few projects he hopes to see through to completion before he leaves office, but he’s ready to hand his position off to someone else.

“I’m 68 years old, I’ll be 69 where the term ends,” Brainard said. “I was talking to some friends, and I said, ‘Well, I have three or four projects, maybe I will run again.’ And then it suddenly occurred to me I could probably be 98 and have three or four more projects I’d like to see, and so I thought you know I have to take that sort of thought out of the equation. Carmel is in good footing. It’s in a good place right now.”

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27 thoughts on “Jim Brainard says he won’t seek eighth term as Carmel mayor

    1. I live in downtown Indy, and I am impressed that Carmel really has created a downtown, and not some disneyfied version, like you would find in Las Vegas.

      I don’t know how Carmel is going to do in the next 20 years as the it is strangled for transportation dollars with an unfair allocation formula just like Indy is saddled with.

    1. 46219 includes Irvington, which is a pretty nice place to live. And they didn’t have to build a “downtown”; there’s been one since the 1880s.

    2. I grew up in 46219, and now live in Carmel. As someone who has enjoyed both, and has had frustrations with both, your comment eludes to ignorance, bubble living, and serves no purpose but to perpetuate a stereotype of those that look down their nose from high atop Mt. Carmel. Too bad. Perhaps you can look in the mirror and re-evaluate?

    3. Former 46219 resident before moving to Carmel and loved it. Irvington is still my favorite place in Indy and would move back in a heartbeat if I found the right place.

  1. Theme park city??? Now that’s an interesting perspective. Just goes to show how people misinterpret vision and pretty good ( not saying he didn’t have his faults ) leadership. Those who think you can do better should give it a try.

    1. More like it takes one to defend one. Personal demons are one thing, crashing publicly owned vehicles (emphasis on plural) on public roads endangering your citizens is another.

  2. We moved to Carmel in 1977. It has improved a thousand-fold since then, thanks to Mayor Brainard.

    In 1977, we had no Palladium, no Monon Trail, no midtown restaurants, almost no parks, no community water parks, few playgrounds, crumbling infrastructure.

    We couldn’t be happier with Mayor Brainard.

    Nancy Bate

  3. I remember when Carmel was little more than a one-stop-light village. White flight from Indy grew the residential tax base, and Jim Brainard saw an opportunity to grow the commercial tax base too. Having the growing tax revenues to work with, Mayor Brainard has not been content to sit on that growth but to motivate, innovate, and cultivate more growth with it.

    He reminds me of another visionary citizen – J. Irwin Miller of Columbus who invested funds in architectural, cultural, and educational improvements so that Columbus could offer the kind of community amenities to attract and keep top business talent and their families.

    Like Miller but in his own way, Mayor Brainard has been the spark plug for investment, growth, and innovation in Carmel. The evidence is everywhere. If anything, with all the apartment, condo, retail and office buildings, it’s getting a little claustrophobic with less of the green space that first attracted would-be suburbanites. It would also be nice if the Mayor could make more effort to diversify Carmel’s population.

    Nevertheless, while growing Carmel, the Mayor has also tended to basic city responsibilities. Calls for pothole repairs, round-abouts needing attention, etc. have been quickly answered and addressed – thanks again to having the tax revenues to meet those needs but also to responsive management.

    Thank you Mayor Brainard for being the kind of visionary leader Indiana so sorely needs. I wish you’d run for Governor.

  4. I always find it interesting to see the critics in the room. Typically people who have done nothing but been a consumer and complainer their entire lives. Never took risk. Never created a single job. Never donated their time or money. But, always the critic. How you can look at Carmel (and anywhere in Hamilton County for that matter) and not be proud of where you live is beyond me!! We live in the 99th percentile. This is not reality to the way most people live. Is it perfect? No, but pretty damn close. So, we are blessed. Be proud. Be content. Be happy. Life is good!

    1. Well said Vincent. Grew up on southside, lived in Broad Ripple for a decade and now Carmel for 20 years. No complaints here about Carmel.

  5. Quotes from your writing, Nancy P:

    1. White flight from Indy grew the residential tax base, and Jim Brainard saw an opportunity to grow the commercial tax base too.

    2. It would also be nice if the Mayor could make more effort to diversify Carmel’s population.

    Are you sure those are compatible statements?