Republican state Sen. Jim Merritt criticized Indianapolis city officials for threatening to use eminent domain to acquire the former GM stamping plant property during the final debate between mayoral candidates Monday night.
The live TV debate, hosted by the West Side Chamber of Commerce and WXIN-TV Channel 59, focused on three areas: crime and public safety, roads and transportation, and economic development.
The three candidates—Democratic incumbent Joe Hogsett, Libertarian candidate Douglas McNaughton and Merritt—were asked specifically about the city’s position to use eminent domain if necessary to take control of the GM stamping plant site from developer Ambrose Property Group, which has withdrawn from its planned $1.4 billion Waterside development on the 91-acre downtown property.
Merritt and McNaughton said eminent domain should be the last option considered. Merritt said the property is now “stuck in the mud” because no developer will be interested in buying it from Ambrose after the threat of eminent domain has been used.
“That was going to be an outstanding project for the west side of Indianapolis,” Merritt said. “And I’m hopeful we can resurrect it when I’m mayor.”
Hogsett said he agreed that eminent domain should not be the first choice when trying to settle such issues, but he said he has to look out for the best interest of the neighborhoods in that area.
“We have always been open to sitting down with the owner of the property and resolving this equitably,” Hogsett said.
The city offered to buy the property from Ambrose for $6 million last week, but Ambrose rejected that offer. And Ambrose has filed a notice of tort claim with the city, which is a legal step that would allow it to sue the city over its effort to force the developer to sell it.
On the subject of road infrastructure, the candidates each stood by plans they had already announced and avoided criticizing the proposals from their opponents.
Merritt said his idea to create express lane tolls on roads such as Binford Boulevard is feasible because people would want to take advantage of having a faster commute.
“Many people would use a hot lane on Binford,” Merritt said. “That is a solid solution.”
Hogsett said his regional infrastructure proposal is a great option for Marion County because it would not raise taxes for residents, even though elected officials in surrounding counties have expressed opposition to the idea.
“My solution is out there; others are going to be discussed, and I look forward to that debate,” Hogsett said.
McNaughton reiterated his support for allowing citizens to fill potholes in their own neighborhoods.
“We do have citizens willing to go out and work toward that effect,” McNaughton said.
On transit, Merritt cautioned that work on the Blue Line should only proceed after lessons are learned from the Red Line, which he says Hogsett rushed into place.
“We have congestion, and we have confusion,” Merritt said. “We can’t repeat that with the Blue Line.”
Hogsett pushed back on that critique though, pointing out that more than 230,000 riders used the Red Line in September.
“I’m optimistic about the Red Line,” Hogsett said. “It was not rushed.”
Also during the 40-minute debate, Merritt said he regretted that his campaign published a website last week called WhatsJoeHiding.com that featured false attacks against Hogsett, including that the mayor failed to pay child support. Merritt’s campaign took down the website over the weekend after the child support claim was debunked.
“I extend my apology to you,” Merritt said to Hogsett. “I’m accountable like we all are in politics.”
In response to the apology, Hogsett said he’s proud that he’s running a positive campaign.
“I’ve known Jim for 40 years,” Hogsett said. “He’s a good father, and I just pray that he never has to pick up the phone and answer questions from his kids about what they’ve seen on the internet about their dad.”
After the debate, Merritt told reporters that he knew about the website before it went live, but he did not know it contained false claims.
“This is my responsibility,” Merritt said. “I’m accountable. It’s my campaign, and I’m the one to call the shots.”
Election Day is Nov. 5.