James Briggs and Cortlynn Stark
Political campaigns often heat up after Labor Day. That’s when candidates scramble to make final arguments and voters finally take notice after months of summer vacations and weekend barbecues.
That typical fall election cycle does not seem to be taking hold in Indianapolis, though, at least not as it pertains to a mayor’s race that is sandwiched between last year’s crucial midterm elections and next year’s presidential race.
Only a few dozen residents turned out Thursday during the first free-to-the-public event in which voters could hear from all three candidates. Democratic Mayor Joe Hogsett, Republican state Sen. Jim Merritt and Libertarian Doug McNaughton took turns demonstrating top-notch decorum through 15-minute opening statements and a question-and-answer period.
The nearly two-hour HUNI + Indiana Landmarks Mayoral Forum on Neighborhoods was long on civility and short on campaign-defining moments, as the candidates spoke politely — praising one another on multiple occasions — on issues ranging from litter to climate change to whether citizens should start filling their own potholes (McNaughton wholeheartedly approves of this practice, but Hogsett and Merritt deflected the question).
In one of the more notable moments, Merritt touted the “swarm technique,” or sending of 10 to 15 police cars to crime hot spots, as a method of policing to find people who commit murders. Merritt first raised that idea earlier this month during a news conference, drawing criticism for supporting a policy that some saw as akin to controversial stop-and-frisk techniques.
“People put words in my mouth,” Merritt said when asked about the criticism.
“What we proposed are common police techniques that we want to find the person who committed the murder,” Merritt added. “We will use the swarm technique and we will put all hands on deck to ensure that individual is found and there will be an intensity about that. That was the overall message of that press conference.”
Merritt has blasted Hogsett’s record on public safety during a stretch in which Indianapolis has set records for criminal homicides in each of the past four years. In response, Hogsett noted during the forum that overall violent crime figures, as well as homicides, are down so far this year.
Hogsett touted the fiscal stability that has marked his first term in office, noting there have been several credit rating upgrades.
“We have seen negative outlooks go to stable; stable outlooks go to positive,” Hogsett said.
When the candidates were asked about their positions on digital billboards — one of the more controversial topics of the neighborhood-focused forum — Merritt and McNaughton agreed the flashing boards should remain banned, but Hogsett noted that he is pushing for a compromise to allow them in the city.
All three candidates had the same response when asked whether the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department would assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids: no.
On climate change, Hogsett pointed to the Thrive Indianapolis plan, which is focused on building a sustainable community. McNaughton said he wants every parking space in the city to have electric charging capabilities. He also offered up the idea of limiting vehicle access to certain parts of the city.
Each of the candidates spoke about a need for sustainable growth in neighborhoods. Merritt referred to gentrification as “the g-word,” saying that people he has talked to don’t even like to hear it.
“We have to keep the flavor. It’s a balance,” Merritt said of neighborhood growth.
In a race that has often revolved around the thousands of potholes that open up every year in Indianapolis, major-party candidates Merritt and Hogsett spent little time on the issue Thursday.
McNaughton, though, saw his opening — and tied it back to the evening’s neighborhood theme. On a night that mostly included rehashed ideas and campaign pitches, McNaughton repeatedly emphasized what he sees as a novel opportunity: letting Indianapolis residents fill their own potholes.
“A lot of neighborhoods are half-empty,” he said, “and they need their potholes fixed, too.”