Indianapolis mayoral candidates Democratic incumbent Joe Hogsett, Republican State Sen. Jim Merritt and Libertarian Douglas McNaughton participated in the race’s final debate Monday night.
In the opening minutes of the televised debate, Merritt apologized to Hogsett about a controversial campaign website, saying it contained false information intended to attack the first-term mayor.
Information on the website claimed Hogsett's wages were garnished for failure to pay child support while serving as a U.S. Attorney. In reality, Hogsett voluntarily withheld wages as a way to pay child support.
“When I became knowledgeable that this was online, that there was an error, immediately I asked them to take that piece off,” Merritt says. “This is my responsibility, I am accountable, it is my campaign, and I am the one that called the shots, I am responsible.”
Hogsett says he's proud of how his campaign stayed focused on policies and not personal attacks.
“We have certainly not allowed any personal interaction and that’s how I will campaign through election day,” Hogsett says. “I have known Jim for 40 years. 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.”
Candidates shared different visions when asked for their four-year plans for the city.
Hogsett focused on business development.
“I’m passionately optimistic about our future,” Hogsett says. “The groundwork that’s been laid out the last four years I think put us at a good position to take full advantage.”
Hogsett singled out the jobs software company Salesforce brought to the city. He also wants more development projects like the $300 million overhaul of the former Coca-Cola bottling plant, now known as Bottleworks, and the Community Justice Center.
Challenger Jim Merritt agrees with the pro-business and development approach and says he’s focused on enriching culture too.
“The future of Indianapolis is all about growth, having more of a culture to the city of Indianapolis,” Merritt says. “We have to think big.”
He says previous mayors took risks that improved the city -- such as creating a football stadium before Indianapolis had a professional team. He says risks can’t be taken unless the community is unified.
Libertarian candidate Douglas McNaughton wants to cut the number of empty properties in the next four years. To do this, he would work with communities to bring in businesses.
“The neighborhood leaders live there and drive through there every day,” McNaughton says. “They are the ones who know what the community needs.”
McNaughton also wants to lower taxes to match rates in surrounding counties as leverage to draw business into Center Township.
The candidates held fast to plans they’ve proposed to improve road infrastructure, public safety and combat systemic racism.
Throughout the campaign, candidates disagreed on road funding.
Merritt suggests a toll road on Binford Boulevard, a major thoroughfare, to pay for road improvements.
Hogsett is opposed to drivers paying a fee to use roads. He has proposed the creation of a regional infrastructure plan with surrounding ing counties that would capture a portion of future income tax growth to be used for regional road infrastructure. The fund would be distributed among the counties based on how much each county's roads are being used. This type of non-resident income tax would require approval by the Indiana General Assembly.
Hogsett also says expanded support of public transportation, such as the recently launched Red Line, can reduce traffic.
McNaughton opposes the Red Line and the current road funding policy. Instead, he wants to bring in companies to privatize mass transportation.
Public safety has remained one of the most debated issues in the campaign with all candidates offering varying approaches to stem the killings and other violence in the city. Last year was the fourth consecutive year for a record number of criminal murders.
Merritt would create a new public safety director and says Hogsett is not doing enough. Hogsett says his plans are working and violence is slowly going down and will continue. He has pointed to the new 150 police officers IMPD will have by the end of the year. McNaughton says the solution to crime prevention is youth outreach -- not more law enforcement.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5. Marion County voters can vote early: in person at the Marion County Clerk's Office or at four satellite voting locations.
The debate was sponsored by West Side Chamber of Commerce and FOX59.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated Mayor Hogsett would create a new tax to fund road infrastructure. His plan is actually to create a regional plan with surrounding counties and capture a portion of future income tax growth to fund roads.