Mayoral seats are up for election across the state this year. In Central Indiana, that includes a range of primary races, featuring both crowded fields and unchallenged incumbents.
In Indianapolis, a large field of primary candidates is running to lead the state’s largest city. But there are key races in surrounding counties, as mayoral hopefuls try to reach voters who live and work outside of Marion County.
“They're not Indianapolis, right,” said Laura Merrifield Wilson, an associate professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis. “They're focused on its balance of economic growth without getting too big.”
The state’s last round of municipal elections was held in 2019. Wilson said after the past few years, voters are more conscious of how local leadership impacts their daily lives.
“I think people are much more aware of local government now,” Wilson said. “And especially during the height of the COVID pandemic, it’s questions about whether restaurants and food establishments would be open, or if they were takeout only? Or did you have to wear a mask in public spaces…a lot of those decisions were localized.”
In Carmel, three Republicans – Fred Glynn, Sue Finkam, and Kevin “Woody” Rider – are running in the mayoral primary. Democrat Miles Nelson is unchallenged. The race is significant, as the city’s next leader will follow outgoing seven-term mayor Republican Jim Brainard. Brainard, first elected in 1996, has endorsed Rider.
“There's a lot of attention, in part because of the vacuum that Brainard’s legacy will leave, and in the questions about of what will continue on – how this will change in terms of policy and politics for Carmel, but also because it's evolved a lot under Brainard’s leadership,” Wilson said.
Finkam, Rider, and Nelson are all current Carmel city council members. Glynn – who ran for a state Senate seat in 2022 – lost the 2019 mayoral primary to Brainard.
“The question of what a new mayor would bring to that position, I think, is something that people are looking at,” Wilson said. “You have a very competitive Republican primary and that's not exclusive. There are a number of those throughout cities in Central Indiana.”
On the southside, that includes the mayoral primary in Greenwood, which features a match-up between Republican incumbent Mayor Mark Myers and challenger Joe Hubbard, a former Center Grove School Board member.
“Greenwood hasn't necessarily experienced the same level of growth or maybe national attention and focus,” Wilson said. “It's not quite the same in terms of affluence. But you have seen changes in Greenwood, and especially the downtown economic development, somewhat of a revitalization for the area. And that's something that under local leadership are the questions of: what do we permit? Where do we allow it?”
The race has also been contentious, and Wilson said this primary in particular is “shockingly expensive” as far as local races go, with both candidates spending a combined total of over $200,000.
In Zionsville, current Democratic Mayor Emily Styron, who was elected in 2019, announced this year she would not be running for another term. Primary voters have a choice between two Republican candidates: former WTHR anchor John Stehr and former teacher and Zionsville School Board member Jane Burgess.
Wilson said an open seat in the city after one term makes the race one to watch.
“I would expect to see, even though politics at a local level isn't naturally partisan, probably a difference in terms of trajectory and vision and what the city does going forward from what we've seen under Styron’s leadership,” Wilson said.
Priorities often overlap across races – increased economic development, enhanced public safety, balanced city budgets.
“On one hand, every mayor's race feels very similar, because they're all worried about keeping crime down, keeping community spirit high, having nice schools and nice places to work and live,” Wilson said. “And then at the same time, it's the nuances of what is specifically in that area, and how those are different – and especially to different voters, how the voters perceive those to be.”
Primary Election Day is Tuesday, May 2.
Contact WFYI economic equity reporter Sydney Dauphinais at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @syddauphinais.