As Indianapolis prepares for the May 3 primary and a possible regime change come November, NUVO offers a rundown of the leading Democrats, all posed to challenge incumbent mayor Greg Ballard should they win their party's nomination. Coasting through unopposed by local Republicans, Ballard may find his throne threatened from across the aisle, thanks to elements ranging from family legacy, to solid fundraising efforts and ambitious community agendas.
Hard-racing underdog: Melina Kennedy
The former deputy mayor under Bart Peterson, Melina Kennedy has been the presumptive Democratic candidate to challenge Mayor Greg Ballard for more than a year. And while she has raised the most in campaign funds and garnered the most prominent political endorsements in comparison to her fellow Democratic candidates, Kennedy isn't taking anything for granted, having witnessed firsthand how easy it is for the 'presumptive' candidate to fail on election day as Peterson did when he lost to Ballard in 2007.
Over the past several months, Kennedy has focused on face time with the public, getting her message out to voters and listening to their concerns. "I'm spending every day in the community, talking to people," she says. "And what I'm hearing is about jobs. It's an essential issue."
And it's one she plans to address should she take office next year. "We have lost 35,000 jobs in the last three years," she said "We cannot put our head in the sand and pretend (the problem) isn't there. We really need to focus on the successful efforts we have had."
As deputy mayor for economic development, Kennedy helped to forge the Bio-Crossroads initiative, which provides venture capital for life sciences opportunities in the area, and was responsible for bringing a new company to the United hub at the Indianapolis International Airport.
Kennedy, who holds both a law degree and a master's in environmental science from Indiana University, has said most new jobs come from small businesses. Her administration would work with small and medium-sized businesses to streamline city regulations that hamper economic growth.
"Not eliminate regulations," she explained, adding, "We have to step back and see how the city can be less of a hindrance. I plan to have a point person for small businesses to work on that."
Kennedy brings personal experience in small business with her approach to economic development. She and husband Bob, whom she met during their collegiate track and field days, are co-owners of BlueMile, a specialty retailer for runners and walkers. "I plan to provide training for city workers to better understand the needs of small businesses."
Also among her campaign promises are plans to advocate for stronger pre-K and kindergarten education, and carefully study charter school applications that come across her desk. "The mayor needs to provide responsible monitoring for charter schools," she said.
Kennedy wants a bipartisan initiative across the country to fix the background check system for handguns, an effort she has said Ballard opposes. She supports a citywide smoking ban, but stands against the Ballard-backed 50-year parking meter deal.
"We need to be more thoughtful about long-term decisions that impact economic development," she said.
Clearly, she's thinking in terms of the long haul, beyond Tuesday's election.
Embracing the future: Ron Gibson
From Ron Gibson's perspective, the race for Indianapolis mayor comes down to three Ts: training, transportation and technology.
The former two-term, at-large member of the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council doesn't seem deterred by opponent Melina Kennedy's well-funded campaign, or any of her political endorsements.
"I'm doing what I envisioned," he said. "I had to do things differently. I'm focused on the ordinary, everyday people." According to Gibson, those people need employment training for the jobs of the future, along with reliable public transportation and easy access to technology at home and at work.
A single parent, Gibson is a product of the Indianapolis Public Schools system and a Navy veteran. He lives on the eastside with his 16-year-old foster son, Martez. He's maintained that the city's future depends on the success of Martez's generation — they'll need jobs, and not just the manufacturing and small construction opportunities of the past.
"The government can create a climate that can attract and retain jobs," said Gibson, who holds a master's degree in management from Indiana Wesleyan University. "As mayor, I will come up with policies to retain the jobs of tomorrow."
Gibson has identified bioengineering and environmental science as two areas of potential growth, stating that his administration would partner with industries and universities to encourage employment in these developing fields.
This will take a commitment to better education for all students, starting early with those in grades K-12. "As mayor, I would like to come alongside teachers and students, particularly those (students) who have dropped out or been expelled, and advocate for stronger education and training for jobs in growth areas," he said.
In order to get these children into the classroom, Gibson, who is president of the Devington Communities Association, has suggested one solution that would also develop the IndyGo transit system: allow public and charter school children to use public transportation.
Ideally, this would expand ridership, ease the budgetary strain on school districts that currently fund school transportation, reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. Covering his bases, Gibson has proposed allocating money generated by the sale of the city's water company to IndyGo.
Gibson also highlighted greater access to technology as a priority for his administration, explaining that he would work with Internet providers to make services more affordable and more widely available.
It's all in the name: Sam Carson, Sr.
[Editor's note: Sam Carson's campaign did not respond to requests for a publicity image.]
From the outset, Sam Carson, Sr.'s campaign has lacked in several crucial aspects. Among its deficits: funding, approval by Marion County's Democratic Party, and publicity. Carson's website is "under construction" and offers no information, contact or otherwise; calls to two provided telephone numbers go unanswered without opportunity to leave messages.
But in the upcoming Democratic mayoral primary, Carson's campaign has one huge advantage over fellow candidates Ron Gibson and Melina Kennedy — the name Carson. It tends to open doors in Indianapolis, and has for decades.
Samuel Carson, 54, is the son of the late and widely venerated congresswoman Julia Carson (D-Indiana), who spent nearly 20 years in the state's general assembly and her final 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. She died in 2007.
Her eldest surprised political pundits in February when he announced his intent to run, just a week before the filing deadline.
At that point, the Democratic field wasn't terribly crowded, but Melina Kennedy had already locked up virtually all the local money and political endorsements — including that of Sam Carson's nephew, U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Indiana), the late congresswoman's grandson and successor. That hasn't changed.
But Sam Carson, who did not respond to interview requests for this article, has persevered in his efforts. During a February interview with The Indianapolis Recorder, Carson noted, "I don't believe that a lot of things going on in this city are really in the best interest of the people who live here."
He said he would conduct a grassroots campaign to serve all citizens, including the disadvantaged. His career record of late has reflected such priorities — Carson is founder and CEO of the nonprofit Julia Carson Legacy of Love Foundation, which provides assistance to low-income families. Last year, he left his job as an inspector in the Indianapolis Department of Public Works, a position he held for eight years.
If elected, Carson has said he'll focus on job and employment issues, streamline some city government functions and reexamine the merger between city police and the sheriff's department.
Campaign promises made, it'll come down to the people's voice on Tuesday whether Gibson, Kennedy or Carson will get to champion their stated goals against Ballard this fall.