Incumbent City-County Councilor Scott Keller knows that crime and property taxes are the issues weighing most heavily on the minds of those he represents in District 16. If re-elected, he says he plans to make these concerns his top priority.
First, however, the self-described moderate Republican must defeat his Democratic opponent Bryan Mahern — a member of a locally renowned political clan that includes his father Louis, a lobbyist and former mayoral candidate; uncle Ed, a former state representative; and cousin Dane, who already holds a seat on the CCC and is running for re-election this year.
Of the 34,000 individuals who live in the district, on the near Southeast side of Indianapolis, Keller estimates less than 3,000 vote regularly. To reach those voters and win re-election, he has focused heavily on a door-to-door campaign throughout the 31 precincts in his district, talking individually with as many of his constituents as possible.
It’s a strategy that Keller believes played a large role in the last CCC race in which he defeated incumbent Democrat Karen Celestino Horseman. The door-to-door approach works, he says, because “people like to have attention paid to them.”
Interacting with those he represents has not been limited to campaign seasons, however. Throughout his four-year tenure, Keller has made a point of attending neighborhood, merchants association and block club meetings on a regular basis, in addition to council and council-committee meetings.
A diverse district
While District 16 is one of the most diverse in the city in terms of population, with a mix of old, young, black, brown, white, rich, poor, gay and straight residents, it is a district that votes traditionally and heavily for Democrats. Keller’s election as a Republican came as a surprise for many in 2003, but Keller now understands why so many were eager to vote for a Republican in the last election. Over and over again, Keller says his constituents have told him that they “only hear from Democratic politicians every four years and then we don’t hear from them again.”
Keller, 62, whom many regard as a prime mover in the downtown renaissance when he was a developer from the late 1970s through the ‘80s, is currently a personal property appraiser. His self-employed status is one of the reasons Keller says he is ideal for a job which he feels requires flexibility in order to truly represent one’s constituents.
Keller has been available to work around the clock when necessary – attending Criminal Court on behalf of his constituents to support a conviction, a demolition hearing for the Health Department, Environmental Court for zoning and code compliance, a Board of Zoning and a Code Compliance hearing to oppose zoning changes for a neighborhood group.
Being present is only part of the job, however. Keller is quick to point to his record, which includes what he feels are some of the Council’s greatest achievements. The smoking ban, Human Rights Ordinance (HRO), Marion County Sheriff’s Department and IPD merger and a Feral Cats Colony Ordinance are all bills Keller co-sponsored that ultimately became law in Marion County.
They were some of the most controversial as well.
For his support of the HRO, Keller received death threats by those who opposed anti-discrimination statues for city/county employees. And the police merger caused him to suffer heavy criticism and accusations from some members of his own party.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction for me in doing something that will really help people in their day to day lives,” Keller says, referring to his record. “People really appreciate it. I get thanks all the time.”
Support from the moderate wing
Keller, who prides himself on his individuality on the issues, says, “Historically, the GOP in Marion County has always had a conservative wing and a moderate wing. Though many members of the City County Council are aligned with the former, that does not dissuade me at all from voting the way I think Bill Hudnut, Steve West or Carlton Curry would have.”
“I have a lot of support from the moderate wing,” Keller says. “I do wish there were a few more Lance Langsfords on the Council, however. He and I stand together and often alone. If some of the Republicans currently running for the council win, there’ll probably be a few more moderates.”
Given his moderate stance on the issues, it wasn’t that surprising to those who know Keller that he chose to support the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community by championing them via the HRO, which he co-sponsored with Democrat Councilor Jackie Nytes.
Having close friends and family members who are gay, Keller has never wavered in his commitment to ensuring equal rights and treatment under the law.
“Some of these folks I grew up with, so I know they are people like everyone else. They should have their civil rights protected and it shouldn’t be used as a wedge issue.”
Political pundits are already predicting the race in District 16 will be a close one between Keller and Bryan Mahern; Keller knows a few votes could make the critical difference in the upcoming election.
Republican Candidate for City-County Council in District 16 City-County Council
Experience: Incumbent seeking second term
Occupation: Personal property appraiser.
Education: Bachelor’s degree.
School: Indiana University.
Family: Married with three children.
Legislative accomplishments: Coordinated a campaign for approval of the Human Rights Ordinance, banning discrimination in housing or the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity; a crossover vote for the police merger