Democrat Andre Carson runs unopposed but closely scrutinized
The name is familiar, and to some, even the face. Andre Carson, grandson to long-serving Indiana Congresswoman Julia Carson, took over a seat on the Indianapolis City-County Council two months ago and, with no Republican challenger on the ballot, is now running unopposed for a full term in the 15th district.
His election, which is assured, will keep the seat firmly in Democratic hands at a time when the party holds a slim majority on the City-County Council.
It also comes at a time when Democrats face unexpected challenges in holding onto that lead in the up-coming elections, due in large part to the behavior of Democratic council members themselves.
Carson took over the seat of Councilor Patrice Abdullah, who resigned this past summer after it was learned that he wasn’t living in the district he’d been elected to represent.
Democrats were further worried about criminal charges filed against Councilor-at-large Ron Gibson stemming from a year-old case in which he allegedly shoved an off-duty police officer outside a club during last year’s Black Expo. Three misdemeanor charges against Gibson were dropped last week.
Council president Monroe Gray has also been the subject of much political debate recently as questions continue to arise about his failure to report potential conflicts of interest with a city contractor and a job with the Indianapolis Fire Department.
It didn’t help matters when Gray led the most recent council meeting in which Republicans pushed for an ethics investigation into these questions, an investigation that Gray and other Democrats successfully voted to block.
The incidents involving Abdullah, Gibson, and Gray have been an embarrassment for Democrats who gained a one-vote majority on the 29-member City-County Council for the first time in many years during the last election cycle and now face one of the most controversial and watched council races in recent memory.
With so much bad press in the months before the November elections, it came as a relief to many Democrats when Andre Carson came forward to fill the 15th District seat Abdullah was forced to vacate.
Carson has been on the sidelines of local politics for years. He can often be seen in photographs helping his grandmother at events. “I love helping people. I love public service. That’s why I do this,” Carson says of his entrance to local politics.
But holding political office himself is a new step for the soon-to-be 33 year-old, a former excise police officer for the state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission.
While property taxes and ethics violations continue to be hot topics for the City-County Council, Carson says he entered politics to help shape the future for the children of today and for the poor and disadvantaged.
“I want to be an advocate for those facing dilemmas,” said Carson, who holds a Master’s of Science degree in business management from Indiana Wesleyan University.
But like many others, Carson believes the most important issues facing the city are education, high crime and taxes.
“Education is crucial,” he says. “When we look at our school system . . . personally I think if we were doing our jobs, we wouldn’t need alternatives,” like charter schools. And while he supports traditional public education, Carson says, “The traditional model is not meeting the needs of students.”
Without mentioning specifics, he says the city and county must continue supporting public schools while considering options for their improvement.
While Carson now has a job as a marketing specialist for Cripe Architects and Engineers, he spent some nine years in law enforcement and is particularly sensitive to the issue of crime. And he is a strong proponent of the community-policing model.
Carson also believes the city must rebuild the criminal justice infrastructure by improving prisons and prison overcrowding. Additionally, he believes the city’s pension problems must be addressed and pay for law enforcement must be increased.
“It’s a thankless job,” he says of law enforcement, “but it must be supported by the city and its citizens. The real work will come out of the grassroots level, with communities helping law enforcement through the community policing model.”
According to the young candidate, citizens must not be afraid to report criminal activity to police when they see it, but, Carson stresses, that type of community response can only come when officers are more visible on the streets of all communities.
On the issue of taxes, Carson feels the current tax structure is something out of the 19th century, “when we were still a farming community. We can‘t keep using the tax system of the past.”
While City Council can’t change the tax structure without approval of the state General Assembly, Carson believes the city needs additional revenue streams.
“We need to get into a user tax or user fee, such as a sales tax.” He says an income tax should also be an option. “We need to spread it out,” Carson says of the tax burden among city residents.
Political supporters and potential rivals are listening closely to what Carson says and watching closely what he does. As the possible heir to a political legacy, many believe he is looking towards eventually taking his grandmother’s place in the U.S. Congress.
However, his grandmother, Congresswoman Julia Carson, recently said she intends to run for re-election in 2008 despite her health problems.
Speculation about his aspirations do not phase Andre Carson, however.
“It’s all about being committed to what I’m doing,” Carson said of his current and future political career. “I want to make a difference in the community and I want to represent District 15 and its many concerns.”
But that doesn’t mean he won’t consider higher office if the chance comes along.
“Who knows what the future holds,” Carson says.