From the first moments of the press conference held Thursday to announce the Indianapolis mayoral bid of Republican Sen. Jim Merritt, the issue of public safety was placed front and center.
First elected to represent District 31 in the Indiana State Senate in 1990, Merritt defeated Democratic challenger Derek Camp at the polls during the 2018 midterm election by a 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent margin.
Merritt now looks to unseat incumbent Democratic Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, who announced his re-election bid last month.
Along with other Marion County Republican leaders, Merritt has been sharply critical of Hogsett's response to violent crime, as the city set a record for homicides for the fourth year in a row in 2018.
First at the podium Thursday was Ted Feeney, Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association past president, who referenced the 2015 drive-by shooting death of Deshaun Swanson, 10.
Feeney said he reached out to Republican and then-Mayor Greg Ballard for help in making their neighborhood safer.
“When we asked the city for help, they showed up and followed through,” said Feeney. “It was an all-hands-on-deck approach, and it worked.”
Ballard is the author of the just-released book, “Less Oil or More Caskets: The National Security Argument for Moving Away From Oil,” and was in attendance to support Merritt's run.
Ballard said when first decided to run for mayor in early 2007, Merritt agreed to be his campaign chairman at a time when “nobody knew who I was, and even fewer people actually supported my candidacy.”
“I never forgot that,” said Ballard, who is now returning the favor by being Merritt's campaign chairman.
Merritt then addressed the crowd to officially begin campaign, calling himself “an underdog.”
“We do have some problems in this city, some big problems,” he said. “My passion for Indianapolis is going to make me an outstanding mayor.”
Merritt said those problems included unsolved homicides and homelessness.
“We all know crime is going to be an issue,” he said. “I'm working on some plans here, some bold new solutions.”
MARION COUNTY DEMOCRATS RESPOND
Prior to Merritt's campaign announcement Thursday, Kate Sweeney Bell, Marion County Democratic Party chair, issued the following statement:
“Senator Jim Merritt, the longest-serving State Senator of the Indiana General Assembly, is preparing to enter the Indianapolis mayor's race today, and his recent role as partisan attack dog will present a formidable establishment challenge to his three outsider Republican opponents. Unfortunately for Senator Merritt, his voting record and policy positions will also present a formidable challenge with Indianapolis voters.
“From support for President Trump to a vote for now-infamous RFRA legislation, Senator Merritt has consistently embraced views over the last three decades at the Statehouse that are out of step with the city he wants to represent:
“Senator Merritt claims he wants to combat violent gun crime, but his record speaks for itself – Merritt has voted for more guns in our workplaces, more guns in our schools, and more guns in our churches. He even supported "stand your ground" legislation that would allow the use of deadly force against local police—an NRA pet project opposed by some law enforcement.
“Senator Merritt says he wants to support crime prevention and re-entry efforts but voted in 2017 to revoke the City of Indianapolis's efforts to 'ban the box,' which would have created economic opportunity for non-violent felons.
“Senator Merritt says he wants to represent all of Indianapolis, but he supported then-Governor Pence’s RFRA in 2015 and has consistently opposed hate crimes legislation for 28 consecutive years.
“Pure partisanship has earned Senator Merritt the support of lobbyists and extremist special interest groups, but in 2018 he lost the Marion County portions of his legislative district by nearly 10 points. Indianapolis voters have rejected Senator Merritt's extremist views in the past, and we are confident they will do it again this year.”
Hogsett also released his own statement after Merritt's announcement:
“This November, Indianapolis voters will have the opportunity to make their voices heard. Should Senator Merritt win his party’s nomination, I look forward to a spirited conversation.”
MARION COUNTY GOP PICKS NEW LEADER
The Marion County Republican Central Committee announced late Tuesday that their precinct and vice precinct committeemen had elected Bryce Carpenter as their new leader.
The caucus to replace outgoing Chairman Merritt was held at Dallara IndyCar Factory in Speedway.
Carpenter was most recently MCRCC's vice chairman and will now serve as the group's next chairman after eligible voters on the official roster of the Marion County Republican Party cast their ballots, according to
“I want to thank the three other candidates who ran today,” stated Carpenter after his election. “I would also like to thank all of the precinct committeemen and vice precinct committeemen who overwhelmingly supported me. I am humbled by your decision and excited to get to work. Our party is more unified than ever. We are ready to make 2019 one of the best years in our party's history by winning back the mayor's office and taking control of the council.”
Jan. 14, Carpenter selected Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove, as his vice chair. First elected to represent District 89 in the Indiana House of Representatives in 2010, Kirchhofer barely fended off a re-election challenge from Democrat John Barnes. In the 2018 midterm elections, Kirchhofer received 50.5 percent (10,452 votes) to Barnes' 49.5 percent (10,229 votes).
“Representative Kirchhofer will be an excellent addition to our team," stated Carpenter. "She knows the true value in grassroots politics and knocks on thousands of doors personally for her re-election cycle. Cindy's knowledge of grassroots politics will be a huge assett to our party in 2019 and beyond.”
Dec. 14, Merritt announced his resignation from his MCRCC post effective immediately.
Though his farewell message didn't spell it out, speculation immediately swarmed around Merritt's intentions to seek Hogsett's job.
The municipal primary election is scheduled for May 7, and the general election will be Nov. 5.
Jose Evans, former city-county councilor, ended his campaign for mayor at an event the morning of Jan. 18 at Xclusive Cuts. Evans is now endorsing the mayoral campaign of Sen. Jim Merritt, Indianapolis. Merritt accepted Evans’ support and welcomed him onto his campaign team.
Editor's note: We're finalizing the details of an interview with Jim Merritt to take place in the next few days. What questions would you like us to ask the mayoral candidate? Send an email to News Editor Rob Burgess (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your question.