On the evening of March 11, the University of Indianapolis'
Ransburg Auditorium saw some 43 years of collective leadership of the state's
capital city collected on a single stage.
Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard and his four immediate
predecessors — Sen. Richard Lugar, William Hudnut, Stephen Goldsmith and
Bart Peterson — spent two hours discussing the past, present and future
of the city they all led.
"In case you're wondering, we're going chronologically; the
black hair is on that end," said Hudnut, indicating stage left, "the white hair
is over here."
The UIndy, Star Media and the Greater Indianapolis Chamber
of Commerce-sponsored event was moderated by a three-member panel from The
Indianapolis Star: opinion editor Tim
Swarens, columnist Matthew Tully and reporter Mark Nichols.
The event coincided with the announcement of a new Institute
for Civic Leadership and Mayoral Archives at UIndy, to be built upon the
university's collection of official papers and other items from the Lugar,
Hudnut, Goldsmith and Peterson administrations.
The evening began with a standing ovation as the five mayors
filed onto the stage.
"Thank you for the warm welcome," said Peterson to laughter.
"I guarantee that each of us thought that was for us."
The mood for the most part was amiable and deferential,
especially towards Lugar's service.
"It all starts with Sen. Lugar," said Ballard. "We've had a
great string of people in office."
Hudnut, who served twice as long as anyone else on stage,
praised Lugar's legacy as the arbiter of the 1970 Unigov agreement, which
consolidated Indianapolis' city and county governments. Hudnut credited the
legislation as a milestone in the battle against urban decay and white flight.
"He laid the foundation with Unigov," he said.
For his part, Lugar said that Unigov was still paying
dividends. He said the increase in property values in the city — and, as
a result, property taxes — was responsible for Indianapolis' steady
"I think we have to consider how we got to this point,"
Lugar said. "People invest in this city. So the tax base rose dramatically.
According to the census, we're on track to having more people now, not less."
Indianapolis was established as a northern industrial city
in years past. However, it has escaped the corrosive, single-industry fate of
similar Midwestern cities such as Detroit.
"I think each of us have worked very hard on diversifying
the economy," said Peterson. "We have done a lot better on jobs than most
The panelists agreed that part of that diversification had
to do with the investment in both sports teams and events in the downtown area;
like the Big Ten basketball tournament which was simultaneously in full swing a
few miles north.
"Events are very important," said Hudnut. "The old days of
manufacturing are gone and they're not coming back."
Ballard said lucrative spectacles like next year's Super
Bowl were nothing if not the cornerstone for the city's financial success.
"The sports strategy has worked," he said. "It has built the
Every member of the panel cited education as one of the most
important factors for sustaining that growth.
"We've expanded into life sciences, biotech, clean and green
industry," said Hudnut. "That leads us back to education. That's essential if
you're not going to just have two classes of people in this country."
Goldsmith said education reform was an area at which he
"failed" during his tenure.
"My failures contributed to their successes," he said,
pointing towards Peterson and Ballard. "You can't build a great city on people
moving to the suburbs for their kids' education."
With the debate over school choice and charter school raging
at the state level, Ballard said competing globally was his highest concern.
"I think the city that get its true graduation rate that is
above 95 percent will have the advantage," he said. "Those who decide to be
insular and not embrace what's happening in the rest of the world are going to
be left behind."
Lugar said the state's higher learning institutions such as
Purdue and Indiana universities were of paramount importance both for
attracting outside talent and preventing brain drain.
"We have been attracting students to our state universities
from all over the world and once they arrive they might decide to stay here,"
But the idea of enticing outsiders to stay permanently might
be on the rocks if a handful of controversial bills become state law. SB 590 is
an Arizona-style immigration bill that has been winding its way through the
statehouse during the current legislative session that would allow law
enforcement to request citizenship documentation of anyone they suspect may
have come to the country illegally.
"I don't feel (outside talent) will be welcome if we pass
Arizona-style legislation," said Hudnut. "I'm not running for anything so I
have nothing to lose... It panders to fear. In my opinion it's terrible."
Peterson, the lone Democrat on the dais, is now senior vice
president of corporate affairs and communications at Eli Lilly and Company
(also the former job of Gov. Mitch Daniels). He related the story of a
colleague at Lilly who is neither gay nor a foreigner, who said he wouldn't
move to Indiana given what's happening in the statehouse.
Ballard said divisive laws like SB 590 and a constitutional
amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in the state were wastes of precious
time and resources.
"I've worked hard to make this an inclusive city," he said.
"We want Indy to embrace everyone. What's the point? Frankly, we put them in
there to balance the budget."