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Why Mayors Matter

How do we choose the best person for the job of leading Marion County?

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It’s an election year. Residents of Marion County go to the polls to elect the men and women we want to lead our city government.

Indianapolis has a unique power structure, and it’s important to understand who is responsible for what.

Some elements of our city government are common to many cities: An elected mayor and a 25-member City-County Council.

What's different is known as Unigov, a system in place since 1970. By state law, Indianapolis and Marion County consolidated their governments.

As a result, the mayor of Indianapolis has more power than your average mayor. Their executive powers extend to every resident of Marion County, including the 11 included towns allowed to keep some level of autonomy under Unigov like Speedway, Lawrence, and Southport.

The mayor is important not only because of the direct power he or she wields, but because of who the mayor places in other positions of authority.

“The Mayor’s Office consists of the Mayor and the Mayor’s executive staff which includes a Chief of Staff and one or more deputy mayors. The mayor appoints deputy mayors and, under state law, the City-County Council may create additional deputy mayors and specify their authority,” according to the League of Women Voters of Indianapolis' Unigov Handbook.

“The Mayor’s cabinet, made up of the Deputy Mayors, Mayor’s Office directors, and city department directors, meets regularly to discuss policy-making activity.”

But, just because Indianapolis' mayor has greater authority doesn't mean the office isn't constrained in other ways. The mayor still has to work with the City-County Council in order to get much of anything done.


Democratic Mayor Joe Hogsett is running for his second term after first being sworn in on Jan. 1, 2016. Hogsett was preceded by two-term Republican Mayor Greg Ballard, who is now campaign chairman for mayoral primary challenger Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis.

In the Republican primary, Merritt will face at least three challengers including political newcomers John Schmitz and Christopher Moore, along with former City-County Council Member Jose Evans. The municipal primary election is scheduled for May 7, and the general election will be Nov. 5.

Each mayor wants to put a personal stamp on the office, but since municipal terms in office are split into such short stints, it's often hard to say who gets the blame or credit. The major problems any mayor faces, from crime to infrastructure, are generational, with systemic, root causes tracing back decades. These trends are unlikely to be radically altered in four, or even, eight years.

For example, a major theme of Merritt's mayoral campaign has been the rising homicide rate, which has broken records for a fourth year in a row. Undoubtedly, this is a real problem, but also not one that suddenly appeared at the start of the current administration, or the one before that or the one before that, and so on.

The past is prologue, as Shakespeare wrote.


The Marion County Elections Board just started taking submissions for the ballot Jan. 9, so we're just getting started with our coverage. As we did with the 2018 Midterm Voters Guide, we hope you’ll participate in the process so we can provide the most in depth coverage of the candidates on the issues you tell us you care about the most.

What questions do you have about city government? What qualities and qualifications do you look for in a mayor? By what standards should we evaluate the candidates applying for the job?

You should see a question box on this page titled City Committee with a place for you to submit your questions and thoughts. If you have ad blocker or it doesn’t appear, you can go directly to the City Committee landing page to leave a suggestion or question; leave a comment below; send me an email.

I look forward to your input on how we cover the mayor’s race this year.


Jose Evans, former city-county councilor, ended his campaign for mayor at an event Friday morning at Xclusive Cuts.

Evans is now endorsing the mayoral campaign of Sen. Jim Merritt, Indianapolis.

“A city must be able to ensure that all of its members share its advancements and prosperity by having safe neighborhoods, decent housing, good paying jobs, healthy food, and healthy lifestyles,” Evans stated. “I know that, together, Senator Merritt and I can win Indy. We can win when it comes to crime. We can win when it comes to uniting diverse groups. And, by saying ‘win’, I mean that we can make Indy the successful and safe city it’s meant to be.”

Merritt accepted Evans’ support and welcomed him onto his campaign team.

“Today is a day like no other. Two opponents have come together in unison for the greater good of Indianapolis,” Merritt stated. “From his global perspective and expertise in education, to being an Indianapolis City Councilor, to uniting groups of all backgrounds, Jose is an inspiration to all of us.” 



Rob Burgess, News Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at, by phone at 317-808-4614 or on Twitter @robaburg.

Writer - Local Government and Justice

My background is that I'm the fourth generation in my family to work as a journalist. I also have a degree from Indiana University in Elementary Education. My wife, Ash, and I have two children, Harper, 4, and Emerald, 1.