District 16 of the Indianapolis City-County Council covers the near west side of the city. Current Democratic office-holder Jefferson Shreve is not running for election after taking the seat formerly occupied by Jeff Miller, who resigned in 2018, several months after child molestation charges were first announced. Looking to take his seat are Republican Laura Giffel and Democrats Kristin Jones and Patrick Wagner.
Laura Giffel has been a resident of the Bates-Hendricks neighborhood with her husband since 2014 and is the current President of the neighborhood association. Laura cites her hands-on experience with neighborhood issues as her main motivation to run for office. She has led the board through a large reorganization that culminated into the association’s designation as a 501c3 charity. A main focus of her campaign includes strengthening neighborhoods through partnerships and advocacy at the Council level to improve the quality of life for all residents in the district. Laura is a licensed mental health counselor for non-profit providing counseling services to young children with disabilities. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Neuroscience from Purdue University and a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from University of Indianapolis.
I am Kristin Jones, and I am proud to say that I am the endorsed Democratic Candidate for City-County Council District 16. As a 24-year resident of West Indianapolis, my roots go deep in District 16 as my great-great grandparents owned and operated a hardware store off of Oliver Avenue above which was a home to my great-grandmother and my grandmother. My husband of 28 years and I raised both our children in this great district. I am no stranger to this district and have volunteered here for more than a decade. Currently I am the Director of Community Engagement for a local nonprofit. I understand that leadership and engagement starts at the doors of our neighborhoods and that is exactly where you could find me during this primary campaign. In fact, we have knocked thousands of doors talking to voters about the issues that matter to them. I have long been committed to political organizing both in and near our district as many of you have recognized me from canvassing and community events with Representative Justin Moed who I have continued to work with since 2012. I also began helping State Senator JD Ford in 2014 whose loss that year just strengthened our resolve to continue organizing neighbors until we won in 2018 by 14 points taking out a 3-term incumbent, outperforming both state and county voter turnout. During 2015, I had the privilege of being the Finance Director to gubernatorial candidate John Gregg where together we made Indiana history by raising nearly $17 million in two years — a record for both parties. The consensus among the people we have talked to is clear: Improved roads, sidewalks, and alleys alongside an increased focus on crime prevention and a need for more community-based solutions for local issues are at the top of the list. I am ready to begin working as a City-County Councilor for District 16 alongside the other councilors to fight for the residents of our district to insure their concerns are addressed to the fullest.
Patrick Wagner is a lifelong Indianapolis resident. He is a Ben Davis alum, graduated from DePauw University, and holds a master’s degree from IUPUI. Patrick works in software development as an Information Technology Program Manager. In partnership with the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, Patrick advocated for children in the Child Protective Services system, he worked to bring healthcare to poverty-stricken Indianapolis neighborhoods, and he looks to leverage his background in advocacy in our local government. Patrick’s platform aims to improve our infrastructure, safeguard our neighborhoods, empower our local entrepreneurs, and- for once and for all- bring Progress to Indianapolis.
NUVO: How will you address quality of life issues for Indianapolis residents — affordable housing, food deserts, transportation options for those without cars, air quality, water quality, schools, green space, sustainability, recycling, lack of park funding, etc.?
Giffel: This is a big question for a small space! Local government should ensure that basic services are functioning well and that policies are not in the way of non-profit groups working to address quality of life issues. Of top priority for me are affordable housing and quality schools. We must encourage income diversity in our neighborhoods to ensure they can be resilient, which requires affordable housing across the spectrum of rentals, homeownership, property types and income levels. If we do not support our local schools and provide quality education, I am concerned that we will see another mass exodus to areas that have better educational opportunities as our newer generation starts their families.
Jones: Each issue deserves a larger discussion, but I will expound on one, namely, green space. In several neighborhoods across our district, public and private green spaces are places that are enjoyed by citizens of all ages. One such private owned space in the We Care Neighborhood is called the Rosalie Cook Park and is currently being sold by the owner. Children can often be found there playing and the green space is of paramount concern to the neighborhood. I was proud to take the initiative to hold a fundraiser and collaborated with other community leaders to save that park!
Wagner: Addressing our city’s quality of life — which isn’t equitable across Indianapolis — is paramount to our campaign. Rent continues to rise in neighborhoods that have experienced food insecurity for generations. The American Lung Association just renewed our city’s “Grade F” air quality rating, and our new (electric) bus line is fueled by our state's most unsustainable resource — Indiana coal. It’s my opinion that we must question the status quo here in town. Once elected, our campaign’s commitment is to bring transparency to the inherent inequities in quality of life across our city, and to support sustainable measures to mitigate it.
NUVO: I want to know how they are going to support the public school system.
Giffel: As a community leader, I have worked with our neighborhood school, James A. Garfield, to ensure that the staff have the tools they need to be successful and that we foster a positive relationship between the community and the school. We have worked together to host events to bring new families into the building as well as hosting supply drives for teachers. I will continue to advocate for strong partnerships between the community and their schools in addition to social services to support our students. Unfortunately most of the funding for schools comes from the State budget, so working with our state representatives is key.
Jones: Since the City-County Council does not have a purview over public schools in Indianapolis, and therefore regarding public schools, the Council cannot oversee, fund, or provide any oversight according to statute, individuals can and should, if interested, get with local school boards and their state legislators and ask that public schools receive the funding they so richly deserve. Teachers, counselors, school bus drivers, janitorial workers, and cafeteria workers should have a voice in their workplace and earn the pay and benefits for the work they do for our common good.
Wagner: Our City Councilors should leverage their position to support our schools. Ours was the only campaign in District 16 who supported Indiana Teachers in their efforts to demand more for our public school system. I will be a champion for our Teachers’ Union, and I proudly stand with every Union that challenges legislation aimed to diffuse the power of our city’s laborers. Students should be connected to careers paths early in their education. I support the software developers, music producers, and urban farmers who have brought their professions to our public schools, and I think that it’s critical that we expand on these efforts.
NUVO: What are your plans to help Indianapolis have a more equitable distribution of resources to help marginalized communities without contributing to gentrification?
Giffel: My neighborhood, Bates-Hendricks, is one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the city. We’ve seen rapidly increasing housing prices as well as displacement of residents. I had the pleasure of testifying on behalf of a property tax reduction proposal before the state legislature to protect our anchor residents. I will continue to encourage the inclusion of public input into development projects and advocate for affordable housing and rentals to keep residents in their communities that wish to stay. Every neighborhood has a separate identity, and we should strive to preserve that.
Jones: An equitable distribution of resources begins with the right to have a voice in the workplace. The right to collectively bargain for wages, benefits, and conditions of employment is one of the most important factors in earning a living wage that will benefit both the workers and the economic growth of the city. And that’s why I am proud to be endorsed by the Indiana Kentucky Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters (IKORCC), the United Auto Workers (UAW), UNITE HERE Local 23, Service Employees Int’l Union (SEIU) Local 1, Int’l Association of Heat & Frost Insulators Local 18, Int’l Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 399, and the United Steel Workers (USW) Local 1999.
Wagner: I recently attended a discussion regarding the distribution of our city’s resources, but I was disappointed that all panelists and their moderator were white men. I recognize my own privilege, but growing up as a gay man in Indiana, in a middle class home, I understand the adversity that individuals face because of how they look, who they love, or where they live. I am committed to building diverse coalitions to influence our city’s decisions. When we invite a spectrum of voices to the table, we can lift up our most marginalized, and allow our city to grow- without displacing those families who’ve lived in our city for generations.
NUVO: How will you address the pothole problem?
Giffel: The City’s biggest challenge with infrastructure is a long-term funding source. Currently the State funding formula for our roads favors rural communities and leaves less for our highly traveled roads. The City should also advocate for a regional solution to infrastructure to ensure that Central Indiana has a solid foundation.
Jones: After knocking on thousands of doors and having conversations with neighbors in my district, what we heard time after time was the concern with not only potholes in streets, but also in alleys. I applaud the $400 million set aside for improvements in the budget including the funds appropriated to address the issue of potholes by a combination of the longer-lasting strip patching operations and standard pothole repair work, but we need to make certain the work continues to move along unimpeded. Potholes can always be identified by reporting them through the Mayor’s Action Center or Request Indy. And we do so as we knock doors throughout the District.
Wagner: Our infrastructure is in need of foundational repair. Our pothole problem points to a pretty big issue at hand: our city departments are drastically under-funded, and we need novel approaches aimed at their reform. Infrastructure repairs lack transparency, and our campaign has worked to bring light to this issue. We’ve identified a net loss of one hundred million dollars to our neighboring counties, annually, and I’m committed to working with our state officials to restructure this unfair distribution of our tax revenues. Our pothole problem won’t be solved by business-as-usual. I’m a problem solver to my core, and I will work to bring innovation to our roadways.
NUVO: What will you do to encourage the increased use of alternate (non motor vehicle) forms of transportation in the city?
Giffel: Last year I had the chance to chat with Strong Indy on their podcast about transportation in Indianapolis. I chose to live downtown to lessen the reliance on my car, and you’ll often see me walking or biking around the City. We have to find ways to make our streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians to encourage other means of transportation. The way we design our streets greatly impacts the likelihood that pedestrians feel safe. Having a plan for developing connected and purposeful sidewalk and trail improvements will also ensure that residents can access essential amenities without a car.
Jones: From conversations at the doors of District 16, it is clear that residents want to see more bike and walking trails that connect to their neighborhoods. I fully support the Indy Greenways 2014-2024 Master Plan and it’s goal of bringing both Wayne and Perry Townships into the greenways system. Further, the White River Greenway directly impacts seven neighborhoods in the district and I fully support the planned upgrades and expansions and will work hard to identify possible federal and state resources that can be used to complete the Indy Greenways Master Plan.
Wagner: The way in which Indianapolis residents interact with our landscape has evolved, and so too should the structure that supports this interaction. It’s absolutely necessary that we continue develop multi-modal pathways across our city to encourage safe, pedestrian and bike traffic around Indianapolis. Sidewalks and bike lanes shouldn’t be restricted to affluent communities. Access to transportation shouldn’t be defined by one’s zip code, and I will work to encourage the equitable distribution of transportation solutions to all Indianapolis residents.
NUVO: How do you feel about decriminalizing possession of personal amounts of cannabis, as other large cities have done?
Giffel: The criminal code is under the jurisdiction of the state legislature, not the City-County Council. A large scale overhaul of the criminal code would again require coordination with State Representatives. It is important that we use public safety resources to address our issues with violent crime, including address the root cause of this violence through increased social services.
Jones: Regardless of any one’s opinion — including my opponent — this is not an issue the City-County Council can weigh in on as criminal code is the jurisdiction of the state legislature.
Wagner: Ours is the only campaign in District 16 that has called for the decriminalization of cannabis in Marion County, as similar sized counties have, across our nation. As it stands now, cannabis-related offenses clog up our judicial processes, and prove to be an administrative burden on the IMPD. Our city’s protectors should be focused on violent crimes in our city- not small possession charges. Cancer patients- and those experiencing other terminal illnesses- shouldn’t have their homes ransacked for a therapeutic agent many consider safer than the several, often over-prescribed, opioid-based alternatives. Cannabis reform is absolutely necessary.