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2019 Primary Voters Guide: Indianapolis Mayor

Incumbent Democratic Mayor Joe Hogsett running for re-election against four challengers

Indianapolis Mayors

After running successfully for the office of Indianapolis mayor in 2015, Democratic incumbent Joe Hogsett is running for re-election in 2019. In the primary election he will face fellow Democrat Denise Paul Hatch. The winner of that contest will face one of three Republican challengers: James W. Merritt, Christopher James Moore, or Felipe Rios.

Denise Paul Hatch

Age: 59

Family: Married to Vincent Hatch, Sr, a disabled Vietnam veteran. As an electrical engineer he retired from the construction company they cofounded.

Mother of five: the eldest graduated from Brown, a daughter from Virginia Commonwealth, a son from Ball State University. The youngest daughter admitted to Kelly School of Business at IU Bloomington this fall. The youngest son is a Company Commander at Fork Union Military Academy.

Temporary Guardianship of four young children, ages 7 to 13.

Education: B.S. in marketing, A.S. in business management from New Hampshire College, now SNHU.

Career: Retired business owner, entrepreneur, property investor and teacher.

Political Career:

2019 Shortridge High School PTA Secretary,

2018 Won 41 percent in the Center Township Constable’s race. 2016-2018 voted Marion County Precinct Captain. Worked on Senator Bernie Sanders 2016, and President Obama 2008, 2012 presidential campaigns. Worked for the late Sen.John Durkin of New Hampshire as a Senate Intern in Congress in Washington, D.C.

Joe Hogsett

Mayor Joe Hogsett is the 49th mayor of the City of Indianapolis. During his time in office, he has lifted the city’s 35-year moratorium on new streetlights, grown the police force, and launched a comprehensive criminal justice reform effort. With the unanimous support of the City-County Council, Mayor Joe laid out an infrastructure plan that will spend more than $400 million on Indy’s roads, streets, and sidewalks over the next four years, making much-needed investments in Indianapolis neighborhoods.

Mayor Joe is committed to creating a city where prosperity and opportunity are attainable for all. That's why, earlier this year, he launched Indy Achieves, an education program that will provide millions in scholarships and grants to low-income students attending Ivy Tech and IUPUI, helping to increase the number of Marion County residents qualified for the jobs of the 21st century.

Prior to his election to the Indianapolis Mayor's office, Joe Hogsett served for four years as United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, where he accumulated an impressive record. He successfully launched the office’s first Public Corruption Working Group, a Civil Rights Task Force, as well as a groundbreaking Violent Crime Initiative.

Mayor Joe has deep roots in this city: for twenty-five years, his father worked at a Westside factory, and he himself has lived and worked in Indianapolis for more than three decades. Mayor Joe earned his law degree and undergraduate degree from Indiana University; he received graduate degrees from IUPUI, Butler University and the Christian Theological Seminary, and in addition to his career of public service, he has more than twenty years of experience in the private practice of law. He and his wife Steph have three children.

James W. Merritt

Jim Merritt was born in Indianapolis and has lived there his entire life. He resides in Lawrence Township. Jim graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. He is the proud father of three adult children and one granddaughter. Jim served as President of Circle Financial Corporation and Vice President of the Indiana Railroad Company. Currently he serves as President of JWM Consulting Corporation. Jim Merritt has devoted the majority of his adult life to public service. At the age of 31, he was the youngest member ever elected to the state senate, up to that point. Since 1991, he has represented District 31. In the State Senate, Senator Merritt serves as the Majority Caucus Chair. Also, Senator Merritt serves as a majority member of the following committees: Commerce and Technology, Homeland Security and Transportation, Veterans Affairs and the Military, Joint Rules, Public Policy, Rules and Legislative Procedure and the Utilities Committee which he Chairs. Merritt was elected Chair of the Marion County Republican Party in March of 2017. He resigned that position in December of 2018 and announced his candidacy for Mayor of Indianapolis in January 2019.

[Editor’s note: The following questions were the top six most popular questions submitted by and voted upon by NUVO readers. Moore and Rios did not return their answers before the primary election.]

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.?

Hatch: As Mayor of Indianapolis I will address quality of life issues for Indianapolis residents by utilizing best practices. There are many communities that are getting it right, let’s look at the best communities. We start with the desire to be the best community and work to that end.

Hogsett: As the Mayor of Indianapolis, there are no more important issues than those that affect the quality of life of the residents of our city. From the first day that I took office, I have focused squarely on making our city better for all of those who call it home -- launching LiftIndy neighborhoods to revitalize communities through targeted inclusive growth, economic development, and affordable housing; addressing food deserts through innovative community-based programs; increasing our green spaces in Indianapolis neighborhoods; and launching our city’s first comprehensive sustainability plan. Indianapolis is moving forward, together, to build a city that works for all.

Merritt: As a state senator, I have worked diligently over the years to improve quality of life issues. Specifically, poverty issues including homelessness and hunger have been a focus of mine since the early 1990’s. I authored Senate Bill 464 which provides initial steps required to begin to break the cycle of homelessness. Throughout my public service career, I have concentrated on hunger issues including food stamp legislation. I also authored Senate Bill 15 in 2016 commonly referred to as the “Fresh Food Initiative”. A priority goal of a Merritt Administration would be improving and expanding recycling which is past due.

NUVO: I want to know how they are going to support the public school system.

Hatch: Supporting the public school system will be a major part of my quality of life initiative. There is a serious issue with our public school’s privatization. For profit schools must have a limited role in public education. I will do my personal best to ensure each school district supports the City/County Quality of Life initiative.

Hogsett: Public education is vital for our city’s families and communities. I have worked in partnership with all of our city’s school districts, in order to ensure that our public school system is moving forward for our students. I am also dedicated to increasing access to education. That is why I have launched Indy Achieves, an education program that will provide millions in scholarships and grants to low-income students who plan to attend Ivy Tech and IUPUI, helping to remove barriers for Indianapolis students to achieve their higher education dreams.

Merritt: I believe the Mayor of Indianapolis has a moral responsibility to support public schools. Access to a high-quality free education for all children throughout the city is not only a right, it’s the right thing to do for the overall quality of life of our community. A successful public school system is the cornerstone to the success of our children. The mayor must be supportive of and actively involved with public schools by interacting with administrators, principals and teachers in schools.

NUVO: What are your plans to help Indianapolis have a more equitable distribution of resources to help marginalized communities without contributing to gentrification?

Hatch: My Quality of Life initiative will include more equitable distribution of resources to help marginalized communities. The bar must be raised for quality of life for all Marion County residents. There needs to be a threshold where no one falls below.

Hogsett: I am committed to creating a city focused on inclusive growth, where prosperity and opportunity are attainable for all. I have boosted neighborhood revitalization efforts with initiatives like the new Lift Indy program, which learns from the lessons of previous efforts, partnering with community organizations to invest in targeted economic development, affordable housing, and social services in order to jumpstart momentum in local neighborhoods, while protecting and uplifting longtime residents. I am also proud of our work to tackle urban blight in Indianapolis by rehabbing, building, or tearing down over 2,500 new homes.

Merritt: Infrastructure improvements, community clean-up programs, and support of neighborhood organizations are the first line of defense against blight and crime. As mayor, my administration will consistently work with neighborhood representatives to identify problems and bring governmental, business, faith-based representatives and community advocates together to collectively address specific concerns. The challenges that neighborhoods face vary. We must work together to identify each specific concern and then apply the collective resources available from government, neighborhood groups, churches and the business community in order to create and maintain stable neighborhoods.

NUVO: How will you address the pothole problem?

Hatch: There appears to be plenty of blame to go around for who and what caused the pothole problem. Let’s solve it by resurfacing our streets; this fill the pothole approach is not working for our citizens. As Mayor, I will find the funding to do this basic requirement of my office. Again, my best practices approach is to find the most appropriate 21st century technology that is durable and eco-friendly.

Hogsett: Decades of underfunding has caused local infrastructure to crumble under winter weather conditions. That’s why, from day one, we have focused on ways to increase city spending on roads and bridges -- without additional local taxes on already overtaxed Marion County residents. Last year we laid out a plan that will invest $400 million in Indy’s roads, streets, and sidewalks over the next four years. This year alone we will resurface 167 lane miles of roadway and investing $126 million in transportation infrastructure -- a nearly $90 million increase in funding from 2016 projections. I am also mindful that a main driver of this historic issue is the tax inequity of our current income tax distribution under state law. That’s why I have worked closely with our regional leaders to move conversations forward as to what collaboration across Central Indiana could look like when it comes to our shared infrastructure.

Merritt: In my administration, the director of the DPW, will have a civil engineering background (unlike the current director) and will ensure that crack sealing throughout the County will be performed all summer and fall. This will be done before winter arrives every single year to reduce water from penetrating the asphalt which causes potholes during the freeze thaw process. In addition, strip patching will be performed in a proactive manner during the warmer months in preparation for winter. These are basic preventative measures that must be done and that have always been done, prior to the last three years.

NUVO: What will you do to encourage the increased use of alternate (non motor vehicle) forms of transportation in the city?

Hatch: Any form of transportation requires our roads and sidewalks to be safe, well lit, with no potholes. For example, bicycling and scootering is currently very dangerous due to small wheeled bicycles and scooters hitting deep potholes and causing wrecks and injuries. I support public transportation that is economical and environmentally friendly.

Hogsett: In 2016, Marion County voters supported a comprehensive overhaul and expansion of IndyGo's transit system, including the construction of rapid transit lines along major thoroughfares in our city, more than $26 million in funding for increased connectivity, upgrades to road and sidewalk infrastructure, as well as investments in pedestrian safety. I have been proud to work closely with neighborhood groups, funding a comprehensive traffic study and investing nearly $3 million to help ensure the safety of Indianapolis residents who would be affected by IndyGo’s construction. I have also been proud to work to bring the Indy Greenways Full Circle Master Plan to life, in order to ensure that our city is building up neighborhood connectivity, as well as a vibrant network of greenways to help ensure that residents have a multitude of options when it comes to alternative transportation options. From widening the across our urban core Monon Trail, to expanding the Pennsy Trail on the Eastside, to working with community leaders on the Westside on completing the B&O Trail, we continue to move forward in connecting our neighborhoods and communities.

Merritt: The continued expansion of bike lanes, walking trails and lineal park space are important quality of life issues in any major metropolitan area. Indianapolis must continue its commitment to these initiatives as viable alternatives to motor vehicle transportation. I am committed to mobility of choice for residents. This choice in mobility should include both mass transit and private fare services such as taxis, Uber, Lyft and others, as well as, scooter and bicycle rentals.

NUVO: How do you feel about decriminalizing possession of personal amounts of cannabis, as other large cities have done?

Hatch: My first Executive order will decriminalize the personal use of marijuana in the City of Indianapolis and Marion County. We are wasting tax dollars as well as police and court time. These resources must be used instead to combat violent crime and fixing our broken infrastructure. My bully pulpit will support and push hard for full legalization of cannabis for both medical and recreational use city, county, state, and nationwide.

Hogsett: Unlike other major cities, in Indiana local elected leadership has no authority to decriminalize drug possession. Civic engagement is important when it comes to ensuring that all citizens’ voices are heard. I encourage everyone to engage their legislative representatives at the state level to voice their opinion on this and all other state level issues.

Merritt: I believe more conversation regarding the decriminalization of cannabis needs to take place in the public domain. Additional studies are continuing to shed light on the effects of cannabis. Like any drug, cannabis should be carefully studied to determine its potential benefits, as well as, its detrimental attributes.

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

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