Review: Bill Hudnut: Twilight Reflections, Evening Meditations

Hudnut and his wife Bev in a still from the documentary.

Debuts Aug. 27, 7:30 p.m.


3 stars

Given the current political climate, it’s startling to remember that former Indy Mayor Bill Hudnut’s a Republican. Hudnut, now in his nineties and facing a bevy of health problems, is the subject of a conversation with John Krull airing on WFYI this week. Bill Hudnut: Twilight Reflections, Evening Meditations is just that — a program that’s more introspective than informative.

The basics are here: Hudnut was a former preacher-turned-politician, a Presbyterian minister who served in Congress, wrangled with opponent-turned-pal Andy Jacobs, Jr., and eventually became the mayor who took the nap out of Naptown. Hudnut built a stadium and waited for an NFL franchise, stood on a snowbank during the blizzard of ’78 and told Indy everything would be OK and helped build the tent big that ultimately brought in the lunatics that now hamstring today’s GOP.

As host John Krull opines here, the modern Republican Party wants nothing to do with a Hudnut today — nor a Lugar or a Goldsmith, for that matter (and one wonders about Ballard). One of the more interesting revelations in this half-hour show is the origin of the anti-RFRA letter sent to the Indy Star and signed by Indy’s five living Mayors: The notion was Bev Hudnut’s idea, the Mayor’s wife and ever-present companion.

Although the documentary’s rather short on biographical and historical touchpoints — we see Hudnut walking in front of the ruins of a Ramada Inn that had been struck by an Air Force plane in 1987 with no direct reference to the disaster, for example — it’s long on political contrast. The 16-year-tenure of Bill Hudnut as Indy’s mayor was instrumental in turning the Circle City from India-No-Place to a Super-Bowl-host city. The very notion of bringing disparate viewpoints together to find common ground for the common good is all but lost in today’s screaming over who’s got the proper exclusionary bona fides to be a “real Republican.” The Mayor himself describes the modern GOP as “rigid” and “obstinate” — one gets the sense he’s used stronger language behind closed doors.

Bill Hudnut, ever cheerful, ever positive, doesn’t look defeated as he remembers watching his party move to the right. As he and Krull mark how the Republican base declared him “too moderate” (a laughable concept, as the film rightly notes), Hudnut looks ever hopeful. In the Mayor’s own words, how does one build a world class city — or a world-class political movement, for that matter?

“Tolerance is important. Inclusivity is important.”

Thanks, Mr. Mayor.