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IN Focus: Merritt enters race for Indianapolis mayor

INDIANAPOLIS - Turning to Indianapolis’ last Republican mayor for an introduction, State Senator Jim Merritt officially announced his campaign to defeat incumbent Mayor Joe Hogsett.

“Ladies and gentlemen, State Senator Jim Merritt,” said former mayor Greg Ballard to a round of applause from approximately 40 supporters at the Merritt campaign headquarters in the South Butler-Tarkington community, the site of at least five murders and gang warfare during the waning months of the Ballard administration in 2015.

Merritt, an eight-term senator from the north side of Indianapolis, praised the man in whose footsteps he would like to follow to return Republican control to the 25th floor of the City County Building.

“We will get back to data collection in the grassroots like Mayor Ballard,” Merritt said. “We will have a mayor’s night out every month. The mayor will be out, I will be out with my shirt sleeves up, we’re going to work on unsolved crimes.”

Merritt is attempting to succeed Hogsett who followed Ballard into office when the ex-Marine Colonel retired after two terms.

“It's all about communication,” said Merritt. “That’s what leaders do. Leaders tell a story and this mayor’s not telling the story.”

Hogsett’s story, as enunciated during his re-election announcement in December, is success in eliminating a $50 million annual deficit left behind by Ballard, hiring hundreds of police officers to replenish a depleted force, earmarking $126 million this year for street maintenance and repair and welcoming international high tech services firms such as Salesforce and Infosys to downtown Indianapolis.

State Sen. Jim Merritt announces run for mayor of Indianapolis

“People feel unsafe,” said Merritt. “It's theft and it's murder. And they won’t say it, but I believe there’s a lot of morale problems at IMPD. They won’t be there when I’m there. They won’t be there when I’m there.”

Applause followed Merritt’s promise to do better by Metro officers.

“I haven’t seen the figures of what we had and what we don’t,” said Merritt, claiming the Seattle Police Department has succeeded in hiring away numerous IMPD officers following a recruitment campaign in November. “We need more recruitment classes. But right now if I’m an IMPD officer I feel like a social worker with a gun. We need to do a lot better job at collaboration, coordination, convening, communication with our grass roots – so police officers can defend us and keep us safe and be what they’re supposed to be.

“This unsolved crime rate has to stop. We have got to redouble our efforts.”

While the city set yet another criminal homicide record for the fourth year in a row with 159 murders in 2018, IMPD homicide detectives have boosted their clearance rate from 42% to 65% as the overall crime statistics for Indianapolis, as reported to the FBI, are expected to drop at least six percent for the second year in a row.

Merritt promised great changes but admitted he had no specific solutions until he was asked to describe the success he’s enjoyed at the General Assembly taking the forefront in the fight against opioid addiction in Indiana.

“We’ll establish a comprehensive addiction recovery center in the city of Indianapolis with partnerships with all the hospitals,” he said. “We need a detox treatment recovery system of care in this state.”

Mayor Hogsett has included an Assessment and Intervention Center for drug addicted and mentally challenged arrestees at the $580 million Community Justice Center he successfully broke ground for on the eastside years after a more modest Ballard proposal to build a courthouse and jail complex on the banks of the White River failed when even republicans turned their back on the plan in 2015.

Merritt said he was unimpressed with Hogsett’s claim of bi-partisan cooperation with republican members of the City County Council that has often led to unanimous votes for administration initiatives and overwhelming support for recent balanced budgets.

“People expect us to work together,” he said. “We do that at statehouse and to have that as a major accomplishment after three years, great, wonderful, but what else is your agenda for the next 25 years?”

Merritt said he would be laying out his own specific plans to fulfill his promises while on the campaign trail over the next ten months.

He will continue to serve in the state senate where as a candidate he is precluded from personal involvement in fundraising for the mayor’s race during the current General Assembly session.

Merritt said he begins this campaign with $10,000 in the bank and will need to raise $1.5 million to match Hogsett’s headstart.

After Merritt’s announcement, Hogsett’s campaign released the following statement:

“This November, Indianapolis voters will have the opportunity to make their voices heard. Should Senator Merritt win his party’s nomination, I look forward to a spirited conversation.”

Republicans Chris Moore, John Schmitz and Councilman Jose Evans have also announced their candidacies for the GOP nomination.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett issued this statement in response to the announcement:

“This November, Indianapolis voters will have the opportunity to make their voices heard. Should Senator Merritt win his party’s nomination, I look forward to a spirited conversation.”

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