Indiana GOP aims to take control of some mayor offices

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Republicans are pressing to snatch control of some Indiana mayoral offices from Democrats and further boost the GOP’s political dominance in the state.

The outcome of Tuesday’s local elections will also decide whether a new casino can be built in Terre Haute and the fate of several school district construction and security improvement proposals.

Democratic Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett is seeking to hold off Republican state Sen. Jim Merritt for a second four-year term. Republicans are making a bigger push in Fort Wayne for challenger Tim Smith to deny Democratic Mayor Tom Henry a fourth term leading the state’s second-largest city.

Republicans also are targeting races in Muncie and Kokomo where Democratic mayors aren’t seeking reelection and in Elkhart after the GOP mayor decided to step aside.

A look at what voters face around the state:

BIGGEST CITIES

As Republicans control all statewide elected offices and hold supermajorities in the Legislature, the main source of Democratic influence in the state comes from their mayors in most of Indiana’s biggest cities.

Hogsett seems to be cruising toward reelection in Indianapolis, despite criticism from Merritt over continued troubles with violent crime in the city and the condition of local roads. Hogsett had raised $5.6 million for his campaign by mid-October, while Merritt reported collecting about $800,000. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb even left Merritt off a 10-city tour to boost mayoral candidates in the campaign’s closing days.

Henry is touting economic growth in Fort Wayne and the completion of several downtown construction projects as successes since he became mayor in 2008. Henry has held off tough GOP candidates before and Smith, an executive for healthcare liability insurer MedPro, has slightly outraised Henry in campaign contributions. Smith argues the city has accumulated too much debt during Henry’s tenure and that not enough has been done to curb crime.

Republican control of the state’s third-largest city is assured as Democrats aren’t challenging Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke’s bid for a third term.

OPEN OFFICES

Voters in Muncie and Elkhart are picking new mayors after their current leaders decided against seeking reelection while facing controversies in their administrations.

Democratic Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler announced he would step aside amid an FBI investigation that’s resulted in the city’s former building commissioner pleading guilty to money laundering and wire fraud. City community development director Terry Whitt Bailey is the Democratic candidate against Republican City Councilman Dan Ridenour.

Republican Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese abandoned his campaign for a second term as the city’s police leadership faced criticism over the handling of misconduct cases, including a video showing two officers beating a handcuffed man. Two city officers were charged this year with federal civil rights violations for using excessive force. Democrat Rod Roberson, a former city councilman, or Republican Dave Miller, who was Elkhart’s mayor from 2000 through 2008, will replace Neese.

Both parties are targeting Kokomo, where Democrat Greg Goodnight isn’t running again after three terms as mayor.

NEW AND OLD FACES

A top aide to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is on the ballot to replace him as South Bend’s mayor. James Mueller comfortably won a nine-candidate primary for the Democratic nomination in May.

Mueller is the city’s Department of Community Investment director. Buttigieg endorsed Mueller, his former high school classmate, for the nomination. Mueller faces Republican Sean Haas, a high school teacher, but South Bend hasn’t elected a GOP mayor since the 1960s.

In Gary, Lake County Assessor Jerome Prince is unopposed for mayor after he defeated two-term Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson in the Democratic primary.

Several prominent mayors are running unopposed, giving Republican Jim Brainard a seventh term in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel, Democrat Thomas McDermott Jr. a fifth term in Hammond, Democrat Tony Roswarski a fifth term in Lafayette and Democrat John Hamilton a second term in Bloomington.

TERRE HAUTE CASINO

Vigo County voters will decide whether to allow construction of western Indiana’s first casino in Terre Haute. The referendum was included in a gambling bill approved by state lawmakers this year that would make Terre Haute the 14th city in Indiana with a state-licensed or tribal casino.

Two casino companies have expressed interest in Terre Haute, with one touting a project of at least $100 million that would have 300 to 400 workers. They have until Dec. 1 to submit proposals to the Indiana Gaming Commission, which would select an operator for the license.

SCHOOL REFERENDUMS

Ten school districts around the state are seeking voter approval to exceed the statewide property tax caps for construction projects or other expenses. The largest proposed projects are a $190 million renovation of two high schools by the Lawrence Township schools in Marion County, $89 million in construction for schools in the Indianapolis suburb of Zionsville and the Huntington County school district’s planned $68 million in high school renovations in northeastern Indiana.

The Carmel schools district is proposing the state’s first school safety referendum after the Legislature voted to allow that option this year. The district’s tax hike would go toward paying for more police officers in its schools and adding mental health services.

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