Candidates race to the finish line as record-setting mayoral race draws to close

Joe Hogsett (left) and Jim Merritt (right)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — It’s never been so expensive to run for mayor of Indianapolis and the two leading candidates spent the last weekend before Tuesday’s election looking for votes.

Befitting his underdog fight, State Senator Jim Merritt, a Republican from the north side, visited the Vegas Boxing Club to watch young people work out their aggression in the ring as opposed to the street, while incumbent Democrat Joe Hogsett campaigned among early voters at the Washington Township Government Center.

“There are so many different people who are helping their fellow man that they never get the headline, they never get anything other than they’re doing something for their community,” said Merritt, who found searching out unheralded neighbors helping neighbors the highlight of his campaign and a hallmark of his call for better city coordination. “When you have points of light like this, there’s no coordination, no collaboration, there’s no communication, and we have so many great people doing great things that they would be so much more powerful if everybody was collaborating.”

After announcing his candidacy in an unheated abandoned brewpub in Butler-Tarkington last winter, Merritt completed the session of the General Assembly, focusing on opioid treatment and funding legislation, before hitting the campaign trail across the city.

“I wish I would’ve been able to visit more barbershops,” he said. “That is really where a lot of the community resides and a lot of wisdom comes out and I feel as though we were able to make it to every nook and every cranny of Indianapolis but there are a lot of places that we found and experienced and that’s what I will do as mayor.”

Merritt called for more public safety and infrastructure spending.

“We are running Indianapolis on the cheap,” he said.

The man who has the job that Merritt wants said he’s been gratified by the reaction of neighbors as he walked communities with IMPD Chief Bryan Roach this year and beefed up spending to repave city streets.

“Doubling down on public safety” will be his priority if elected to a second term, said Hogsett.

“Obviously the short term infrastructure investments I think are paying great dividends but I’ve always been very candidate that we need a long term solution to the infrastructure challenges of Marion County and that’s gonna come as the result of conversations that I continue to have with the leadership of the contiguous counties,” said Hogsett.

“I think that the metropolitan Indianapolis area is going to have to propose a solution to our infrastructure needs for the state legislature and the governor to consider.”

No candidate has ever raised or spent so much money to be elected mayor of Indianapolis as Joe Hogsett. As of last Friday, he’d raised $5.8 million over the course of four years for his re-election bid.

“I think the cost of elections are climbing to levels that are concerning,” said Hogsett, referring to the limits of state campaign spending laws.  “The number of low-dollar contributions, I think, is indicative of a grassroots campaign.

“Sure, I’ve had the support of donors that give more than what would normally be on average the case, but there’s no expectation on their part or on my part,” said the mayor whose campaign reported an additional $140,000 raised in the last couple weeks, including a $30,000 donation by retired businesswoman and philanthropist Cristel DeHaan. “I’m just grateful for their support and hope they vote for me on Election Day.”

Merritt was not able to raise a comparable war chest despite his former post as Marion County GOP Chairman whose job it is to build a grassroots organization and strong bench of candidates while shoring up party finances and donations.

“Fundraising was really really difficult,” he said. “If everybody knew that I had $5.5 million thrown at me along with an almost 60% Democrat county, if people knew that, they would be surprised, I think.”

Merritt eventually raised $844,000, compared with 2015 Republican challenger Chuck Brewer’s $1 million campaign and two-time mayor Greg Ballard’s $3.6 million 2011 re-election bid.

Merritt said Ballard, who introduced him at his candidacy announcement, gave his campaign $10,000.

“I knew that this campaign would be one of living off the land and I went in it with my eyes wide open,” said Merritt.

As of Sunday evening, the Marion County Election Board reported 17,609 early votes had been cast.

On a similar date in 2015, 6,881 early votes had been cast compared to 15,476 early ballots in 2011.

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