INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett is an “even-keeled” kind of guy.
As a former U.S. Attorney and Indiana Secretary of State, Hogsett is known for caution — never straying too far outside his boundaries as a fiscally conservative Democrat mayor in the middle of a very politically red state.
Most proud when announcing an economic or development advancement that signals, “another great day for the city of Indianapolis,” Hogsett rarely lets his exasperation or anger at running a complex major American city show through.
That is until this last week.
Mayor Hogsett was already buffeted by a rocky 2020 that saw riots gutting downtown Indianapolis at a cost of more than $8 million and COVID-19 taking more than 1400 lives in Marion County, as well as IMPD investigating a record setting 245 homicides.
But the mayor’s patience may have reached its breaking point with the murders of six people inside a home on North Adams Street, a tragedy compounded by the arrest of a teenage relative accused of the killings.
His voice quavering during a briefing the afternoon of the homicides, Hogsett vowed to track down the person responsible for the worst mass killing in Indianapolis in nearly 15 years.
During a briefing with reporters mid-week, Hogsett sarcastically answered a question posed by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz of IndyPolitics.org.
“’What do you say to the general public about the murder rate? What are you guys doing? What can you do to make people feel better about the situation?’” said Shabazz, paraphrasing the blanket question that upset the mayor.
“I’ve never seen him lose it before. I’ve seen him upset and emotional before at different events but not quite as upset as he seemed to be that day. He said, ‘Abdul, you’ve asked me this question 37 times and I’ll give you the same answer 37 times.’ Where the hell is all of this coming from here?”
Shabazz continued, “And then the more I thought about it….I would not be surprised if the six murders is actually what did it because that was heartbreaking for all of us. It doesn’t surprise me that that would have been the tipping point and he just lost it. I just happened to be in the line of fire.”
As the virtual briefing was attended by just a handful of reporters and the mayor’s staff, Hogsett’s aggressive response to such a basic question would have remained potentially unknown, yet it’s the type of reaction residents have been clamoring for in social media and in person for almost a year.
“Well, Joe, where’s the resolution?” asked a man who identified himself as “Southside Jimmy” while standing in a front yard on a street where a neighbor’s truck was vandalized and $3000 worth of tools were recently stolen.
“You’ve been doing this for a long time, you’re our mayor, where’s our payoff, because I’m sure not seeing it and I don’t think Indianapolis is either.”
If the mayor would come to his neighborhood, Jimmy said he would introduce Hogsett to the homeless who drift by asking for handouts or jobs.
“This has finally got up under his skin a little, but, he’s not gonna know unless he’s out there in the trenches finding out what’s going on.”
Rachel Cooper has been in the trenches of Fountain Square for decades, feeding her neighbors and referring them to social and city services.
“I’ve done this in neighborhoods in this city for over 50 years, and I’ve never seen this city so depressed, so out of control as it is in the last two years,” said Cooper. “We’ve had so many murders in the last three years in this city. We can’t even have people coming into this town to feel safe anymore.”
“I don’t think he’s handling it very well,” said Cooper, who admitted to voting for Hogsett’s re-election in 2019. “I think he let our city be destroyed and it takes a mass murder to even get him out in the neighborhoods to even talk to people and find out what the problems are.”
Saturday, Hogsett travelled to the 3500 block of North Adams Street as dozens of relatives and friends of the slain family of Raymond Childs, Jr., and other city and community officials mourned the deaths in a memorial service.
With a Bible in hand, Hogsett told the gathering, “We come together today as one city. A city that mourns, a city that grieves, a city that comforts each other in those times of trouble. A city that believes in itself, in its future and in its people. We come together today to pause and reflect, one, where we have been, and where we are going.”
Sources familiar with the mayor’s mood on the 25th floor of the City County Building say Hogsett is aware of the widespread criticism of his leadership on public safety over the last year but is still confident in internal polling that pegs his favorable ratings on multiple issues overall significantly higher than 50%.
Hogsett was re-elected to a second term with 72% of the Marion County vote.
In response to the question posed by Shabazz during last week’s virtual briefing, Hogsett and his staff highlighted IMPD reforms including technology upgrades, investment in body worn cameras, additional beat policing, multi-million dollar commitments to community crime prevention grant funding.
They also pointed to the anticipated opening of the Community Justice Campus with its Assessment & Intervention Center, the addition of civilian participation in IMPD Use of Force and General Orders Boards and enhanced budget commitments to facilitate the hiring of more police officers.
For Shabazz, the reporter who asked the question that pushed the mayor’s buttons, Hogsett’s aggressive response was surprising but welcomed.
“My first reaction was to be defensive, ‘don’t be mad at me,’ but then, you know what, I’m actually kind of happy the mayor got mad and upset because of all the things we’ve seen in Indianapolis since Joe’s become mayor.”
Shabazz added, “He was the U.S. Attorney, ran as the Public Safety Mayor, the murder rate has just gone up and up and up, and every time we ask about it, whether it’s you or me or one of our other brothers and sisters in the media, the mayor always seemed very matter-of-fact about the whole thing, like when we had the riots down here back in May and June.”
“First of all, he was nowhere to be found at first and then it was like, ‘Okay, get mad, get upset.’ to quote FOP President Rick Snyder, ‘Where is the outrage?,” asked Shabazz.
“Well, I guess we finally saw it so maybe, hopefully this will be the fire the people need on the 25th floor to get off their butts and get things done,” said Shabazz, “and if you’re the mayor of the 12th largest city in America then, damn it, start acting like it.”