By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

June 27, 2023

Preparing for the first general election since the Indianapolis City County Council approved the new district maps, Democratic and Republican party leaders are optimistic they can recruit candidates to fill the empty slots on their respective ballots and give voters choices in November.

Democrats and Republicans across Indiana have until noon on July 3 to appoint individuals to run for municipal seats for which their party did not field any candidates in the primary. In Marion County, Democrats have four such vacancies to fill and Republicans have 11.

According to Myla Eldridge, Marion County Democratic Party chair, Phil Webster and Ryan Hughey are being tapped to run in Districts 21 and 23, respectively. Also, the party is working “every single day until the deadline” to find candidates to run in Districts 22 and 25.

“I think what we’re looking for in candidates that are willing to step up and run for office are those that actually care about democracy, care about the city that they live in, care about how we can improve our city and make it a better city,” Eldridge said. “… We look for candidates that are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work and do what’s right for the constituents that they will be serving within their districts.”

Joe Elsener, Marion County Republican Party chair, did not identify any recruited candidates or any district vacancies that had been filled but he is bullish on his party’s prospects. With the ticket being led by mayoral candidate Jefferson Shreve, the GOP attracted candidates to run in the primary and, Elsener said, is building the “biggest kind of political campaign operation we’ve had since (Mayor Greg Ballard’s) reelection” in 2011.

“Basically what we did is we set out a target list of races and we were able to hit the target list of races that we wanted to run folks in,” Elsener said, explaining the Republican strategy to recruit candidates “where we felt like we have an opportunity to chip away at (the Democrats’) supermajority and to pick up ground. We have definitely accomplished that and, again, I’m really excited about this summer and fall.”

The Libertarian Party has until noon July 3 to hold a convention specifically to nominate candidates for city or town office. The Libertarians did not respond to a request for comment about their plans for the Indianapolis council races.

Redrawn districts

In 2022, the council redrew the district maps as required following the release of the 2020 U.S. Census data. The new map was viewed as creating five solidly Republican districts on the south side of the city along with two leaning Republican districts, according to reporting by the Indianapolis Star.

Councilors approved the map on a bipartisan vote of 22 to 3. The votes against the new map came from Democrat Monroe Gray, former Democrat-turned-Independent Ethan Evans and Republican Michael-Paul Hart, according to WFYI.

Elsener echoed the criticism of the redistricting process that many voiced last year. The GOP leader accused the Democrats of shutting out the public and paying “high-priced consultants” to draw the new district behind closed doors.

He said the gerrymandering has made recruiting candidates “really difficult” but he sees the Republican candidates meeting the challenge. Namely, Elsener believes Republican hopefuls Julie Calvert-Watts and Lisa Schmitz could capture seats on the west side of the city. Also, Derek Cahill has been knocking on doors and raising money in his run for District 23.

Elsener said his optimism about Republicans “moving the ball forward” and taking seats from Democrats is getting a boost from the public’s anger.

“The message we’re hearing is people are fed up. There’ve been eight years of Joe Hogsett, four years of a Democrat supermajority and public safety is worse than it’s ever been, infrastructure is worse than it’s ever been, downtown’s worse than it’s ever been,” Elsener said. “You’re going to see Democrats run on everything but their own record because if they run on their own record, they’re not going to have a chance this fall.”

Eldridge disputed the new map is giving the Democrats any kind of advantage. Instead, she noted, 70% of Marion County registered voters are Democrats and the current majority Democratic council was elected in 2019 before the districts were redrawn.

She sees the number of Democratic candidates as a reflection of “a great mayor” and the work Democrats have done to “make sure that the city is going to the next level.”

Candidates have been walking the neighborhoods in their districts and reaching out to the constituents.

“We do knock on doors because we think it’s important to have that intimate opportunity with our voters,” Eldridge said. “That’s what’s important. That’s what makes Democrats great. We’re willing to take the time to knock on the door to get to know that voter and to ask that voter, ‘What do you care about? How can we help you? What can we do better?’”

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