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Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard reflects on tenure

“Would you like a cup of coffee,” Mayor Jim Brainard asks as we enter a conference room adjacent to his office in Carmel City Hall. I had been told of Brainard’s graciousness and the longtime public servant lives up to the billing right away.

I set up my discussion with the man who serves as mayor in one of the best cities to live in America last year after he announced he would not seek another term. Originally, it was just going to be a meeting between a Carmel resident and the mayor, but I later asked if we could make the meeting a television interview and the mayor consented.

Nearly 30 years ago when Carmel elected the Republican mayor, nothing short of a revolution began. It was a transformation rooted in door-to-door research conducted by Brainard himself.

“I asked people whose doors I knocked on what their dreams, hopes, and aspirations were for their community,” Brainard says earnestly.

“We want a traditional city. We want a place with a downtown. We want a safe community with public amenities and parks where people can meet their neighbors,” he says.

What followed were decades of well-planned growth. A community that had once been a series of subdivisions and strip malls evolved into a beautiful, walkable, European-styled city with a downtown filled with restaurants and entertainment venues. The successful growth was a direct result of Brainard’s preparation.

Brainard had won the 1995 Republican primary and was unopposed in the general election, giving him seven months to prepare for his new job. He started by writing to universities with city planning curricula.

“I wrote a letter,” Brainard says with a smile. “An actual physical letter.”

“I asked for the syllabi for those courses, the basic courses,” the mayor says, recalling his task. “When I saw a book that was listed more than a couple of times, well then I thought I need to read that book.”

Brainard’s research informed his decision to replace countless intersections with roundabouts. While residents and visitors alike often joke about the many roundabouts in Carmel, there is empirical evidence the roundabouts are dramatically safer than the intersections of a bygone era.

“At a roundabout, everyone has to slow down,” Brainard maintains. “So, it’s better for younger drivers. It’s better, and safer for older drivers. There’s more response time.”

With Brainard retiring at the end of the year, four declared candidates are each seeking to replace him. Republicans Sue Finkham, Fred Glynn, and Kevin “Woody” Rider, as well as Democrat Miles Nelson. Brainard doesn’t hesitate when asked which candidate he’d like to see succeed him.

“For the Republican primary, I’m going to endorse Kevin “Woody” Rider,” Brainard makes his point succinctly.

“Kevin has been on the council for three terms. He’s worked hard at it. He’s a small business owner. He’s active in his church. Most importantly, he’s taken the time to be a volunteer on the redevelopment commission and taken the time to be a volunteer on the planning commission which is a thankless job. Because of those experiences, he has learned the ins and outs of how Carmel works, how Carmel government interacts with the private sector to make this a really wonderful place,” he concludes.