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2 compete for Democratic mayoral nod in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Ind. (WISH) — Both of the Democratic Party’s candidates for this Marion County city’s highest office said the city needs to find a way to attract businesses of its own.

Republican Steve Collier is not seeking another term as mayor of Lawrence, and Democratic Party insiders have said they consider Lawrence a prime opportunity to flip a mayoral seat. Deb Whitfield and Shawn Denney are carrying that party’s banner into the May primary.

Nestled in Marion County’s northeast corner, Lawrence is the largest of the county’s four municipalities that are not consolidated with the city of Indianapolis. Once the home of Fort Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence still hosts the Defense Financing and Accounting Service along with armories for the Indiana National Guard and the Army, Navy and Marine Corps Reserves. Other than that residual defense infrastructure, it is primarily a bedroom community, something both candidates said they want to move the city away from.

Deb Whitfield

Deb Whitfield has lived in Lawrence for about 30 years. She is a respiratory therapist and a diversity, equity and inclusion director for a local health care system. In addition, she has served on the Lawrence Common Council since 2019. She said she decided to run for mayor because she found residents of the neighborhoods she represented felt they were not being listened to by city leaders. She said she wants to rebuild trust in the city and make sure everyone has a voice.

“I want to unite us. I believe that as we’re together, we’re going to be very strong,” she said. “We’re going to be able to break some barriers.”

Whitfield said the key to keeping Lawrence safe is to make sure police have the funding and equipment they need but also provide resources for those facing mental health issues. She said she wants to hold community outreach events to connect people with the resources they might need.

In terms of the city’s growth, Whitfield said officials should find a way to help small businesses meet their needs. She said the city should provide rental space for small businesses to set up shop from time to time in a manner similar to the farmer’s market on Civic Plaza off 56th Street. Whitfield said this would allow entrepreneurs to grow their business without incurring the costs of a lease.

Shawn Denney

Shawn Denney has lived in Lawrence since 2009. He has served on the Common Council since 2020 and previously served on the Lawrence Township school board and as the township’s deputy trustee. He said he decided to run for mayor because he wants to give back to the community where he raised his family.

“Right now, a lot of people call us the drive-through community. I think we need to get rid of that acronym and be the go-to community,” he said.

Denney said Lawrence police and city chaplains already are working to establish or reestablish relationships throughout the community. He said the next step to keep the public safe is to find ways to reach people battling mental health or substance abuse problems before they enter the criminal justice system.

On growth, Denney said the city needs to promote opportunities along Pendleton Pike. He said the presence of Pendleton Pike and I-465 mean any business that chooses to locate in the city has easy access to major thoroughfares.

The winner of the May 2 primary will face Republican David Hoffman, the city’s former police chief, in November. Hoffman is unopposed in his primary. April 3 is the last day to register to vote if you want to vote in the primary.

“All INdiana Politics” airs at 9:30 a.m. Sunday on WISH-TV.