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Carmel mayoral candidates look to continue Brainard’s legacy

Candidates discuss plan to reduce Carmel’s debt

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Despite coming from opposing parties, Sue Finkam and Miles Nelson both said they want to continue the work done by Carmel’s outgoing mayor.

Jim Brainard, a Republican, is stepping down after an unprecedented 28 years as mayor of Carmel, one of the longest stints of any mayor in the state’s history. Finkam and Nelson both currently serve on the Carmel City Council, with Nelson being the first Democrat elected to the council in the city’s history. Carmel has long been a Republican stronghold, but Democrats have made inroads in the past few years. President Joe Biden won more votes in the city than former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Destiny Wells repeated the feat two years later in her unsuccessful bid for Secretary of State. That same year, Democrat Victoria Garcia Wilburn narrowly defeated Republican Fred Glynn to capture a new seat in the Indiana House of Representatives.

The race took an unexpected turn in June after the group Moms for Liberty published a newsletter which prominently featured a quote by Adolf Hitler. Nelson condemned the quote and called on other Hamilton County officials, Finkam in particular, to do the same. In an interview with News 8 for All INdiana Politics, Nelson said the problem for him wasn’t so much the Hitler quote as the newsletter’s attacks against a Carmel high school student group that supports the interests of LGBTQ+ students. He said Finkam took too long to denounce the quote and, when she did, condemned the quote, but not the group behind it. For her part, Finkam said she has repeatedly denounced the quote and accused Nelson of seizing on the controversy because he doesn’t have a plan on which to run. She said she has no connections to the group.

Sue Finkam

Finkam was the victor in a three-way Republican primary in May. The owner of a marketing firm, Finkam said she’s running for mayor to keep Carmel one of the best places to live, building off of Brainard’s success.

Finkam said collaboration would figure prominently into her leadership if elected. She said she would establish a public safety council and form alliances with other area mayors to work on issues such as housing and economic development. She also said she wants to form a dedicated department of economic development. Economic development currently falls under the purview of the city’s community relations department.

Carmel’s municipal debt currently sits at roughly $1.5 billion, a byproduct of years of infrastructure projects. Finkam said more than a third of that debt is the responsibility of developers, not the city, and the city has a plan to pay off the rest. She said the debt was a worthwhile expense because the infrastructure investments were necessary to spur economic development, which means more tax revenue.

Finkam said rising crime rates are not getting enough attention in the mayor’s race. She said Carmel needs a mayor who will support the city’s police.

“Eighty-three percent of the arrests that we have are from outside of Carmel, so it’s a problem outside of Carmel,” Finkam said. “It impacts our quality of life, it impacts our budget, and it impacts our brand, so we have to deal with this.”

Miles Nelson

Despite coming from the opposite party, Nelson, a businessman and co-founder of the nonprofit Carmel Cleanup Crew, said he, too, admires Brainard’s legacy and wants to build on it. He said Brainard sat down with him after he was first elected to go over who to talk to whenever a constituent needed help. Nelson said he would like to create a formal training program for any new city council members.

Nelson said he wants to build an inclusive, transparent, and environmentally-friendly city. He said voters often tell him they feel they’ve been left in the dark about the city’s actions. To prevent this, he said he would hold mobile city halls throughout the community to allow residents to meet with him and with city department heads. He also wants to launch a weekly podcast to talk about the things he’s working on in the mayor’s office. On the environmental front, he said he wants to build more green space, including microforests scattered throughout the city. He also plans further investment in environmentally-friendly technologies and energy sources, such as a planned methane-capture system at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

On the city’s debt, Nelson said Carmel’s finances are more than adequate to pay off the debt and put away money for emergencies. He said the debt led to infrastructure that made Carmel attractive to businesses and new talent.

Nelson said Carmel’s park system is not getting enough attention in the mayor’s race. He said continuing to build multiuse paths will help make the city safer and more attractive to pedestrians and bicyclists, much as the installation of roundabouts has.

“We’re at a crossroads right now,” Nelson said. “Our mayor of 28 years is stepping down to pursue other interests. I’m running for mayor to ensure that our community continues to be this beacon of light.”

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

Early voting is underway. Election Day is Nov. 7.