Fox 59 mayoral debate

Left to right: Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, state Sen. Jim Merritt and Libertarian Douglas McNaughton participated in a debate Oct. 28 that focused on public safety, roads and economic development. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

Three mayoral candidates got one of their last widely publicized opportunities to appeal to voters during a third and final debate Oct. 28 at the Chapel Hill 7th and 8th Grade Center in Wayne Township.

Election Day is Nov. 5. Along with the offices of mayor for Indianapolis and Lawrence, all 25 city-county council seats are up for election.

The debate, hosted and televised by Fox 59 and the West Side Chamber of Commerce, focused on crime, roads and economic development. Most questions came from the moderator, Fox 59 news anchor Dan Spehler, and some came from citizens around Marion County.

This debate was different than the first two because, along with Democratic incumbent Joe Hogsett and Republican state Sen. Jim Merritt, it featured Libertarian candidate Douglas McNaughton.

The first question posed to Merritt asked if he regretted a false claim made on a website paid for by his campaign that accused Hogsett of having his wages garnished in 2011 for failing to pay child support.

“Mayor, I very much regret that and extend my apology to you,” Merritt said on stage. “I’m accountable, like we all are in politics.”

Speaking with a group of reporters after the debate, Merritt took responsibility but said he wasn’t aware of the false accusation before it was published. Merritt said he hadn’t talked with Hogsett about it until they saw each other at the debate, and he told Hogsett before going on stage that he would apologize.

The website has since been taken down.

When the candidates were asked what they would do to “lift up” communities of color, Hogsett said he has worked with the community to “craft an agenda for the 21st century.” This seemed to allude to the much-discussed theme of a Black agenda. Hogsett did not develop a Black agenda and said his policies would help everyone.

Hogsett highlighted a racial disparities study that the city plans to have completed by the end of the year.

McNaughton said he doesn’t need a study to understand the impacts of racism in areas such as the criminal justice system and education because it’s more practical to go to the communities and ask what their needs and struggles are. Communities would do those things if they had the resources, he said, which is where government would need to step in and help. 

Merritt has a document titled “An Agenda for the African American Community of Indianapolis” but didn’t mention it during his response or at any other time during the debate. He did talk about some of those proposals, including creating the Indianapolis Commission for African American Males.

On the issue of public transportation, Hogsett and Merritt disputed over the effectiveness and consequences of IndyGo’s Red Line.

Merritt hinted that he would approach the Purple and Blue lines — which will connect downtown with Lawrence and the airport, respectively — differently, including possibly making shared lanes for buses and cars. Some of the route for the Red Line includes bus-only lanes.

McNaughton floated the idea of at least partially privatizing the city’s transportation system and said it could even go as far as full privatization, where the city’s only responsibility would be regulation and determining where stops need to be.

“Anything that is legal to do for a private citizen should be privatized as much as possible,” he said after the debate.

McNaughton also said one of Hogsett’s main talking points throughout the campaign — that IMPD has hired more police officers and is back to beat policing — isn’t relevant when it comes to crime prevention. Crimes happen with or without more police officers, he said, because their role is to catch criminals.

Hogsett said having more officers is “paying great dividends.” He often talks about how the steady rise in homicides started before he took office and that violent crime overall is down.

“We’ve made progress,” Hogsett said, “with more work to do.”

In a recent IndyPolitics poll, 57% of likely voters said they would vote for Hogsett, and 23% said they would vote for Merritt. McNaughton was at 4%. 

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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