INDIANAPOLIS — You can see it with your own eyes. You can feel it in the depths of your stomach. You can hear it with your own ears. It is happening right now and it is getting worse. You don’t need a newspaper or television reporter to tell you.  Indianapolis is in a state of decline.

My experience with Indianapolis, as an outside observer, began when I was a little boy. My father was an auto body repairman and he had to make a weekly trip to Indianapolis to buy parts. Frequently, I tagged along with the promise of White Castles or the peanut vending machine at a parts supplier enticing me.

While dad and I certainly got to drive down Meridian Street, we also traveled to many of the business areas of Indianapolis purchasing fenders, moldings, headlamps and the like. We got a pretty good look at the big city. The Indianapolis of the early 1960s was a sleepy big city that was clearly experiencing urban decay. The affluent were abandoning the city for the suburbs and the people, buildings and city that were left behind had all seen better times.

Then along came Mayor Richard Lugar and the miracle of Unigov. Tax revenues reversed their flight to the suburbs and returned to the downtown. You could see the rebirth of the city. New buildings and new infrastructure reversed the decline and made Indianapolis a model of urban success.

The trend continued under Mayor William Hudnut and was capped when Indianapolis leadership bagged the relocation of the Indianapolis Colts. Making good on the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy, the Hoosier Dome secured a place for Indianapolis as the urban leader in the United States when Robert Irsay moved his moribund NFL franchise to “India-No-Place”. Growth exploded along with justifiable civic pride that could be seen in nearly every aspect of Indianapolis city life. I lived in Indianapolis during this renaissance and it was an exciting place to live and raise a family.  

When I say that you could “see” success, I literally mean it. Everywhere you looked you saw new buildings, new parks, smooth streets, tidy neighborhoods and people going about their business, working and enjoying life. Of course, there is always another side to the coin and there was poverty, but Indianapolis seemed to deal with it better than any of its peer group of big American cities.

Fast forward to 2019. Things have changed in Indianapolis. There is now the distinct smell of failure in the air. Indianapolis appears to have lost its way and stepped onto a path of urban decay shared by so many other big cities. Murders and violent crimes have skyrocketed. Poverty and homelessness is evident all over the downtown. Once proud neighborhoods are in dramatic decline. Roads have become pothole-strewn obstacle courses. City budgets are busted. No one seems to be safe or happy. Pork-barrel politics and cronyism appear to be alive and well as the common man becomes engulfed by a sea of urban detritus.

Addressing the many problems facing Indianapolis will require bold and innovative new leadership. Mayor Joe Hogsett has been given a fair chance to put Indianapolis back on the path of success, but has resorted to photo ops and a smoke-and-mirrors approach to municipal governance. He might herald a new soccer stadium at a press conference and ignore the possibility that anyone attending the press conference had to step over comatose street people and dodge potholes and bullets to get there. The few positives are given outsized publicity, but the reality of the nightly news overshadows the mayoral puff and fluff. It is clear to me that Mayor Hogsett’s opportunity for success has been squandered. It is now time for new blood in the Indianapolis City Hall.

State Sen. Jim Merritt is a rare public servant. I have watched closely his career unfold and have come to appreciate his spirit of service and governance with a heart that he has brought to his Indiana State Senate job. Merritt has demonstrated his love and concern for the welfare of the children of Indiana, a passion for the health and well-being of all Hoosiers and has struck a perfect balance between the economic development and financial security of Indiana and the competing demands for governmental expenditures. His holistic approach to the financial and fiscal health of all Hoosiers has elevated him to a premiere level of leadership.

When I first learned that Jim Merritt was going to be a candidate for mayor of Indianapolis, I honestly wondered what in the world happened to his good sense. He would be leaving an extremely instrumental career as one of the critical architects of Indiana’s great success story and risking his excellent reputation on helping to restore Indianapolis to a preeminent position as an urban guiding light. The challenge of finding solutions to the massive problems in Indianapolis seems like a thankless and mountainous task. Erasing four years of Hogsett “caretaker” government will not be easy, but Jim Merritt has not been a man to shy away from a challenge. His dynamic leadership in facing down the opioid crisis and making significant progress in this fight has demonstrated that he sees no challenge as too great to undertake.

In the years that I have written for Howey Politics, I have never written about nor advocated for a particular mayoral candidate. This column is a first. My reason is simple: The success of Indiana begins and ends with Indianapolis. It is the first impression that any visiting business leader receives upon arriving in the Hoosier State. The ability of Indianapolis to rise above the many problems confronting other American cities will make Indiana stand out like a great beacon of light. We are not a perfect state by any means, yet our collective ability to help Indianapolis succeed benefits each of us in the long run.

As you enter this municipal election season, before you write a check to an Indianapolis mayoral candidate or cast your vote, I ask you to consider the following: As you take a look around you, drive your car to work, think of your family’s safety, listen to the evening news or contemplate the future, does Indianapolis look and feel like it is heading in the right direction?  

Who will be the better candidate to support for mayor, the current occupant of the mayor’s office who has allowed Indianapolis to slip into a crime-infested, decaying, pothole-strewn cronyism capitol or the man who has vision and a plan for the return of Indianapolis to its former greatness?  In my book, Sen. Merritt is the future of Indianapolis. 

Dunn is the former Howard County Republican chairman.