INDIANAPOLIS  — Mayoral primaries are less than a month away and this past week brought us a county investigation, a candidate suspending her campaign and then resigning from office, along with debates on abortion and the pace of development.
The biggest change this past week came in Bloomington, where Monroe County Commissioner Amanda Barge suspended her challenge to first-term Mayor John Hamilton over sexual harassment allegations. In Carmel, the Hamilton County Election Board will explore an alleged bribery scheme involving Mayor Jim Brainard. And in Fort Wayne, while there is no longer an abortion clinic operating in the city, that issue is coming to the fore between Councilman John Crawford and businessman Tim Smith.
Between now and the May 7 primary, the HPI Horse Race will profile the most competitive primary races. Those include big Democratic showdowns in South Bend, East Chicago, Kokomo, and Gary, as well as Republican races in Carmel, Fort Wayne and Anderson.
Here are some mayoral primary updates:
Bloomington: Barge crash n’ burn
There’s usually at least one crash n’ burn in the mayoral cycle and it may have occurred here. Monroe County Commissioner Amanda Barge was challenging first-term Mayor John Hamilton, until the Indiana Daily Student reported she sexually harassed a male county contractor. Late last month after denying the allegations, she abruptly suspended her campaign, though she remains on the ballot. Monroe County Democrats called on her to resign and on Tuesday, she did. In a statement Wednesday, Barge wished incumbent John Hamilton luck and said she would not accept the nomination if she wins in May. “What’s best for me, and for Bloomington, is to focus on healing and moving on,” Barge said. There is no Republican nominee, but Nile Arena has filed as an independent. Arena has no political experience but has seen his fair share of government meetings as a master controller at Community Access Television, which streams and records city and county government meetings among other content, according to the IDS. He said what he knows about local politics has inspired him to do more. 2015 Results: Hamilton (D) 6,248, Turnbull (R) 1,822. Primary Horse Race Status: Safe Hamilton.
Carmel: A bribery probe

Republican Mayor Jim Brainard is being challenged by Hamilton County Councilman Fred Glynn, with the Hamilton County Election Board preparing to look into allegations made by the Hamilton County Democrats about a bribe. The Carmel Current reported that Glynn was offered a bribe by the Brainard campaign on Feb. 3 to exit the race. The bribe came during a meeting involving former Glynn campaign manager Dan Hennessey, Brainard consultant Allan Sutherlin and Hamilton County GOP chair Laura Campbell. 

Hamilton Democratic Chairman Joe Weingarten told IBJ he filed a request with the election board in order to get to the bottom of the claims, which were originally reported in a March 21 Current in Carmel article. During an election board meeting Friday morning, board member Greg Purvis, a Democrat, suggested the board look into the allegations themselves or ask the State Police to get involved. “To me, this is serious business,” he said. “You’re talking about either one campaign offering a bribe or the other campaign soliciting the bribe in order for possibly one of the principle candidates to drop out. That pretty fundamentally implicates the election process and its legitimacy altogether, if it’s true.” 

County attorney Mike Howard said the board might not have legal authority to do anything about the allegations. The IBJ’s Samm Quinn reported the three-member board decided to hold a meeting next month and invite both campaigns, the GOP and the Democratic Party to talk with members about what happened during the meeting and present any evidence that might exist that supports the claims. Laken Sisko, Brainard’s campaign manager, told IBJ neither she nor Brainard was at the Feb. 3 meeting so they wouldn’t have any information to offer the election board. She said the campaign would never do anything unethical, but even if it considered doing so, it “defies logic” that it would offer money to a candidate it didn’t view as a threat.. “It’s arguably one of the most absurd things that’s ever been suggested,” she said. “It simply didn’t happen.” 2015 Results: Brainard ran unopposed. Primary Horse Race Status: Likely Brainard.
East Chicago: Aguilera presses Copeland

Mayor Anthony Copeland is opposed by John Aguilera, a former Lake County councilman and state legislator. Copeland is East Chicago’s first black mayor seeking a third term, while Aguilera is seeking to become the second modern Latino mayor. Copeland’s second term has been momentous due to the lead contamination sequence that forced more than a thousand people from their homes. Initially the crisis was ignored by Gov. Mike Pence, but upon taking office Gov. Eric Holcomb quickly forged a working relationship with Copeland as the two have sought to combine local, state and federal resources to confront the crisis. It is now an EPA Superfund site. According to the NWI Times, Copeland and Aguilera first faced off for mayor in the fall of 2010 at a caucus of East Chicago Democratic precinct committee members to replace former East Chicago Mayor George Pabey following his conviction for public corruption. Copeland won. Aguilera was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for state treasurer in 2018. In February, Aguilera survived an attempt to force him off the ballot due to residency issues, with the Lake County Election Board ruling in his favor. 2015 Results: Copeland (D) 2,111, Santos (R) 204. Primary Horse Race Status: Leans Copeland.
Fishers: Fadness faces Day
Mayor Scott Fadness is facing a primary challenge from Logan Day, who charges that Fisher’s first and only mayor is trying to do too much, too fast. “If we keep racing down the race track at full speed and never come in for a pit stop, we’ll eventually run out of gas,” Day said in a Facebook “metaphor.” He added, “I believe in controlled, context-sensitive development that will allow Fishers to grow into a sustainable, holistic community which will thrive for decades to come. Many residents are very upset with the seemingly haphazard and spontaneous development that will likely continue under the current administration.” Fadness told the IBJ he realizes change can be difficult, but said it’s necessary and was underway long before he became town manager in 2011 and was elected the city’s first mayor in 2015. Fadness is attempting to do what Carmel did, which is to build a new downtown, arguing that continued construction of sprawling subdivisions is unsustainable. “It’s more about the culture and the people who live here,” Fadeness told the IBJ. “They’re really family-focused, and they’re hard-working. Those are the things that make Fishers Fishers. I don’t believe it’s a bell on a silo … or even the train. As long as we have the courage and entrepreneurial spirit to recognize what is happening globally, innovate and adapt, we will continue to be a strong community, poised for success.” 2015 Results: Fadness (R) 3,872. Primary Horse Race Status: Likely Fadness.
Fort Wayne: GOP insider v. outsider
There hasn’t been an abortion clinic operating here in the City of Churches for years, but that issue is at the crux of the Republican showdown between Councilman John Crawford and businessman Tim Smith. Dr. Crawford has long ignored the Right to Life questionnaires. The thrust of Smith’s campaign is the Allen County Right to Life PAC’s endorsement. Cathie Humbarger, communications director of the Allen County Right to Life PAC, said, “Tim and his family have been long-time supporters of multiple pro-life organizations throughout Allen County and Tim has shown consistency and dedication advocating for the unborn.” Crawford has been up on TV since mid-March and cites accomplishments that include the building of Parkview Field and the riverfront development projects. Smith is now running TV ads. While Smith is aiming for the social conservative/evangelical voter, Crawford is seeking the more urban voter. Crawford is the insider in the race, telling voters he knows how things work in government, while Smith is the outsider. So Smith is running on 2016 and 2018 models, where having a title in front of your name in the GOP presidential race was a liability, with businessmen Donald Trump and Mike Braun winning presidential and senatorial races. The danger is, of course, running on the last cycle. There are indicators that voters in 2019, after viewing Trump’s chaotic tenure in the White House, are gravitating more toward experience. So this Fort Wayne GOP primary may be something of a bellwether, coming in a city with an isolated media market and a long history of being a corporate test market. The winner faces three-term Democratic Mayor Tom Henry, who faces non-credible primary challengers Gina Burgess and perennial candidate Tommy Schrader. 2015 Results: Henry (D) 23,769, Harper (R) 18,068. Primary Horse Race Status: Tossup.
Gary: Prince eyes upset
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is facing an intense challenge from Lake County Auditor Jerome Prince, along with Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade and six others. The NWI Times endorsed Prince: “In a field of nine candidates, only three appear to be serious contenders for the 2019 Democratic primary nomination in May. Of those three — incumbent Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and challengers Jerome Prince and LaVetta Sparks-Wade — Prince is the candidate best poised for the top-down change the struggling city needs. A look at Gary’s crumbling neighborhoods, unacceptably high crime rates and shambles of municipal finances should be enough to convince any Gary voter a change is needed at the top. Prince is an accomplished public servant who brings the freshness the entire Region should get behind.” The Times has also criticized Freeman-Wilson for heading the National League of Cities at a time when Gary faces many financial, crime and infrastructure issues. The city is going through a homicide spate, with 17 people murdered thus far in 2019. Sparks-Wade was also in the news after she was assaulted by former Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington. 2015 Results: Freeman-Wilson (D) 7,190, Wright (I) 228, Tarver (I) 1,581, Campbell (I) 212, Syron Smith (I) 423, Charles Smith (I) 472. Primary Horse Race Status: Tossup.
Indianapolis: In general election footing
Mayor Joe Hogsett faces a primary challenge from Denise Hatch, and while he should easily be renominated, it has been a brutal week for the first-term incumbent. Last weekend Indianapolis was in the midst of a homicide spree, with seven people being killed. Hogsett is also under attack for street conditions. A “Pot Hole Joe” video launched by Republican State Sen. Jim Merritt has gone viral on the internet. Merritt is expected to defeat Felipe Rios and Christopher Moore in the GOP primary. But this race is already on a general election footing. Hogsett launched the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, which is an embrace of the technology-led precision policing model. The CGIC allows IMPD and its partners to more effectively target the most violent offenders and their sources of guns. “This weekend, we saw the senseless devastation crime guns have on our community,” said Hogsett. “And so today, we add another tool to our violence reduction toolkit. By focusing on violent individuals, rather than on the areas they victimize, we more effectively hold accountable those who are disproportionately responsible for gun crime in our city.” Merritt reacted to the homicide spree, saying, “It is with deep sympathy that I offer my condolences to the families and friends of the four people who were killed by senseless violence overnight, as well as to those who were wounded and their loved ones. It’s difficult to know what to say at times like these. There’s nothing rational about brutal acts of violence.” On the street conditions, Merritt toured the city with CBS4 anchor Bob Donaldson and said, “I mean look at that, cones that are in the potholes themselves, so you avoid them ... in the potholes! It does make me mad, because it could have been avoided. We’re really having a difficult time because there was no preventive maintenance, we just didn’t prepare for this.” On another front, Merritt voted for SB198, the hate crimes bill that was signed into law without the “list.” Merritt explained, “With RFRA and with hate crimes, you evolve and I don’t think people mind when you change your mind, not flip-flop but actually understand where people are coming from for it. I was disappointed that Mayor Hogsett and his administration chose not to testify in favor of this very important bill.” 2015 Results: Hogsett (D) 92,830, Brewer (R) 56,661, Carson (I) 221. Primary Horse Race Status: Safe Hogsett, Safe Merritt.
South Bend: Three-way Dem showdown
There are nine Democratic candidates for South Bend mayor seeking to replace Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who endorsed James Mueller, the executive director of the city’s Department of Community Investment. But this race appears to be coming down to three candidates: Mueller, former St. Joseph County Democratic chairman Jason Critchlow, and former deputy mayor and congressional nominee Lynn Coleman. Critchlow is the first up on TV, and has been endorsed by State Reps. Ryan Dvorak and Pat Bauer, and former mayor Roger Parent. Critchlow also has the FOP and several major union endorsements. His tenure as county chair has allowed him to cash in some IOUs. Mueller is a high school friend of Buttigieg who came back to South Bend in 2015 to be Buttigieg’s chief of staff after getting a PhD in oceanography and working for a Washington senator on energy issues. Mueller has a reputation for being very smart, but lacks charisma. His slogan is “Building On Our Progress.” In other words, if you like the job Mayor Pete has done, he’ll keep it going. Coleman is African-American and a retired cop and was special assistant to Mayor Steve Luecke, akin to a deputy mayor role. He was highly visible in the community in that job. He’s since worked for Memorial Hospital’s community outreach program. A South Bend Tribune reporter who interviewed Coleman for a profile piece said they must have been interrupted 25 times during their interview by people walking by in the hospital and saying “hello” to Coleman. Who wins? If this race becomes a referendum on Buttigieg, who has not actively campaigned for Mueller beyond an initial endorsement, he could win. If Critchlow’s IOUs and endorsements are indicative of support, he could win. Or if Critchlow and Mueller split the white vote and Coleman can gin-up black turnout, he has a path. 2015 Results: Buttigieg (D) 8,515, Jones (R) 2,074. Primary Horse Race Status: Leans Critchlow.
Terre Haute: Nasser clear Dem favorite
Councilman Karrum Nasser is a clear Democratic primary favorite over Robert “Superman” Hamilton and David “Dots” Conder. Funny nicknames on the ballot usually reveal a ruse. Mayor Duke Bennett is seeking an unprecedented fourth term for a Republican. Former city engineer Pat Goodwin is running as an independent. The dynamics of a fall matchup could be taking shape this month as Mayor Bennett is seeking the relocation of one of the Gary casinos to his city. 2015 Results: Bennett (R) 4,285, Bird (D) 3,972. Primary Horse Race Status: Safe Nasser.

Kokomo: Libertarian joins race

Libertarian Michael Virgin, a political newcomer who moved to Kokomo in 2016, has joined the race to become the city’s next mayor.Virgin, who beat out one challenger in late March to be nominated by the Libertarian Party of Indiana during its annual conference, will appear on November’s general election ballot (Myers, Kokomo Tribune). His candidacy will give city voters a choice outside the local Democratic and Republican parties in the fall election. The two parties will decide their general election candidates during primary contests on May 7. Virgin joins Democratic hopefuls Kevin Summers and Abbie Smith, and Republican candidates Tyler Moore and Richard Stout, on the list of people seeking the office held for the last 11-plus years by Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight.