By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – Decisions, or lack thereof, are now roiling several mayoral races around the state.

Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese abruptly pulled the plug on his reelection campaign as a police scandal was poised to engulf his effort. “Serving as mayor of the City of Elkhart has been a great honor,” Neese was quoted in the news release. “Each day presents a new opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others. That has been my number one priority since the day I decided to run for mayor. My greatest achievement, however, has always been my family. The titles of dad and grandpa are more important than the title of mayor.”

Neese asked police Chief Ed Windbigler to resign earlier this month. Neese told WSBT-TV he felt there were inconsistencies when it came to discipline and felt he should have known earlier about the video that shows two police officers punching a handcuffed man. But he said there was “no one issue” behind his decision to end his reelection bid.

ProPublica reported that Elkhart County Republican Party chairman Dan Holtz said he had heard of Neese’s decision only minutes earlier, when the mayor’s office released the announcement. Holtz said he was “sort of surprised, a little bit disappointed, because I thought he was running for reelection and I think he’s done a good job.” Republican City Councilman David Henke said Tuesday he plans to run for mayor next year.

In South Bend, Mayor Peter Buttigieg’s decision not to seek a third term was expected as he’s flirted with a presidential bid, and there are at least five candidates already working to replace him. Councilman Oliver Davis, James Mueller, Jason Critchlow, Lynn Coleman and Aaron Perri confirmed their interest Monday to the South Bend Tribune. Mueller, 36, Buttigieg’s executive director of community investment and the mayor’s friend since they graduated together from St. Joseph High School, said he will form an exploratory committee and hopes to announce a decision in early January.

Davis had a campaign website up and running within hours of Buttigieg’s announcement. “South Bend is the epitome of a transformation. The goal of all our community, safety, infrastructure, and economic work is for our residents to thrive in all of our neighborhoods,” Davis said. “Through extraordinary perseverance, achievement, and innovation, Oliver Davis fully expects the city of South Bend to continue to blossom into one of the premier cities in the Midwest.”

In Indianapolis, State Sen. Jim Merritt had been expected to challenge Democrat Mayor Joe Hogsett, but instead of entering the race, Merritt quit as Marion County Republican chairman. “I feel this is the perfect time to pass the baton of leadership to those who will take our county party to the next level,” Merritt said.

When Hogsett declared for reelection in early December, Merritt characterized it as a “seemingly reluctant decision to seek reelection.” But he now finds himself in a similar mode. Last August, Merritt told HPI, “If I get reelected in November, I’ll take the month of November and seek out opinions, seek out money sources and create a vision for the future of Indianapolis. I will be thinking, as a state legislator, how I can help Indianapolis to become a better place to live. The month of November will be a very busy month for me.” But Merritt defeated Democrat Derek Camp 51.4% to 48.6%, or by just 1,609 votes on Nov. 6. 

Republicans Christopher Moore and John Schmitz have declared, but have little experience. Former councilman Jose Evans and State Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer are mulling a run. 

There are also races brewing:

Muncie: A longtime local business owner has joined the race for the Muncie mayor’s office. Andrew Dale announced Friday afternoon (Muncie Star Press). The Democrat will challenge Mayor Dennis Tyler in the primary. Republican Nate Jones is the second candidate to announce he will seek the Republican nomination.

Portage: City Councilwoman Sue Lynch (D-At Large) announced her candidacy Friday for mayor. Lynch, a 23-year resident of Portage and a lifelong resident of Porter County, has served on the Portage City Council since 2008. According to Lynch, her campaign will focus on restoring trust in local government, after three long years of endless negative headlines, and refocusing attention on the City’s financial health and future.  “After many months of consideration, I have decided to run for mayor because I believe citizens have lost trust in our government,” Lynch said. “For years, Portage has suffered from a lack of strong leadership at the top. It is time to bring civility, honesty and good government back to our City. For the past 11 years, I have been a full time Councilperson and that will continue if I’m elected Mayor.” Portage Mayor James Snyder, a Republican, is facing a Jan. 14 corruption trial.

Kokomo: Democrat Mayor Greg Goodnight will make his plans known in January. Dave Trine, a former Howard County Commissioner, Kokomo police officer and Department of Revenue agent who now runs Choo Choo McGoo’s, is the latest to publicly confirm his interest in next year’s mayoral election. Trine said Monday that he is “thinking about” running for mayor and expects to announce his decision “probably around the first of the year.” He will run as either an independent or a Republican. Last week, Kokomo Police Capt. Kevin Summers declared his sudden and immediate retirement, one day after rocking the city’s political landscape by announcing his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2019 (Kokomo Tribune). Summers, one of the most visible and familiar law enforcement officers in Kokomo as recently as last week, ended his time as a KPD officer with a brief, unceremonious letter submitted to the department’s leadership: “Effective immediately, I am retiring from the Kokomo Police Department,” he wrote, closing the book on a two-decade career. 

Logansport: Mayor Dave Kitchell is wrapping up his third year, a position he said he does not consider a job, but a calling as he announced for reelection (Logansport Pharos-Tribune). “Because I feel called to continue to serve you and further our community, I’m asking you tonight to take this path further with us,” he told colleagues and supporters Tuesday at Boondocker’s. “I believe in the people that define Logansport, Indiana, and I will seek a second opportunity to serve you as your mayor in 2019.” Kitchell went on to express his gratitude toward his administration’s department heads, appointees and those who serve on city council along with the boards, commissions and authorities the city is involved with.

Washington: Washington Fire Chief David E. Rhoads announced Friday he is seeking the Democrat nomination for mayor (Grant, Washington Times-Herald). “I’ve worked for the city of Washington for the last 27 years and have served as fire chief for the last 12,” said Rhoads, who is a lifelong resident of Washington. “I’ve worked under three mayors and four administrations of both parties. I’ve seen and have been a part of a lot of projects through city council and have seen our city grow through the years.” Rhoads is the first Democrat to announce running for the mayor’s seat. Republicans Diana Snyder and Jerry Sidebottom announced their intentions to run earlier this month.

Tony Bennett returns to Clark Council

Current Clark County council member Dr. Tony Bennett was caucused in on Monday to a familiar role (Goforth, News & Tribune). As of Jan. 1, 2019, the Republican will continue serving on the county council, but in a vacated at-large seat rather than the District 2 seat he’s held since fall of 2017. Republican Terry Conway currently holds the at-large seat that Bennett will assume. Conway’s term expires Dec. 31, 2020. However, he submitted his resignation effective Dec. 31, 2018, so that he can fulfill his role as the county’s recorder. He was elected to that office in November and will take over the role on Jan. 1, 2019. Noel said the Republican party is filling the vacancy because Conway was voted into the council’s at-large seat as a Republican. Conway provided a 30-day notice for his resignation, Noel said, and the Republican party posted the vacancy on Dec. 5. He added they are required to give a 10-day notice. Bennett was the only one to submit the paperwork needed to fill the spot, and he was unanimously approved at the Monday caucus, Noel said. Bennett did not run for his District 2 seat this past November. Instead, Democrat Janne Newland defeated Republican James “Bubba” Disponett and Libertarian Greg Hertzsch for the spot. Noel said he is pleased Bennett wanted to continue serving on the council. “I’ve been very impressed with him on the council,” he said. “He brings a lot of experience with numbers and finances.” Bennett said he is excited to remain on the county council. “I was happy to do it,” he said.

General Assembly

HD7: Deal replaces Rep. Taylor

Indiana’s top Democrat, citing state law, said Tuesday that he won’t let a South Bend man run in a caucus vote Thursday to replace outgoing state Rep. Joe Taylor because of his 1996 murder conviction. As a result, Mishawaka Common Council Member Ross Deal will become the new state representative for House District 7 (Parrott, South Bend Tribune). Jas (pronounced Jazz) Alexander, 45, who served 17 years in prison after a jury convicted him of fatally shooting a man in South Bend in 1995, had filed his candidacy for Taylor’s House District 7 seat, along with Deal. But state party chair John Zody, who is overseeing the caucus scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at UAW Local 5 Headquarters in South Bend, said he didn’t know about Alexander’s conviction until reading about it in a story The Tribune posted on its website Tuesday. “I called Mr. Alexander, we had a conversation,” Zody said. “I informed him of what the state law said, that it was a disqualifying factor. He appreciated me letting him know that, and that’s why we couldn’t accept his candidacy.”