Virtually every day, I see a television ad or get a mailing from Jefferson Shreve, Republican candidate for Indianapolis Mayor. Shreve is a former city-county councilor and founder of Storage Express, which he sold last year for a small fortune. Shreve is now using part of that fortune running for Mayor of Indianapolis. He is squaring off for the GOP nomination against political reporter/commentator, Abdul-Hakim Shabazz.
When Shreve was elected by local precinct committeemen to the Indianapolis Council in 2013 via a vacancy election, several of us had doubts about his claim to an Indianapolis residence. While he grew up in Indianapolis, he appeared to be a resident of Bloomington and, thus, ineligible to serve on the Indianapolis City-County Council. At that time, some of us in the blogosphere were criticizing the zealous enforcement of statutory residency requirements against Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White, while overlooking even bigger residency questions involving Senators Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh.
Shreve appears to be doing a lot right in the campaign. He is hitting the primary window when voters have started paying attention. His advertising is going after Mayor Joe Hogsett, particularly on the crime issue. By doing so, he's sending the message to Republican voters that he is the candidate best suited to take on the Mayor in the fall. While that's debatable, it is hard, if not impossible, for Abdul to compete with the money Shreve is pouring into the campaign.
While Shreve is scoring big points against Hogsett on crime, a potent issue no doubt, he is running as if it were 2007 instead of 2023. In 2007, Republican Greg Ballard scored a narrow victory by relentlessly attacking incumbent Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson on the issue of rising taxes. Four years later, Ballard used the advantages of incumbency to win re-election. But it was once again razor close despite the fact the Democrats had nominated a weaker candidate. The Republican base in Marion County had been shrinking for years and that trend continued during and after Ballard's tenure. By 2015, the Republican vote in the Mayor's race was down to 37.2% and then it fell further to 33.6% in 2019. That year the Democrats won 20 of 25 seats on the Indianapolis City-County Council, despite the fact the Republicans had drawn the map years earlier.
Joe Hogsett, the Democratic incumbent mayor, is vulnerable on crime. No doubt Shreve, by using that issue and putting his own personal fortune into the race, can make the the Indianapolis mayor's race significantly closer than it has been the last few elections. But that will only get Shreve's vote into the low 40s, far short of what's needed to win. Shreve needs other cutting issues. Crime alone won't do it.
But on those non-crime issues, Shreve is shooting blanks. He talks about doing a better job selling the city and attracting talent and investment. He also says his work in the Republican Party will help relations with the GOP-dominated state legislature. None of that is going to budge the electoral needle in a county that has become the most Democratic in the state.
There is an issue that would move the needle and give Shreve a shot at winning the Mayor's Office: corporate welfare. Indianapolis taxpayers hate it that the taxes and fees that they pay are constantly being raised to hand out yet more money to politically-connected developers, contractors and law firms. Yet, despite overwhelming taxpayer opposition to these corporate handouts, no Indianapolis politician ever stands up for them and against the corporate welfare that has dominated Indianapolis politics for the last few decades.
Could Shreve finally be the politician that sides with Indianapolis taxpayers instead of fat cat developers? Doubtful. When he was on the council, Shreve voted for every one of the Ballard administration's corporate welfare schemes and the tax and fee increases that helped pay for them. As a result, Indianapolis now has the highest taxes and fees of any city in Indiana. In Shreve's defense, he wasn't alone in those votes. However, Shreve could have shown leadership on the council, questioned those deals and voted against them. But he never did. Possibly Shreve could turn over a new leaf, becoming a fighter for taxpayers and against corporate giveaways as a mayoral candidate. But all I have seen thus far is that Shreve advocates more of the same when it comes to higher taxes and more corporate welfare.
Shreve is willing to spend much of his personal fortune to get elected Indianapolis mayor. But it is not going to happen unless he is willing to challenge the corporate welfare which dominates the city's politics.
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