Nov 2, 2023 - News

How a Democratic mayor could change Carmel

Voters cast ballots at a Carmel Fire Department station.

Voters cast ballots at a polling station in Carmel in 2018. Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Miles Nelson might turn Carmel blue, but he's not proposing major changes to the fast-growing suburb.

Driving the news: Nelson, a Democrat, faces Republican Sue Finkam in Tuesday's mayoral election. Both sit on the Carmel City Council.

Why it matters: Nelson is walking a fine line between trying to flip city hall and providing assurances to voters that he'll lead Carmel in the same direction it's already going.

The big picture: Nationally, Democrats are looking for momentum heading toward a presidential election year, and they see affluent suburbs, including Carmel, as fertile ground to keep converting disaffected Republicans.

Zoom in: In Indiana, Democrats face a steep climb toward relevance.

  • Yet they view a potential Nelson victory as the payoff for years of work leading up to President Biden's Carmel win in 2020 and Democrats' success in last year's secretary of state's race.

Yes, but: Nelson tells Axios he is "absolutely, 100%" the true successor to Jim Brainard, the outgoing pro-growth, seven-term Carmel mayor — who happens to be a Republican.

  • "I've voted with him almost 100% of the time, far more than any of my colleagues" on the council, Nelson said.
  • Brainard endorsed Finkam this week.

Between the lines: Nelson says Democratic governance in Carmel would mean thinking more regionally and embracing diversity.

  • "The commissions that I appoint people to will actually look and sound more like the people who make up Carmel," he said.

Reality check: His message is more distinctly partisan on matters outside day-to-day city governance, most notably his vocal opposition to Moms for Liberty, the right-wing activist group pushing school boards away from diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

  • The group's Hamilton County chapter quoted Hitler in a newsletter earlier this year.

The intrigue: Although the mayor has no control over the Carmel Clay School District, Nelson tells Axios he would use his platform to campaign for school board candidates running against a Moms for Liberty slate.

  • "It's that important," Nelson said of keeping the group out of Carmel's school leadership.

The other side: Finkam in a text message told Axios she was not immediately available to talk.

  • She said during the debate that Nelson, a first-term councilor, talks about Moms for Liberty "because he's hoping to make you forget that he has no experience."
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