Nov 8, 2023 - News

Sue Finkam wins, deflating Democrats' Carmel hopes

Sue Finkam points her fingers upward among family and supporters during a victory speech after winning the Carmel mayoral election.

Sue Finkam will become Carmel's first new mayor since 1996. Photo: James Briggs/Axios

The moderate Republican brand remains strong in Carmel.

Driving the news: Republican Sue Finkam defeated Democrat Miles Nelson, 56.6% to 42.2%, on Tuesday, according to unofficial results.

Why it matters: Finkam will become Carmel's first new mayor since Republican Jim Brainard took office in 1996.

State of play: It's a new era. After 28 years of explosive growth under Brainard, Finkam is signaling a more cautious and deliberate approach to developing the city's dwindling available land.

The intrigue: Nelson's attempts to paint Finkam as an extremist for declining to denounce the right-wing activist group Moms for Liberty gained widespread attention, but Finkam's emphasis on experience and policy prevailed with voters.

What she's saying: Finkam referenced Nelson's Moms for Liberty attacks during her victory speech.

  • "I thought this election would be about the best way to lead the city," she said. "But it turned into something louder, nastier and negative when my opponent attacked me and painted Carmel in a negative light nationally."
  • "But rather than run a divisive campaign, I decided to put the city and its people first and campaign with integrity and clarity of vision."

The other side: "We have moved the needle in this community," Nelson said in his concession speech, per IndyStar.

The big picture: Finkam's win quashes, for now, the narrative that Carmel is breaking blue.

Of note: Republicans won eight of nine Carmel City Council races, with Democrat Anita Joshi holding the seat Nelson is vacating.

Flashback: President Biden won Carmel in 2020 and Democrat Destiny Wells won it last year in the secretary of state's race.

Between the lines: Those recent success stories gave Democrats hope that the top elected office in a large, affluent suburb would be their prize to win, with national implications, heading into a presidential election year.

Yes, but: Those other Democrats won votes in Carmel against polarizing Republicans — former President Trump and Secretary of State Diego Morales — while Finkam has operated as a moderate, business-focused Republican since joining the Carmel City Council in 2012.

The bottom line: Carmel is changing, but perhaps not as fast as some political observers thought.


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