Apr 3, 2024 - News

Mayor Deb Whitfield has big goals for Lawrence

Lawrence mayor with two police officers.

Lawrence Mayor Deb Whitfield during a ride-along with LPD Capt. Tracey Cantrell, left, and LPD Sgt. Adam Hazelwood. Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Beyer/City of Lawrence

Deborah Whitfield wants Lawrence to have a seat at the table.

Why it matters: The city of 49,000 is known as an extension of Indy's northeast side with crime challenges and poor sidewalks. But Whitfield wants to revamp its reputation into an inviting destination with a state park and unique neighborhoods.

  • "There are things that we have in Lawrence that we can build upon," she said. "So I think the hindrance is learning how I can do that. It's not going to happen overnight."

Driving the news: Whitfield, a Lawrence resident since 1995, was elected mayor in November, becoming the first Black mayor in Marion County, where nearly one-third of residents are Black.

  • Infrastructure, transportation and public health are among her administration's top priorities.

What she's saying: "It is breaking the good ol' boy system. When I go to these meetings, I'm sometimes the only woman and the only person of color. How do I get into that boys club? Do I even want to get into that boys club?" she said with a laugh. "I'm just going to be honest. It's a little bit of a challenge. But I knew it was going to be."

The big picture: Whitfield wants more people to know what makes the community so special, and to see the city stand shoulder to shoulder with other area suburbs.

  • Since taking office, she has advocated for gun safety legislation at the Indiana Statehouse and discussed the importance of safer roads while kicking off construction season alongside Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.
  • Her long-term vision includes turning Civic Plaza into Lawrence's downtown, and building Fort Harrison into a neighborhood as well recognized as Fountain Square and Broad Ripple.
  • "I want us to step up now with Carmel, Westfield, Noblesville and even McCordsville … to, don't want to say fight, but compete for the dollars," she said. "But in order to do that, you really have to be at the table and get your fair share of the pie."

She believes Lawrence needs greater connectivity, saying road improvements and transportation efforts like IndyGo's Purple Line will have a significant impact on uniting neighborhoods.

Yes, but: Whitfield is still learning how to lead. She recently attended a conference created to educate newly elected mayors and has spent time going hands-on with every department in the city.

  • "I told my team that one of the first things that we need to do in these first 100 days is to seek first to understand. Because I haven't been a mayor before, and my chief of staff hasn't been a chief of staff before," she said.

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