State Sen. Jim Merritt running for Indianapolis mayor

State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, formally announced his bid for mayor Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019 in the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood. (WTHR Photo/Scott Allen)
Race for Indianapolis mayor
Merritt enters race for mayor

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — The race for mayor is heating up.

State Sen. Jim Merritt formally threw his hat in the ring Thursday at noon. The Republican, who currently represents the 31st District in Marion and Hamilton counties, made the announcement at a former car dealership and shuttered brew pub in Butler Tarkington.

"Butler Tarkington is a growing area with lots of grass roots activity," Merritt told WTHR's Mary Milz Thursday morning ahead of the announcement. "It's the perfect place to talk about why I want to be mayor and work with people active in grass roots" activities.

Merritt rattled off several challenges he said the city faces including crime, "rampant homeless" and infrastructure problems.

"We have some problems in this city, big problems. My passion for this city is going to make me a great mayor....I've got energy and I will outwork anyone," he said.

When it comes to crime, he said even if no one at IMPD would publicly admit it, he believes there are serious morale problems within the department.

"If I'm an IMPD officer right now, I feel like a social worker with a gun," he said. He added that if he takes office, those morale problems will be one of his targets.

“I'm an underdog ... but I love that title.”

Merritt starts out with very little in his campaign chest. He said he wound up with $140 at the end of his state Senate campaign in November, but now has about $10,000. He said during his announcement his goal is to get that up to $1.5 million. Hogsett currently has more than $3 million.

Merritt said he's not deterred, though, and will be going door-to-door campaigning on Saturdays for the next ten months.

"I'm an underdog, we all know this but I love that title," he said.

The Marion County Democratic Party quickly responded to news of his candidacy. County chair Kate Sweeney Bell said in a statement, "Pure partisanship has earned Senator Merritt the support of lobbyists and extremist special interest groups, but in 2018 he lost the Marion County portions of his legislative district by nearly ten points. Indianapolis voters have rejected Senator Merritt's extremist views in the past, and we are confident they will do it again this year."

"The people of Indianapolis, I have no doubt, are interested in one contest and one contest only, and that's the Colts versus the Chiefs and frankly I don't blame them," Mayor Joe Hogsett told WTHR's Rich Nye. The Democrat was at a Colts event Thursday after Merritt's announcement. "The mayor's political race, that'll come later. We need to stay focused on the Colts and the Chiefs today and tomorrow and Saturday."

A fake Twitter account popped up ahead of Merritt's Thursday announcement, @MerrittForIndy. First created roughly 18 hours before the announcement, it started out with legitimate looking messages promoting the rally. Thursday morning, though, they started taking on a critical tone, saying he has "extremist views" and attacking his votes at the Statehouse on issues like school safety Stand Your Ground laws.

The account was reported as fake Thursday morning and was still listed as "temporarily restricted" as of 11:30 a.m., but Twitter still offered the option of clicking through to view the account.

Merritt faces at least two fellow Republicans in the primary: Christopher Moore, who drives a dump truck for a living, and developer John Schmitz. Neither has held elected office before. Former City-County Council member Jose Evans reportedly also plans to join the race, but hasn't formally announced yet. That is expected to happen later this month.

Current Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat, announced last month he will run for a second term in office. So far, no other Democrats have announced plans to challenge him in the primary.

In addition to the mayor's office, all 25 seats on the City-County Council are up for grabs in November.