Meet Mayor Joe Hogsett: Indy’s Mayor talks Gun Violence, Indy Mini and the 500

Writer  /  Kara Kavensky
Photographer  /  Brian Brosmer

Indianapolis has always been the “place to be” during the month of May. It’s tradition for the 12th largest city in the country to host the largest sporting event on the planet.

When asked if he’s a race fan, Mayor Joe Hogsett smiles and states, “Of course.”

Mayor Joe, as he is known, grew up in Rushville. His father was a WWII veteran who naturally inspired his son with a strong sense of serving. Since being elected Secretary of State, Mayor Joe practiced law but remained active within the Democratic party. Prior to running for Mayor, he experienced success in the US Attorney General’s office.

Long earmarked by former speaker of the Indiana Statehouse John Gregg as a sleeper Democratic candidate, Mayor Joe was a key cornerstone for a Democratic rival for any office. He zeroed in on Indianapolis’ mayoral race. After publicly announcing he would not run for the office, a couple key events changed his mind.

Within 24 hours during a July 4th weekend, seven people were shot in Broad Ripple and in a separate incident, two people pulled out guns, killing IMPD officer Perry Renn as a result of a gun fight involving an AK47. Mayor Joe, based upon these events, concluded that he needed to be a part of the conversation. He resigned his position as U.S. Attorney and began his campaign.

“Being a federal prosecutor for four years, my office was doing things to help Marion County,” Mayor Hogsett says. “We cannot arrest our way out of gun violence.”

Gun violence plagues every urban area across the country and clearly Indianapolis is not immune. Mayor Hogsett felt the need to be engaged in a deeper conversation of public safety during his race. He was motivated by the educational opportunity for community engagement into gun violence.

“We have an unacceptable level of gun violence and homicides in our city,” Hogsett says. He and the leadership of IMPD are taking a holistic approach to curbing this violence.

After one of the most aggressive campaigns this state has experienced and given the dominance of social media, Mayor Joe’s ability to reach more of his constituents is unprecedented. His media team is intentional with making him more accessible to his constituents. Their social media platforms help a great deal with this. Once he became Mayor, the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 approached.

“Of course, the Indy 500 has always been an important part of our city’s history,” Hogsett says. “Last year was exceptional and special, to be mayor and celebrate the 100th running.”

During 2016, Hogsett hosted the national Mayor’s Conference, with 250 mayors from all over the country in attendance, indicating, “Every single one of them said, ‘When are we going to the track?’”

Hogsett is pleased that the public has responded to the historical significance of the Indy 500, feeling that with the new leadership at the IMS, and given the shake up during the 90s of the CART / IRL split, the city has witnessed a recovery.

“Last year, the race was televised locally for the first time,” Hogsett says. “The Indy 500 is always a great opportunity for the city to show off its international flair. We have become more cosmopolitan. We are no longer a fly-over state for many reasons, and thanks to the Indy 500 draw, we are able to prove it.”

During the 90s, under Eliz Kraft Taylor’s leadership at the 500 Festival, the Mini Marathon was rerouted to loop around the track instead of going up and down Meridian Street.

“At that same time, we took the mini out of race weekend and moved it to the first Saturday in May,” Taylor says. “Race weekend always exhausts our police force, and the change in the mini was greatly appreciated by both the Police Chief and the Mayor.”

“The Hudnut doctrine was ‘you can’t be a suburb of nothing’, which encouraged people to invest in downtown so the suburbs, which at that time, were the outlier townships of Marion County,” Mayor Hogsett says.

Continuing along the same path, The Hogsett Corollary is “you can’t be a downtown of nothing” to which Mayor Joe explains, “Hudnut was speaking to the townships. My meaning is that we have to continue to nurture our downtown and invest in the neighborhoods and surrounding contiguous areas.”

Mayor Joe closes with a story: During the early 90s, while he was Secretary of State, he realized he had not registered for the Mini, and at that time it was run on a Friday morning. Hogsett decided to run the race as a bandit.

“Of course, I fully understood the rules,” says Hogsett with a smile. He jumped into the crowd of runners a little after the start, running among those who formally registered.

This was the first year that the route looped around the track and boomeranged back to downtown. As he approached the track entrance, he was stopped by volunteers wearing yellow and flagging him down, so Joe circumvented his route to 16th street. He was running alone, but this fact did not initially register with him.

As Mayor Joe ran alongside Allison’s, a group of men on break outside in the yard began chanting, “USA, USA.” He ran through a residential area approaching downtown and an elderly woman, seated in her front yard, stood up and walked toward the sidewalk and yelled as he went by, “You’re THIRD!”

“Then it dawned on me that I had accelerated my placement by not running the distance inside the Motor Speedway and realized I needed to avoid the cameras mounted on top of the scaffolding because I envisioned Jim Shella watching in the Channel 8 newsroom muttering, ‘there’s Joe Hogsett and he’s cheating!’” Mayor Hogsett shared.

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