Although incumbent Republican mayor Stephen Goldsmith easily won a second term, running against Z. Mae Jimison made the election historic. She was the first woman and African American ever to be nominated by a major party as Indianapolis mayor. In addition, the Libertarian Party nominated attorney Steve Dillon, marking the first time the state’s largest third-party fielded a candidate for mayor.

Goldsmith easily won renomination by the Marion County Republican Party in May. Jimison was a member of the City-County Council who had also served as a judge in the Marion County Superior Court (See Courts In Marion County). She faced an uphill battle in the Democratic primary against Thomas O’Brien, chairman of the Marion County Democratic Party until O’Brien withdrew because of health concerns.

During his first term as mayor, Goldsmith had continued the downtown development that took place under mayors Richard Lugar and William Hudnut, marked by the opening of Circle Centre Mall in September 1995. His primary focus, however, has been to operate city government in a more businesslike manner to increase efficiency and reduce costs to taxpayers. To achieve this goal, Goldsmith accelerated privatization, which involved turning some services over to private companies and opening city contracts to competitive bidding. He cut over $100 million from the city’s budget by selling contracts for services such as wastewater treatment, maintenance of golf courses, road repair, and management of the Indianapolis International Airport.

During the election, Goldsmith claimed his efforts saved the city money, increased productivity, and kept Indianapolis from raising taxes. The city became a national model for privatization, but Goldsmith’s opponents said the mayor was pushing the process too fast.

Jimison expressed concern about city employees who lost jobs, including 152 who were laid off from wastewater treatment plants. She said privatization could be done more fairly and accused the mayor of governing like “an aristocrat,” a concern echoed by those who believed too many of the city’s major decisions were being made behind closed doors.

Goldsmith countered that privatization was a necessary “evolution” of government and said he consulted with workers on a weekly basis. He also claimed $70 million of the savings would be used for development in seven of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

The Indianapolis Chamber Of Commerce and labor unions representing workers not affected by the layoffs endorsed Goldsmith. He also had a major fundraising advantage, with over $2 million in campaign funds, compared to less than $50,000 for Jimison.

Jimison’s campaign relied on support from grassroots community organizations who appreciated her tough fairness as a judge. She promised to make the city government more inclusive with town hall meetings, fix up vacant homes for the homeless, and take a leading role on health issues such as teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.

She responded to Goldsmith’s proposed cuts to the city’s Metro Bus service by offering an alternative plan to increase safety and savings. Under the proposal, riders would be picked up within two blocks of their home or business and taken to existing buildings used as transportation centers, which then would send riders to their destination.

Dillon, the Libertarian candidate, was best-known for his 1994 campaign for Indiana Secretary of State, campaigned on core Libertarian principles such as limiting the size of city government and reducing crime by legalizing nonviolent offenses like marijuana use.

Goldsmith cruised to victory with nearly 57 percent of votes to Jimison’s 35 percent and six percent for Dillon. Republicans retained their majority on the City-County Council. 

Jimison was elected to another term as a judge the following year. Goldsmith’s win was the eighth in a row for Republicans and set the stage for his unsuccessful 1996 run for governor.

Revised March 2021

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