Skip to content

Carson City Gets Crowded as Many Pols Eye Her Seat

The question might be best phrased like this: Who isn’t running to replace Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind.)?

As the field of possible Democratic candidates approaches 10, many local political insiders are keeping mum on their plans out of respect for the Congresswoman.

Carson recently told the Indianapolis news media that she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and simultaneously announced she would not run for re-election in 2008. Meanwhile, Democrats in the 7th district have been chattering behind the scenes about a possible replacement for what many call an irreplaceable Member.

Both local and national Democrats speculate that, because of the Congresswoman’s poor health, a special election to replace her is more than a possibility. A special election would require caucusing while candidates are simultaneously running for the full term in the 111th Congress.

The most logical heir apparent to Carson’s throne is her 33-year-old grandson and protégé. However, Indianapolis City Councilman Andre Carson (D) said he is focused on his council job for now — and on his grandmother’s health.

“She raised me and mentored me,” Carson said, adding that he’s considering canceling some upcoming trips to stay in the area.

But there are more local pols — some with decades of political experience behind them — who also are said to be interested in running for the senior Carson’s seat:

• Outgoing City-County Councilor At-Large Ron Gibson (D), who lost re-election in November, said he’s looking at running.

• State Rep. Carolene Mays’ (D) name has been circulated among party insiders, but she could not be reached for confirmation. Mays also is the publisher of the local black newspaper in the district.

• Former state Health Commissioner Woody Myers also is said to be interested in running in the Democratic primary and has the personal financial means to do so.

• State Rep. Greg Porter’s (D) name has been circulated as a possible contender. His state legislative office did return calls for comment.

• State Rep. David Orentlicher (D) also could not be reached for comment, but was named by multiple Democrats as being interested in the race.

• Marion County Treasurer Michael Rodman (D) said before Carson’s announcement that he would run if she retired and has since followed through on his statement.

• City-County Councilor At-Large Joanne Sanders — the only at-large Democrat to be re-elected to the City-County Council last month — also confirmed that she’s looking into the race.

• Former state Democratic Party Chairman Robin Winston said he’s interested in the race and that he is talking with supporters about a possible campaign.

And yet some say a big name, such as recently defeated Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson (D), would be an ideal choice to clear the field. But his close allies, such as three-time campaign manager and Marion County Democratic Chairman Mike O’Connor, say it’s unlikely Peterson would be interested in running.

“The mayor and I have talked …” O’Connor said. “I think there are very few scenarios in which he would consider running for Congress in this district. I don’t see the situation presenting itself that he would be putting his name on the ballot for this.”

Peterson, who lives just outside the district, was defeated for re-election in an upset in early November against a little-known Republican. The local elections also brought Republicans control of the local the city-county council — and made Democrats rethink their strategy for the 7th district race.

One Democrat who did not want to be named said some insiders are secretly hoping that Peterson gets in the race because he would clear the field and many Republicans would back off the district. Despite losing last month, Peterson won the district.

Consolidating the crowded field — especially if there’s a looming special election — is of particular concern to some Indianapolis Democrats, including former state Democratic Party Chairman Kip Tew.

“We have to unite behind a candidates as well we can,” Tew said. “Because this seat, while it leans Democratic, if the Republicans target it, it will be a difficult race.”

Uniting behind a candidate — or at least a couple of candidates — also is a priority for outgoing City-County Councilor At-Large Rozelle Boyd, who is one Democrat not interested in running for Congress. Boyd is in the midst of trying to organize a meeting between interested parties to clarify the field.

“I think the first thing that’s going to have to happen is there’s going to be a meeting,” he said. “And then some clarifications will be brought to the field of candidates”

Boyd, who is said to be well-respected in local political circles as a neutral party, said the goal of the meeting is to facilitate a conversation between those interested in running. He said recent Democratic defeats in the county make this “a natural time to take an introspective look at the party and see where we go from here.”

By contrast, recent Republican gains in the district have brought their party hope for waging a competitive campaign for the seat in the once-Democratic stalwart of Indianapolis.

Republican state Rep. Jon Elrod and probation officer Wayne Harmon have both announced their bids for the seat.

Elrod said he would run in a special election as well as the regular contest. At 30 years old, Elrod would have faced a very difficult race for re-election in his state legislative district.

Harmon did not return calls for comment.

Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi also is mentioned often as a possible Republican candidate for the seat, and one local Democratic insider said Brizzi was in a “different tier, without a doubt” compared to Elrod. When asked about a possible bid, Brizzi’s office deflected the inquiry out of respect to Carson’s health.

“While I’m flattered to be thought of a candidate for congress, right now all of our thoughts and prayers need to be with Congresswoman Carson and her family,” Brizzi said in a statement.

In fact, most Democrats say they are focused on Carson’s health in the near future, despite some political jockeying behind the scenes.

“Out of respect to Julia, all of the possible candidates are just letting a little time go by until we make an official announcement, at least on the Democratic side,” Rodman said. “Due to Julia’s condition right now, it will be probably be about a week.“

But likely because of a possible special election and a very crowded field, candidates can’t wait too long to make their intentions known and begin fundraising. Sanders said she would definitely decide by the end of the year whether she would run for the seat.

Sanders said the uncertainly of a special election most certainly will impact the field of candidates.

“It can break down in a couple of ways,” she said. “I think it’s going to depend on whether we face a special election or whether we have until slating in the primary, depending on which direction it goes.”

The special election would put everyone on the fast track, Sanders said, and those who can raise money quickly might be better prepared than others. A regular schedule, which includes candidate slating in February and a primary contest in early May, would give more of the candidates time to position themselves.

It’s possible for a candidate to win a hypothetical special election, then lose the primary in May or the general election in November.

“We don’t even know what we’re facing right now, there’s so much uncertainty,” Winston said.