Paths to politics


How two men grew up to be leaders in Carmel

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard and City Council President Rick Sharp are very different men.

They have different visions for our city and Sharp has made no secret that he’s eyeing a run this year against the five-term mayor.

But if anyone were to look at the two of them as people and not politicians, they actually have a lot in common.


Jim Brainard

Growing up in the small town of Bristol, Ind., Brainard always had a love for music. He spent hours by the radio, listening to Chicago stations, 1950s rock and show tunes.

His father was the band director at nearby Elkhart schools, where Brainard was a student. His mother was a piano teacher. Brainard played the French horn.

“As a kid, I never much liked having him as a teacher, but he was a great teacher,” he said. “I was always convinced he was tougher on me because I was his son.”

Friends say that Brainard was a talented musician and could have gone into that field professionally, but competition was fierce at his high school. This is partly because a factory that made band instruments was located nearby, causing an increase in band participation. A few years ahead of him in school was Phillip Meyers, a renowned horn player who has been a principal in the New York Philharmonic since 1980.

When he was a student, Brainard said there were five French horn spots in the All-State orchestra and his school claimed all five spots.

In a small town of a thousand people, Brainard said he grew an appreciation for people of all economic backgrounds and walks of life. Many people didn’t own a car. He worked odd jobs as a kid, mowing lawns, in a tool shop and as a janitor in a factory. He was an avid member of the boy scouts and he still is active at local scout meetings today.

“I learned that all work was good, whether you were a physician or a factory worker,” he said.

Even though he grew up in a small town, Brainard said his family went on plenty of road trips. As they drove through different towns, he said he began to notice how some cities just seemed better than others and he asked his dad why that was.

“He told me it came down to the decisions that those town leaders made,” he said.

He attended Butler University, hoping to become a musician but politics grabbed hold of him. He had internships in local government and as student body president he convinced Gerald Ford to make a campaign stop in Indianapolis.

He studied law at Ohio Northern University and moved back to Indianapolis to work at a law firm specializing in real estate transactions. He met and wed Liz Hackl, daughter of Herff Jones executive A.J. Hackl. She was actually his student in a night class he was teaching at University of Indianapolis. He wanted to ask her out, but he waited until the class was over so it wouldn’t be inappropriate.

They bought a house in Carmel in 1988 and they started their family. He now has four kids, Jack, Will, Marie and Martha. They grew up with him as mayor; his oldest son was eight when he was first elected.

As he began to raise his family, he noticed that Carmel had great schools, but other amenities were missing, such as parks. Eventually, he was encouraged to run for mayor against incumbent Ted Johnson.

“Carmel was a prosperous city and we thought the place could be so much better,” he said. “We noticed it was a brand new city. It’s going to grow a lot. We wanted to be part of that growth.”

Although an underdog, Brainard upset Johnson, who’s health was on the decline, in the 1995 election. He’s been crafting his vision for Carmel ever since.

Part of that vision came to fruition when The Palladium opened in 2011. A special moment of its opening was when Brainard placed his lips on his French horn and played the first musical notes ever played in the hall, in order to demonstrate the venue’s world-class acoustics.

Despite going into politics instead of music, his musical dreams became, in a small way, reality.


Rick Sharp

Rick Sharp can’t remember when he didn’t have a job.

Even when he was nine years old, Sharp was paid to dust off the shelves at a local pharmacy in Hollywood, Fla. A job that he jokes you couldn’t have nowadays.

He worked as a paperboy at age 11. He was a wholesale florist, a delivery driver, restaurant worker, steel plant employee and a psychiatric aide. For a brief time, he thought he wanted to be a priest and even attended seminary school. He considered going into the military. As a young child, he dreamed of becoming an astronaut.

“The reason is that I’ve worked in so many industries is because I started working so young,” he said. “I mean, I had a credit card at age fourteen because I already had good credit.”

He worked his way through college at the University of Florida as a property manager. He became so successful in that field that he left school with just a few foreign language credits short of receiving his diploma. He was able to walk at graduation but didn’t receive his degree until 2011 when he finished his Spanish classes.

Sharp met his wife, Susan, in Florida and they moved to Carmel in 1992. Sharp grew up with three sisters and now he has three daughters, Rachel, Brenna and Sara.

Eventually, Sharp moved out of the property management business and began working for his father-in-law’s company, which sells commercial laundry equipment.

“I have a great faith in the for-profit sector,” he said. “I think Carmel has too often tried to force growth and determine where that growth happens. Because I believe so much in the private sector, I believe in organic growth.”

Sharp decided to move into the public realm when he saw an ad for an opening on the Carmel Plan Commission. He interviewed for the seat and was appointed.

When his western portion of what is now Carmel was annexed, Sharp ran for city council and won in an unopposed election. From there, Sharp served six years as an appointee to the Carmel Redevelopment Commission. Recently, he’s explored the idea of running for mayor.

Just like Brainard, Sharp has strong interests in the performing arts.

Sharpe has always loved the arts. One of his first dates with his wife was at the Miami ballet. He loves to take photographs, sing and play guitar.

But at age 50, Sharp decided to get on stage and try out for a local community theater production.

His first show, with the Artist Studio, then in Fishers, was called “Christmas Windows.” His next show was in “Narnia: The Musical.” He did both of those shows with his daughter Rachel. In December, he appeared in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” an adaptation of a Dylan Thomas story.

“The arts are vital to any civilized society,” he said. “You can judge to any degree of rate of civilization in a city by how they support the arts.”

Fast Facts


Brainard: Born in Kansas, raised in Bristol, Ind.

Sharp: Born in Ohio, raised in Hollywood, Fla.

Favorite Local Restaurant:

Brainard: Anything local, but doesn’t want to pick a favorite

Sharp: Enjoys the sushi at Sansui

Favorite Movie Growing Up:

Brainard: The Sound of Music

Sharp: The Wizard of Oz

Favorite Part of Living in Carmel:

Brainard: Parks and trails

Sharp: Great schools and a great place to raise a family