For the first time since 2007, Carmel residents will have more than one mayoral candidate on the ballot in the general election.
Democrat Miles Nelson, a one-term member of the Carmel City Council, is running against Republican Sue Finkam, a three-term member of the council. Finkam won a close three-way race for the mayoral nomination in the May Republican primary, while Nelson was not opposed in the Democratic primary.
In 2019, Nelson was the first Democrat ever elected to a municipal position in Carmel. He describes himself as a lifelong political moderate who is eager to “continue moving the city forward” as a “bold leader.”
“My opponent talks about Carmel as being a cocoon that’s warm and safe. That’s something that, in my opinion, means status quo. It’s short-sighted. It’s thinking small,” Nelson said. “(Carmel 2.0) means ensuring Carmel is always a welcoming and inclusive city that – regardless of your skin color, religious beliefs, who you choose to love, your age – it’s a city that not only welcomes you, but encourages you, that helps you thrive, that listens to you and most importantly hears you.”
Finkam, who – in addition to Nelson – was a speaker at the Carmel Pride event celebrating diversity in June, said her reference to Carmel residents feeling like they’re in a cocoon was to emphasize the city’s commitment to public safety and its results.
“People enjoy the fact that this is a low-crime community, and they want to keep it that way,” she said. “My No. 1 priority as mayor is to deliver just that.”
Finkam, a 16-year Carmel resident and CEO and founder of marketing agency Fire Starter, has released a public safety plan, which includes creating the Carmel Mayor’s Advisory Council on Public Safety to bring together various local agencies, and maintaining a high level of trust in the city’s ability to deliver world-class services through measures that include expanding the online transparency portal.
Public safety and transparency have been among Finkam’s campaign priorities since announcing her bid for mayor in the fall of 2022.
“To me, it’s about authenticity,” she said. “I didn’t want to say one thing in the primary and then pivot away from it in the general (election). That doesn’t make sense. That’s not who I am.”
Nelson, a 19-year Carmel resident and owner and president of executive search firm American Opportunity, Inc., also lists transparency as a key campaign issue, one he’s not convinced Republican leadership has taken seriously enough.
“The biggest complaints that I hear about our elected officials is a lack of transparency and a lack of communication,” Nelson said. “All three (Republican primary mayoral candidates) were talking about more transparency and being more accessible. I would argue they’ve had plenty of terms to fix that. And they didn’t.”
Mayor Jim Brainard, a Republican who took office in 1996, decided not to seek an eighth term. His last general election challenge occurred 16 years ago when he defeated Democrat Henry Winckler and Independent Marnin J. Spigelman.
The candidates answered the following questions from Current:
What are your top three campaign issues?
- Smart fiscal management that prioritizes infrastructure investments for our streets, drinking water and wastewater management without raising taxes
- Building an inclusive, environmentally friendly city that attracts and retains talent
- Keeping Carmel a top-rated city for safety by hiring and retaining highly qualified individuals and equipping them to keep themselves and our community safe.
- Protect our quality of life through crime prevention and ensure our public safety is well staffed, trained, funded and supported.
- Ensure financial excellence through prioritized spending on essential services, budget discipline and transparency.
- Engage residents in building Carmel’s future, including development, transportation, recreation and the arts.
What are Carmel’s greatest strengths? Where do you see areas of improvement?
Nelson: Carmel is a highly sought after community in which to live due to its world class amenities, school district, safety, quality of life and low taxes.
We can improve communications with our residents about what is occurring in Carmel, especially with regards to proposed developments. We can also be transparent about how decisions are made. As mayor, I will hold bi-monthly town halls along with our department heads that will rotate through neighborhoods so that residents can ask questions and be involved in decisions affecting Carmel’s future.
Finkam: Carmel excels in many areas. Notably, Carmel’s strengths are its high-performing schools, safe streets, strong neighborhoods, model transportation network, unique placemaking and thriving quality of life. We offer incredible amenities with a low cost of living, including one of the state’s lowest tax rates.
Regarding areas of improvement, we need to proactively engage residents in community planning and be transparent about city operations. We need more for-sale housing, not oversaturate the rental market nor overburden our infrastructure. Together, we can prioritize essential services, support our quality of life and have strong financials to keep our taxes low.
How would you describe Carmel’s financial health? Why would you describe it that way?
Nelson: Carmel’s financial health is strong. Our operating expenses do not exceed our tax revenue; we have consistently paid down debt. Carmel also has a diversified revenue stream, which helps to protect it from economic downturns. We have a strong foundation, and I will be committed to making sure that our city remains financially sound.
Finkam: Carmel is in a strong financial position. Moving forward, we need a leader experienced in managing budgets within large organizations to deliver great service at a low cost to taxpayers. We cannot put our safety or quality of life at risk with overspending, debt, high taxes or fees.
What should be the city’s role in supporting its senior citizen residents and their needs?
Nelson: Carmel benefits from generational diversity. We should work to ensure our senior citizens remain engaged and continue to make valuable contributions to our community. We should create a seniors commission to provide input on city policies, programs and accessibility that ensure a high quality of life. We should support organizations like PrimeLife Enrichment, which helps seniors lead active, independent and purposeful lives.
Finkam: To encourage active aging in our community, we need to ensure our physical environment is accessible, affordable social activities are offered and we keep seniors involved in rewarding programs and volunteer activities. Additionally, we should partner with Prime Life Enrichment to develop a long-term strategic plan for sustainability.
How do you determine if a proposed development or redevelopment project in Carmel is something you would support?
Nelson: By weighing a variety of factors including whether the project aligns with the city’s vision for the future, the project’s impact on the community, its financial viability and whether there is public support for the project. It’s important to respect the character and autonomy of our existing neighborhoods while balancing development which can increase our tax base and quality of life. All of these factors must be considered before moving ahead with a project.
Finkam: I would determine if the proposed development:
- Fills a community need.
- Fits within the character of the neighborhood.
- Provides a true return on investment.
- Enhances our neighborhoods.
- Improves the quality of life for taxpayers.
- Improves Carmel in the long-term.
- Happens without incentives.
- Helps Carmel remain special.
What do you most want voters to know about you?
Nelson: I have a vision for Carmel and I am ready to lead. As a city councilor and community leader, I have a track record of delivering for our neighborhoods and standing up for our community. Carmel is one of the best places in America to live and raise a family. I’m running for mayor to keep it that way. Working together, we can keep Carmel moving forward.
Finkam: I am a wife, mom, business owner and community servant. I’ve loved serving our city for the last 12 years, and it would be the honor of my life to serve as your mayor. Once elected, I promise to serve with strength and dignity and ensure Carmel is well represented.