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Ask Me Anything: Colleen Fanning, Politician

How did a small-business owner from the suburbs become Broad Ripple’s City-County Councilor? Fanning traces her unlikely rise—and the neighborhood’s future.

You graduated from Zionsville high school, then ended up in Broad Ripple, right?
After college—I attended Emory University in Atlanta—I moved to Broad Ripple and have been here ever since. My family has kind of always had a love affair with the neighborhood. Dad had an office in Broad Ripple when I was growing up. We always went here to eat. Zionsville wasn’t exactly a cultural hotbed, so I remember going to Broad Ripple Vintage as a kid, when I went through my ’70s retro phase in middle school. It was just an easy decision to land here.

You had never held an elected office before you ran for city-county council in 2015. Why did you decide to get involved in politics?
Campaigning was never on my radar at all. But I ran because I decided I was a representative voice in my district. My area is really moderate, really involved, high voter turnout, pretty highly educated, really diverse. I was a business owner, a homeowner. I was married with stepchildren. I just felt like I was a good example of the people I’d be representing. I thought, OK, this makes sense. This is how democracy should work, right?

Have you been a lifelong Republican?
I was never anything. I grew up in a family where we certainly had small-business values and were very pragmatic, but my parents didn’t always vote straight ticket. They taught me to research the candidates and know what the issues were, but I didn’t grow up in a partisan household whatsoever. When the Republicans asked me to run, it came as a big surprise. My campaign took place in 2015 as the presidential primaries were heating up, and Donald Trump burst onto the scene and things got nutty in a hurry. It was a really strange and challenging time to be a member of our party, and I was a quasi-reluctant Republican. But you have to pick a team if you want to make a difference.

How do you feel about being a Republican today?
I’m OK with it. Everyone wants to engage me on President Trump and Vice President Pence and all of the crazy stuff that’s happening in D.C. I’ve just kind of made a promise to myself that I’m not going to be public about issues that aren’t things I directly vote on, because it doesn’t serve my constituents.

One of the Indy Eleven’s proposed sites for a new stadium is the old Broad Ripple High School location. Would you support that?
I’m tremendously excited about the potential, but there’s a long way to go. Regardless of what happens at that site, given the size of it, there’s a huge opportunity to do a lot of the things that the community needs. Broad Ripple needs a school. It needs a permanent home for the farmers market. It needs office space. We’re growing and we have tons of businesses that want to be located here, but they need 30,000, 40,000, 60,000 square feet, and we have nowhere to put them. So Broad Ripple has a variety of needs, and if the Indy Eleven stadium proposal is a feasible way to get some of that done, I’m all for it.

“I’ve just kind of made a promise to myself that I’m not going to be public about issues that aren’t things I directly vote on, because it doesn’t serve my constituents.”

Broad Ripple seems to have an identity crisis—it’s a village, but it’s also a place where people party.
Every neighborhood evolves, and you can either try to be part of the evolution or you can cling to yesteryear and hope for the best. We definitely don’t want to take the latter approach in Broad Ripple. We kind of got typecast as a nightlife place because, relative to the other areas of the city, that was our identity. That doesn’t tell the whole story, unfortunately. People who live here don’t think of it like that at all. We think of Broad Ripple as artistic, family-friendly, accessible, eclectic, walkable, connected. One of the things I was most excited about when I became the executive director of Broad Ripple Village Association was the potential for rebranding so our external image would match our internal identity. We’re going to be doing that very soon.

If someone’s at a cocktail party and he wants to strut his Broad Ripple trivia knowledge, what nugget of information does he drop?
Broad Ripple was the first vacation area of Indianapolis. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was the farthest place from downtown that was easy to get to on a horse and buggy during a day. All these little Broad Ripple bungalows that you see along the canal, they have French doors because people wanted to take advantage of the breeze coming off the water. It was a destination where people would come to escape summer heat and recreate. It has a really cool history. It has been an artist colony. It had one of the largest amusement parks in the state. It’s a fascinating place.

Adam Wren writes about business, politics, and crime for Indianapolis Monthly—often in the same story.

Follow him on Twitter @adamwren or visit his website at adamwren.me.
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