Q&A With Carmel Mayoral Candidate Sue Finkam
Like many Carmelites, you’re not native to the area. What attracted you to the community when you moved here in 2007?
I was working on a project at IU Health North while living in the Lawrence and Geist area, and my son was getting ready to go to kindergarten. I was impressed with the Carmel community and just wanted him to grow up here. It reminded me a lot of home. I grew up in a tiny town in Michigan. One town. One school. A lot of community pride.
What has outgoing Mayor Jim Brainard gotten right? What has he gotten wrong?
He’s done a phenomenal job growing a community that has so much vitality to it, and has been a magnet for people to move, both businesses and residents. I don’t think he’s done anything wrong, per se, but I think there’s just a lot of opportunity. In local government, you don’t have the resources to do everything you want all at one time. You have to make choices. There’s an opportunity to engage residents in a different conversation with local leaders. There’s an opportunity to invest inside the walls of City Hall.
What are some of those opportunities?
It’s always referred to as “Jim’s vision.” It should be referred to as the community’s vision. People want to be more engaged. They want to be more engaged in restaurants and street life, and have a say in where their kids grow up and what kind of experience they have. That’s a key initiative for sure. And we want to use data for more informed decision-making.
Does Carmel have enough affordable housing stock, particularly as more and more service workers flock to an increasingly service-based economy?
Currently, they have a wide variety of housing options for everybody who wants to call Carmel home. And that’s just one segment of what we need to provide the community.
But do we have enough?
I think we have opportunities to expand that more. There’s a 99-unit building [in Midtown] going in, and 20 percent of that is going to be affordable housing.
Are you concerned about the national trend that’s playing out in Carmel of investors buying single-family homes?
I think what is so special about Carmel is we have really strong neighborhoods, something I’d like to make sure we keep that way. And so when you get a neighborhood with 30 percent corporate rentals, and you don’t know your neighbors because they might be an out-of-state, individual renter or corporate owner, they’re not here to see that. The grass is six inches tall or there are shingles missing on the house. And so there’s just not as great of property maintenance. And some neighbors have little kids and don’t want an Airbnb next to them when people come and go. I want neighbors to be in love with their community.
Do you think the social media service Nextdoor has made neighborhoods closer together or driven them further apart?
I would say a little bit of both. It’s provided transparency about your neighbors, that’s for sure. I think the good thing about Nextdoor is it’s not quite as anonymous as Twitter where it’s some nameless, faceless [entity].
In the parlance of Parks & Recreation, has Carmel earned its reputation as a kind of “Eagleton,” the hoity-toity suburb that sees itself as better than an inferior Pawnee?
I think it’s probably slightly unfair, because it’s a caricature. And it doesn’t do justice to people who live here and care about the community. Carmel is a city built on excellence, and that should attract a wide swath of people.
Do you identify with Leslie Knope?
No. I think I’m more of a wonk.
Why are you a better candidate than your Republican opponent, Kevin “Woody” Rider?
Compared to nobody, just in general, I’m prepared. I spent the last several years working on my executive resume. I have marketing and management experience, operations, and HR. So, whenever an opportunity came up like this, I’d be prepared. I’m proven. I’ve spent 11 years performing at a high level on the city council, learning the finance side of things inside and out, and serving my residents to the best of my ability. No one who’s going to enter this race will have that combination of real-world experience with city council experience.
Carmel is increasingly becoming a blue island in still-red Hamilton County. As a Republican, how do you govern a city that is becoming increasingly dominated by voters who may be of a different party?
You listen a lot. I think that’s key and paramount to being a good leader. And I also think that, again, you stay in your lane. That lane is delivering really high-quality services to residents.
Who are some mayors—here in Indiana or elsewhere—who you would seek to emulate if elected?
I think from a pragmatic standpoint, I really respect what [Fishers] Mayor [Scott] Fadness has done next door, because he’s tried to stay out of the politics and focused more on the operations, and I respect that highly.
Mayor Brainard spent a lot of time trying to make Carmel a walkable city. Is there room to improve when it comes to mass transit as you think about potentially linking the city to Indianapolis?
It’s something I get asked regularly about. I think we have to evaluate all the opportunities and look at a cost-benefit ratio. I think my big concern is any kind of large capital investment, especially right now when transit is changing so much. I look at the investments Indianapolis and the state of Indiana and the federal government have made in Indianapolis, and I worry that in five or six years it can be completely undone by driverless cars.
Does Carmel have too much debt?
No. As a city councilor who’s looked closely at the finances, it’s all scheduled debt. There are not things out there or a time—as some residents like to say—“when the chickens come home to roost.” I don’t know what the “chickens” are, but we’re not gonna have any surprises.
Carmel, in some circles, has a negative reputation when it comes to race relations. Is Carmel diverse enough?
I think what’s really interesting about Carmel is that we look at the kids that are in our schools, there are about 50 different languages spoken at home. I think that’s incredible. And we are quickly becoming more of an international city. I look forward to seeing that diversity grow.
Carmel is somewhat famous—infamous?—for how its citizens stake out spots for the Fourth of July Parade days before the actual event. What is the optimal number of days to save your spot prior to the morning of the parade?
I don’t think there’s a limit. Go for it.
The answer to this next question could be the end of your mayoral quest. What are some of your favorite Carmel restaurants?
Anything with a good wine list.