This story is reprinted with permission from State Affairs.

Brian Howey, Senior Writer and Columnist, Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Five years ago, Gary’s Karen Freeman-Wilson was the only Black female mayor in Indiana. After she lost a third Democratic nomination to Jerome Prince, there were none.

With Sharon Tucker’s Fort Wayne Democratic caucus upset win on Saturday in a seven-candidate race to succeed the late Mayor Tom Henry, Indiana now has four cities led by Black women. Each took a different path.

Democratic Vanderburgh County Councilwoman Stephanie Terry won the open seat in Evansville, the state’s third-largest city, while Democratic Councilwoman Angie Nelson Deuitch defeated Republican Michigan City Mayor Duane Parry with 60% of the vote the same day. In Lawrence, Councilwoman Deb Whitfield won the Democratic primary and then beat Republican Deputy Mayor David Hofmann after Mayor Steve Collier retired.

Tucker defeated House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta and Stephanie Crandall, a top aide to Mayor Henry, on the second ballot Saturday. A jubilant Tucker told the 92 precinct officials and an overflow crowd at Parkview Field: “Today you had the opportunity to make history by electing the first 5-foot-3 mayor. To be in a place where they’re fed, loved and cared for, that’s my vision for our community.”

Many saw GiaQuinta as the front-runner going into the caucus, with at-large Councilwoman Michelle Chambers in contention. But Tucker’s fiery speech before the first ballot couldn’t be denied. “I’m the only candidate who stands before you who has all those boxes checked on her résumé,” said Tucker, noting she was the only candidate to be elected at both the county and city levels. “You see, as 6th District representative, I have had the pleasure of sitting at the table with developers and investors and telling them how great our city is and encouraging them to make investments.

“I fully understand government,” she added.

The applause Tucker received quickly indicated a new order would soon be unveiled. About 15 minutes later, she led GiaQuinta 38-30 on the first ballot (Crandall had 10), with 47 needed to win. Tucker prevailed on the second ballot over GiaQuinta and Crandall after Chambers and Wayne Township Trustee Austin Knox dropped out, and two other candidates were eliminated due to a lack of votes.

In a press release, Fort Wayne Democratic Party officials said, “Today, Mayor Tucker proved that she has the energy and support of our party, and we look forward to supporting her as she works to continue moving our community forward.”

Tucker will be the second woman to serve as Fort Wayne mayor. After Mayor Win Moses resigned in 1985 following a campaign finance law conviction, Deputy Mayor Cosette Simon served for 11 days before Democratic precinct officials returned Moses to office.

Tucker replaces Mayor Henry, who was elected to a city-record fifth term last November. Henry, who announced in February that he had late-stage stomach cancer, died on March 28 at age 72.

What’s happening in Indiana is historic. Not only are four Black women leading Indiana cities, but also for the first time in the state’s history, eight Black mayors across the state are serving at the same time. The others are Mayors Eddie Melton of Gary, Anthony Copeland of East Chicago, Rod Roberson of Elkhart and Ronald Morrell Jr. of Marion. Morrell is Indiana’s first Black Republican mayor.

In February, the House unanimously passed a resolution acknowledging the historic moment.

“Whereas, It is important to acknowledge all Black leaders who are implementors of selflessness and upholders of high standards and order. The courage to lead is not easy but it is an honorable notion to take pride in; and Whereas, The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus shows its full support of the work these distinguished
mayors have put forth, and it is a privilege to honor and acknowledge their names and their duty to serve the citizens of Indiana to the utmost capacity,” House Concurrent Resolution 21 states.

“I don’t know that we have ever had this many Black mayors in city halls across the state of Indiana,” Indianapolis Recorder columnist Marshawn Wolley wrote last November.

Terry told WFIE-TV after she declared victory in November: “Honestly, it’s surreal. I never believed an African American could really be in this position. The fact is our city is ready to move forward, that this city really is for everyone and that we can be inclusive.”

Lawrence Mayor Whitfield, giving her first State of the City address in February, said, “During the last year, many of you may have heard me say, ‘It’s time!’ To me, that turn of phrase has meant so many things in so many contexts. It means it’s time to bring new, forward-looking leadership to our city. It’s time to take the momentum of the past administrations and move forward to achieve our goals. And, of course, it’s time to unite our city and make sure we are connected on a deeper level than ever before.”

Mayor Terry told Evansville residents at her first State of the City address last month: “One hundred days ago, we launched a new era in Evansville. We broke two glass ceilings, swearing in the first Black mayor and the first female mayor in the city’s 212-year history. The energy, the enthusiasm, the hope that I felt that day have carried us through these first 100 days as we’ve finished assembling our team and gone right to work moving Evansville forward.”

Terry added, “I said at my inauguration that I knew I was going to be held to a higher standard, and I knew you were going to be watching. And I told you I was ready. I told you I was going to make sure Evansville is a city that works for everyone, and I knew you were going to hold me accountable for that. I knew I was going to hold
myself accountable, too.”

Brian A. Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Find Howey on Facebook and X @hwypol.

SOURCE: State Affairs

The Terminal