Senior staff writer
Southport voters will cast their ballots Nov. 3 to elect a mayor – and that’s unusual.
Most general elections in Southport have been void of municipal battles because they are decided in the Republican primary in the heavy GOP city.
And that was mayoral challenger Russell McClure’s intention earlier this year, but a filing snafu before the primary now pits him as an Independent against incumbent Republican Jesse Testruth.
Testruth, 64, won the 2011 primary unopposed after beleaguered incumbent Rob Thoman decided not to seek re-election. Testruth, a decorated Army veteran who served in Vietnam and Thailand, faced no opposition in the general election. Retired from American District Telegraph after 33 years of service, Testruth is engaged and has a son, four stepchildren and seven grandchildren.
McClure, 52, is president of the city’s influential Redevelopment Commission and earlier served as head of the parks board. He has a professional background in planning and development and holds degrees from Ball State and Indiana universities. He is married and has one daughter.
Both candidates expressed similarities in what they see in Southport: more business growth, continued support of the Police Department, repair of streets and sidewalks and to develop a tax increment financing district.
Redevelopment in Downtown finally has become a reality with the purchase of the Gerdt Furniture building as a multiple-office complex and the $12 million apartment and retail complex on Southport Road just west of the CXS railroad line.
Each candidate said they would retain Thomas Vaughn as police chief. Testruth, if re-elected, wants McClure to continue as president of the RDC.
The election seems to be more about style and substance. Testruth has a more homespun approach to city leadership, while McClure has a professional background that leads to more direct guidance.
Testruth was a novice in government when elected four years ago, but his style has united the community through City Council meetings and various holiday celebrations and public events. Acknowledging that public safety is the city’s No. 1 priority, the mayor has worked with the council to expand the police force and its equipment. “We have a safe city because of the vision and professionalism of our police chief and police officers.”
Testruth, who envisions a central mass transit center for future commuters throughout central Indiana, said he wants to continue working with Clerk-Treasurer Diana Bossingham, the five-member council and department heads for the continued betterment of the city.
“My opponent says that the parties (citywide celebrations) should go solely to the parks department, but I disagree,” Testruth said. “We have had many successful events because people have volunteered their time. If we cannot get the citizens to appreciate the city, then the city will not grow.”
Running for elected office for the first time and as an Independent, McClure stated, “I’m still a Republican.”
He contends that Testruth has not done enough to solidify the city, guide its development, improve Southport’s image and upgrade streets and sidewalks. McClure is concerned about the city’s image and direction and wants residents to understand the business of the city.
“Do you like the way your city, the streets and the sidewalks look? Well, that’s the city’s business,” McClure said. “If the city is not doing a good job, that’s a concern.”
McClure charged that Testruth is not involved in the business of the city and is too directly involved with the numerous celebrations and events. Like other residents, McClure and his family enjoy those events, but he contends that does not represent the city’s real business.
The challenger said he would improve communications with city commissions, boards and department heads by holding cabinet-style meetings monthly and also with key Indianapolis and Indiana departments and commissions.
“We would work together for a common goal. What do we want Southport to look like and what do we want it to be?”
McClure said he believes his experience as head of the RDC, facilities planning with Indianapolis Public Schools and former employment with the Department of Metropolitan Development would be valuable to the mayor’s office.