If there was any doubt that 2016 was a miserable year, word that Bill Hudnut has died confirmed it.

Bill Hudnut, for those of you who are too young to remember, or who live elsewhere, was the Republican Mayor of Indianapolis for four terms–sixteen years–from 1976 to 1992. His fingerprints are on this city in more places and ways than most current residents appreciate.

I served as Corporation Counsel–the city’s chief lawyer– in the Hudnut Administration from 1977-1980. (My appointment raised eyebrows; at that time, no woman had previously held the position. Bill valued diversity.) That was also where I met my husband–then the City’s Director of Metropolitan Development. With Bill’s death, the two of us have lost a good friend with whom we shared a vision of what urban life should and could be.

The loss is more difficult because his death reminds us that we’ve lost more than Bill Hudnut. We’ve lost both the Republican party he represented and the approach to religion and politics he exemplified.

Before he entered politics, Hudnut had been a Presbyterian minister. The lessons he drew from his faith focused on service and compassion; he expressed that faith in ways dramatically different from the fundamentalist arrogance of the present-day culture warriors who are constantly trying to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

A story: Shortly after I joined the Administration, the ACLU and the Jewish Community Relations Council sent a letter to the City, objecting to the seasonal placement of a nativity scene  on the publicly owned Monument at the center of Monument Circle. No other symbols of seasonal or religious celebration accompanied it, so it was a pretty clear endorsement of Christianity.

The Mayor asked me for my legal opinion, and I explained that religious endorsements by government violate the Establishment Clause. He ordered the Nativity moved.  (Its new “home” was–and still is– across the street from the Monument, on the entirely appropriate lawn of Christ Church Cathedral.) Hudnut could have scored lots of political points by resisting– “protecting Christianity”– and he took considerable heat, especially because he was a member of the clergy, for doing the right thing.

Hudnut’s religious beliefs motivated him to work for the well-being of his fellow-citizens and to respect political and religious differences. His was a Christianity of inclusion, not demonization.

During my time in City Hall, I watched the Mayor work closely with both Republicans and Democrats who represented Indianapolis in the General Assembly. I saw him communicate regularly with Concerned Clergy and other groups representing the African-American community, with neighborhood organizations and with organized labor. He appointed a police liaison to the LGBTQ community at a time when that community was subject to considerable marginalization. Relations with these and other constituencies wasn’t all sweetness and light by any means, but the outreach was genuine and the inevitable disagreements usually civil.

It was exciting working in City Hall in those days, because we were participants in a great adventure. We were working with Mayor Bill to build a world-class city, and his enthusiasm for that venture was contagious.

We don’t see much evidence of that sort of excitement today, largely because we have lost faith in the ability of government to improve citizens’ lives. For the past forty years, we’ve been told that government is always the problem, never the solution, that taxes are theft rather than the dues we owe if we want a functioning society, and that public service is an oxymoron.

Hudnut—and Dick Lugar, who preceded him as Mayor—represented a Republican Party that no longer exists. I miss that party, and I miss the optimism, integrity and humanity of people like Lugar and Hudnut and many others—men and women who saw public service as a calling and an opportunity to serve the public interest rather than as a vehicle for self-aggrandizement.

Bill Hudnut’s death reminds me that the loss of those people and that party has  impoverished our civic landscape.


  1. My guess is that even in those days the wealthy business owners and corporate CEOs were investing their efforts and money into finding ways to stop regulations, dismantle organized labor and do anything possible to enrich themselves with more money and power. However, it would have been much more secretively than today.

    It is nice that Mayor Hudnut was such a principled man that he actually wanted to serve the public. You are so correct in stating that those people and those days are gone. My hope is that when people see and feel the destruction of society that eill come with the next presidential administration, they will be compelled to ris up against it. I can only hope.

  2. I worked for the Dept of Public Works under Mayor Hudnut at the wastewater treatment plant(s). Mayor Hudnut was an active proponent of clean water and was very proud of upgrades to the plants and he openly supported cleaning up the White River, because he recognized the benefits to the city of having a clean public waterway and a secure drinking water source. There hasn’t been anyone with his vision, leadership and energy since his departure and the decline of city of Indianapolis reflects his absence. He was exceptional.

  3. Sheila; you know I personally share your loss and Bob’s with Mayor Bill Hudnut’s death. The real Republican party was a dying breed until this weekend; with Mayor Bill’s death it is now deceased and with the Elector College decision yesterday all hope of resurrection is gone.

    I have just deleted a lengthy comment; my own memories of the Hudnut administration; already lengthy and I had just begun. I will just say that Mayor Hudnut began the revitalization of the City of Indianapolis within City government, doing away with cronyism, nepotism, political patronage, racism, sexism, xenophobia, the required signing of the Republican Loyalty Oath and the required 2% “donation” of our salary, in cash, by the end of each payday. His external progress and changes are, as Sheila said, his fingerprints on this city and there were many exciting times to be part of it.

    I will tell one personal story; I had been promoted to secretary to the Administrator of the Division of Community Services (part of the Mayor’s Office), which included secretary to the Mayor’s Social Service Advisory Council. The Administrator and I went early to the Mayor’s Conference Room for first meeting of the year to set up. She told me there was an electrical outlet under the conference table for my tape recorder, then left the room. I was bent over hunting for the outlet when Mayor Hudnut strolled into the room; he asked if he could help me with something…scaring me to death! I told him I was looking for the electrical outlet for my tape recorder; he began looking with me, then got under the table on his hands and knees crawling around. Well; I couldn’t let the Mayor of Indianapolis hunt alone so I crawled under the table with him to hunt. About that time my boss returned, Mayor Hudnut found the outlet and went back to his office. I got a royal ass-chewing but later could only laugh at the situation. That was Mayor Bill.

  4. As a committed Democrat who voted for Mr. Hudnut three times, I raise my hand as one who has and will miss having him as an effective member/leader in our community.

  5. Sheila, your blogs are always interesting and inspiring. Today’s is a great example of how we must work to speak more clearly, more kindly, and believe there are ways to bring our communities and country together. I’m not from Indianapolis, but I love your city, the people, the beauty that generations of you all have brought to a bright gathering place for humanity. Bravo to Bill Hadn’t for all he did and to Shiela for bringing it to our attention.

  6. Nancy,

    “My hope is that when people see and feel the destruction of society that will come with the next presidential administration, they will be compelled to rise up against it. I can only hope.”

    You’re right. But understanding the concept of REALISTIC hope offered by the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, we must start rising up now. Once the Trump/Pence administration is in place, the freedom of speech which Sheila provides on this blog will be a thing of the past, unless one is looking to commit suicide.

  7. My deepest condolences to you, Professor — and to all who knew and worked with and for him.
    Living out here in a rural area, I could only watch what he was doing and witness the changes that exemplify what “public service” can be.

  8. One of Ronald Reagan’s many egregious political statements was that “government IS the problem” when those in government but not government were and ARE the problem (as we shall soon see with the Orange Dude’s accession to the throne). Mayor Hudnut exemplified the best in demonstrating this truism, and though he ran as a Republican, he was not a Republican or anywhere near being one by present day standards of that party, a party today that represents a second Gilded Age and libertarian greed and pelf of the billionaire class while pretending concern for “bringing good-paying jobs back to America and making it great again” (i.e., great for the class that funded such meaningless chatter while their portfolios expand). To say that we the people have been hoodwinked by a toxic admixture of gutter politics and Citizens United funding is putting it mildly, and in response to Marv’s note to the effect that free speech will amount to suicide with the advent of Trump I observe that free speech is the linchpin of democracy and that its exercise is not suicidal but rather a noble death on the battlefield of democracy, our most precious asset, and one of the last few things left worth dying for.

  9. Hudnut’s and Lugar’s Republican party was the GOP — the Grand Old Party. The current version of the party is something entirely different, and applying “GOP” to it is oxymoronic.

  10. Marv,

    I believe that those of us who voted against trump are being vocal and we will continue to be.

    The trump supporters are still not able to recognize the damage they have caused. When they personally see and feel that damage, it is my hope that they will rise up and fight against the rulers they voted into office.

  11. Gerald,

    “and in response to Marv’s note to the effect that free speech will amount to suicide with the advent of Trump I observe that free speech is the linchpin of democracy and that its exercise is not suicidal but rather a noble death on the battlefield of democracy, our most precious asset, and one of the last few things left worth dying for.”

    I believe democracy is worth dying for too, Gerald, but not when it becomes suicidal. Why not exercise the free speech which you so well described, NOW, before it does become suicidal, since the majority of Americans must see the writing on the wall.

    You’ve mentioned your service during WW II. What chances have you taken for that “death on the noble battlefield” here in America? You are older than I am. So I missed that chance you had in the Pacific.

    But so far here in the U.S. I’ve received the loss of custody of my daughter, loss of my second marriage, a bullet in the trunk of my wife’s new Volvo, a loaded pistol pointed at my head, the loss of my marriage, two failed attempts at disbarment, one sucker punch to my jaw, the loss of my best friend, the expenditure of over $500,000 in fighting this mess since 200l, continued slander and libel directed at me, what amount to excommunication from Judaism, and the forfeiting of any meaningful social life all because I believe that “democracy is worth dying for.”

    Are you really in a position to keep on challenging me when it comes to my EXPERIENCE? What emotional, physical, and financial sacrifices have you made? Don’t forget you had to apologize a few months ago? To me, there is a big difference between A NOBLE DEATH and SUICIDE. I might be off base, but maybe you’re getting too old to understand the difference.

  12. Sorry, delete “the loss of my marriage.” I lost my FIRST marriage too over my believing “democracy is worth dying for.” But that loss was actually too beneficial for me to be on the above list.

  13. Marv – I am not challenging your life experience at all, nor am I trying to equate the time I spent in the South Pacific during WW II as proof of anything other than a strong desire to defend democracy against fascism. I will not encumber the record by writing of my time on the beach or my personal experiences in the defense of democracy since WW II, which I think misses the point. The point is, I think, that democracy is our most precious asset held in common and worth dying for, whether one wishes to describe the process as suicidal or noble. As to your commentary on my age, you are spot on. I certainly am getting older, and older, which as Sir Winston noted, is preferable to the alternative.

  14. It’s a sad day. The citizens of Indianapolis were lucky and smart — they elected him 4 times — to have him as their Mayor. Somewhat oddly, given all of his accomplishments while in office, I will always remember him getting out and riding with the snow plow drivers during the Great Blizzard of 78. Just that small act of being involved and leading by example helped the City get through a dangerous and life threatening emergency. RIP Reverend Bill.

  15. Gerald,

    “The point is, I think, that democracy is our most precious asset held in common and worth dying for, whether one wishes to describe the process as suicidal or noble.”

    You still have my vote for “President.”

  16. Marv – When I get to be president, you will be my Secretary of State, so start buying up Exxon-Mobil stock now so that you will be qualified to serve since, in keeping with tradition, I will only appoint billionaires to my cabinet.

  17. “Once the Trump/Pence administration is in place, the freedom of speech which Sheila provides on this blog will be a thing of the past, unless one is looking to commit suicide.”

    Gerald, Nancy and Marv; I fully understand what Marv is saying in the above copied and pasted comment. The Jews of Europe, not only Germany, and their friends also believed they had freedom of speech. By the time they learned that freedom of speech no longer applied to them, it was too late. The trains hauling boxcars loaded with humans of all nationalities and religions who had spoken out…learning their own freedom which was no more. Please do not believe it cannot happen here; it IS happening here for people who cannot speak publicly about their religion or their sexual orientation…both of which are targets of Trump, only two of his many targets.

    We must keep in mind that those members of the GOP, like Mayor Bill Hudnut and Senator Richard Lugar, understood the meaning of freedom as it is written in the Constitution. Remember the GOP went against Senator Lugar for using his freedom of speech and his understanding of freedom and rights of his constituents to vote against the party and lost all support. When a decades old TV comedy program like SNL has the president-elect targeting them now; how long before he buys the network and removes them or takes personal action against Alec Baldwin.

    Wake up! This is not the America we know and trust coming into power. The need for all political figures to be of the caliber of Mayor William H. Hudnut, III, is NOW but it will not be again for a long time to come. Freedom of speech between family members and friends is no longer safe; will we recognize Trump’s “brown shirt troops” among them? Use Mayor Hudnut and Senator Lugar as beacons; and hope the Democratic party can come up to their standards.

  18. Mayor Hudnut and I served as Mayors together from 1983-1990. I was a D and he was an R. We knew one another from working on two committees for the Indiana Assoc of Cities and Towns. In 1990 I was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives. In the winter of 1993 I was walking across the statehouse lawn late morning three days after there had come a 6+ inch snow and Mayor Godlsmith was getting heat over not getting snow removed very quickly. Bill was crossing the lawn also and we stopped to chat. He asked, “In Seymour, do you worry about paying for the overtime and salt to get the streets clean?” “No,” I replied. “You get it removed and worry about the cost later.” “That’s right,” he said grinning. “Goldsmith will have to learn….or he won’t have to be concerned with it very long.” We both walked away laughing, but he just a little more enthusiastically than me. He understood how to get things done.

  19. JoAnn,

    “Freedom of speech between family members and friends is no longer safe; will we recognize Trump’s “brown shirt troops” among them?”

    While perusing Yahoo.com the other day I noticed that a professor had been criticizing Trump and that his criticism was commented on facebook. Then, as I remember, the criticism was picked up again and went viral on, I believe it was, YouTube. Consequently, the Professor is now in hiding because of the numerous death threats against him.

  20. JoAnn,

    Re your post: “Freedom of speech between family members and friends is no longer safe; will we recognize Trump’s “brown shirt troops” among them?”

    Thanks for saying this. It has been true throughout this campaign and will definitely become more dangerous in the coming months for those of us willing to speak.

  21. BSH,

    Threats to do bodily harm are much more debilitating when they have mass circulation. I know from my experience with John Grisham’s “The Chamber” which was circulated all over the world. Back in 1995, It took me about thirty days for things to somewhat come back to normal for me after I was aware that I was set-up to be the real target for the book. Since the book has had such a wide circulation and is still very popular on the resale market, the coded threats therein have continually been in the back of my mind for the last 20+ years. Believe me, it is not a very good feeling.

  22. The things I remember about Bill Hudnut: Hudnut being out and about during the Blizzard of 1978. I never met Hudnut personally but I saw him at numerous festivals etc. The words hale, hearty, and friendly come to mind. There was the Hudnut Hook, which encouraged people to stop pick up trash and throw into a trash bin.

    I met Gold$mith a few years later, what a cold fish.

    The only thing I did not like that Hudnut had a hand in was building the Hoosier Dome (now since demolished) so the Colts could eventually bolt Baltimore for Indianapolis. We have been paying a steep price in taxes, and subsidies ever since then for the Colts.

  23. Every job in the world can be well done and when it happens it’s a beautiful thing to behold. Humanity is limited only by the size of the portion that is capable of doing each job well.

    When I consider the job that the whole Obama family has done my first reaction is that they took on the most challenging position there is and made it look easy. Grace under fire. That’s the nature of things done well.

    It sounds like a Bill Hudnut performed his job to the same lofty standard.

    When I see the current Republican menagerie infesting DC, I see no sign of grace. I see little people struggling with big shoes.

    Why? I believe that the source of much of the GOP dysfunction is the belief that wealth is significant no matter how earned. I personally see virtually zero correlation of wealth with anything of value. In fact there are quite a few indications of negative correlation with valuable capabilities.

    Of course at this point the reasons to worry about the future of the great experiment in democracy are legion. I can find scarce reason for any hope at all.

    But when the history of our final days is written I think that there will be many parallels drawn with the ignoble end of the French aristocracy.

    Trump as Louis XVI ensconced in his personal Versailles, Trump Tower, telling America, when starving, to eat our cake.

  24. Bill Bailey and Louie; do you remember the last time Goldsmith was in the news? Bill; that was when he was Deputy Mayor of New York City and was responsible for snow removal. News of the coming blizzard was well ahead of time; Goldsmith and the Mayor both left town before the blizzard hit. My friends in Brooklyn posted pictures of their street and area in front of their home with FEET of snow which remained for several days. Shortly after that blizzard fiasco; Goldsmith was arrested for spousal abuse at their home in Washington, D.C. That was when the Mayor (Bloomberg?) learned Goldsmith had been lying about living in New York City which was a requirement to be Deputy Mayor. He was allowed to resign.

    I saw him frequently in the City County Building as mayor; always with his armed guard at heel. Even to go from his office at one end of the 25th floor to the men’s room at the opposite end of the 25th floor his armed guard was with him. About two years before being elected mayor and after he left the position of Prosecutor; due to the many threats on his life, he requested his house numbers be changed to protect the lives of himself and his family. In Department of Metropolitan Development we thought this was a joke; till my boss, Deputy Director and an attorney, handed me the letter of request which I processed. Can you imagine the number of legalities changing numbers on a house entailed? And this is what “replaced” our Mayor Bill Hudnut. He is still teaching at Harvard as far as I know but I’m sure he still has his fingers in Daniels’ and Pence’s pies…a scary thought at this time…isn’t it?

  25. So well said, Sheila! Mayor Bill was one of a kind. And he surrounded himself with the best. It took me years to truly acknowledge that the Republican party of Bill Hudnut was gone. Replaced by a party I no longer wish to be associated with.

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