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DeBaun wants third term to 'complete the mission'

Tom DeBaun is seeking a third term as mayor of Shelbyville in Tuesday’s General Election. The Democrathas served the city for 26 years in various capacities.

By JEFF BROWN - jbrown@shelbynews.com

Tom DeBaun’s third campaign for mayor has been different than the first two – and not necessarily in the best way.

In 2011, DeBaun, a Democrat, defeated Republican challenger Jeff Sponsel, 2,293 votes to 1,311. The run up to the election was fairly benign.

“In 2011, I think Jeff and I stayed pretty close to our messages,” said DeBaun during a sit-down interview with The Shelbyville News Wednesday afternoon. “I can say I’ve done that again in this one.”

DeBaun ran unopposed in 2015 so there was no campaign friction compared to what has surfaced in 2019.

“Social media wasn’t as prevalent as it is today,” he said. “We had a social media presence, had a Facebook page, had a page called ‘The Voice of the Voter” where people could send questions in and that was really popular. You didn’t see the vitriol and anger you see now. The ‘Let It Out Shelbyville’ page ... there wasn’t anything like that back in 2011. That has been a real discussion point. It’s been characterized as everything that is bad about Shelbyville.”

DeBaun doesn’t mind the criticism of his administration. That goes with the territory of public service. He is more concerned about the negative light it shines on the city.

“In talking to people who pay attention to other elections, political consultants, they may be paying attention to five or six different communities and they have said they haven’t seen anything like this,” said DeBaun, who has served the city for 26 years and Shelby County for seven years before that. “That concerns me. You have to have thick skin to be in this business. So the comments they make about me, as long as they stay away from my wife and kids, I signed up for this. But what concerns me is the people on the outside looking in and looking at some of these comments and maybe feel they should reconsider any investment or any engagement with the City of Shelbyville. I can’t say that that has happened but I know that concern has been expressed to me.”

To DeBaun’s credit, he has not shied away from his continued desire to reshape downtown Shelbyville – even if it means the end of his eight-year run as mayor.

“Seeing these projects through to the end of my term is going to be important,” said DeBaun. “I still believe they are the right things to do. I was advised early on by a politician to not go after the downtown stuff in an election year. I have very openly said if that is the hill I die on, I chose to die on that hill because I thought it was the best thing for the community.”

So if DeBaun is elected to a third term, he will get to oversee to its finality the complete overhaul of the Public Square. 

But what happens if DeBaun is not re-elected?

“I’m certainly not old enough to retire and I’ve got a family,” he said. “There are opportunities out there. That value for me is the lessons I’ve learned here as mayor and as the planning director, project management, experiential information I can take. So there are opportunities out there in the private sector and, quite frankly, I could probably make a lot more money.”

Being the mayor in 2020 is not a concern for the Southwestern graduate.

“It’s a discussion point but it’s not something my wife and I stress about,” he said. “We feel like there are always opportunities there. For me, this is not from a career perspective that I’ve got to win. It’s more, I want to complete the mission I’ve started because I think there is more work to do in addition to the downtown stuff.”

DeBaun has no sense how the election will go. What he is confident in is he has made every effort to get his message to the voting public.

“The biggest challenge I face is voter apathy,” said DeBaun. “I’ve seen this in other elections where people think, ‘Oh he’s got this’ and then don’t go vote.”

DeBaun and the Democrats have walked over 40 miles going door to door to encourage people to vote. In 2011, just over 3,500 people decided who was the next mayor. The turnout may be even less in 2019.

“I’m not one to give predictions, so I don’t know,” he said. 

Once the election ends at 6 p.m., a mayor will be elected and the Shelbyville Common Council may have a new look. And, hopefully, all the anger that has erupted on social media sites will come to an end. DeBaun never envisioned the campaign would play out in that form and it’s not a good sign, in his mind, for future political races.

“After the 2016 (presidential) election, I found it becoming more and more divisive,” said DeBaun. “There is just this pervasiveness of anger, I think, in society right now. I don’t know what to attribute it to. There is just this undercurrent of anger that I think has leaked into local politics.

“On one hand, I honestly thought we would be better than that as a community, and really stick to the personalities and issues at hand but I think we have inadvertently been affected or impacted by the national feeling of agitation.”

Election Day

The Shelby County Democrats will be at the Brinson Building at the Shelby County Fairgrounds, 500 Frank Street in Shelbyville, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday during the General Election.

The public is invited to visit, enjoy refreshments and support the local Shelby County Democrats.