What makes a leader a leader? There are any number of traits that added together provide leadership qualities. Finding these attributes in a person who aspires for political office, can be difficult to determine – primarily because it is in the eyes of the beholder as to what makes an outstanding candidate. Certainly the person aspiring to a particular office gives some strong indications as to his or her achievements and qualifications. Even so, we often approach a voting machine with a lack of knowledge as to the reasons for our selections. Our votes are often cast because it boils down to name recognition as to the person in whom we place our confidence.
Leadership is a privilege which brings responsibilities. Strong leaders set goals and objectives and follow through with them. They listen, communicate well and lead by example. Selecting a team who work well together while being willing to take on challenges is vital.
There was one civic leader who embodied all these qualities and more. William H. Hudnut III, demonstrated leadership qualities. He served as Mayor of Indianapolis for four terms – sixteen years – from 1976 – 1992. Born October 17,1932, during the Depression, he had a distinguished record of achievement over more than eighty-four years. He was Mayor of the Capital City of Indiana; Senior Pastor at Second Presbyterian Church from 1964 – 1972. In 1973, Hudnut answered the call to represent Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, it was in the capacity of Minister-Mayor that his “Leadership Qualities” blossomed and bore fruit.
It has been stated that Bill Hudnut, “Built well and he cared about people.” If it were that simple, many people could have taken up the mantle of office and achieved success. No, I firmly believe that Mayor Bill brought so much more of his personal attributes to the office and embellished those which he inherited along the way. His vision transformed a city from a sleepy, stodgy, run-down entity into a vibrant, wide-awake and proud city. He has been called a “gutsy” Mayor. That means he took chances where few existed. However, Bill Hudnut was more than a risk taker. He was calculating in his choices, and weighed carefully the outcomes. He understood what it meant to “stick his neck out” because he built a lifetime of achievements based on doing what others did not expect. The results speak for themselves.
He was famous for building a major-league stadium when Indianapolis didn’t have an NFL Team. He saved the Indiana Pacers NBA Basketball Team by enticing Herb and Melvin Simon to buy the franchise before it could be sold to a west coast city. He launched an effort to bring the Pan American Games to Indianapolis when other city mayors turned thumbs down because of a lack of time. The Games were a huge success because thousands of volunteers backed Hudnut’s challenge to make the Games a success. This single act brought recognition to Indy and sparked a resurgence in amateur and professional sports that is still being felt today. He believed in the city. More importantly, he believed in its people.
Circle City Mall was another project that took roots and grew because he believed it was a needed element to preserve and build a vibrant downtown. The movement of business to the outskirts of the city had badly tarnished the center of Indianapolis. Hudnut called Circle City “the crown jewel” of his effort to revitalize the center of Indy. He formed a coalition of top local companies and personalities to get the job done.
Hudnut was a man of humor. What other Mayors would dress-up as a 6 foot 5 inch leprechaun and dance through a whole parade? How about riding a snow plow during the middle of a terrible snow storm helping to clean the streets? Or, practicing the famous “Hudnut Hook Shot” hitting a trashcan with regularity to emphasize cleaning the city? Here was a man who didn’t always take himself seriously.
His faith and experience as a minister paid dividends, as well. He knew how to motivate people and build consensus. He genuinely listened to people and was compassionate in his responses to their needs. He sought citizens with diverse backgrounds and from different cultures and then strengthened the bonds between them to form a cohesive culture.
His love for the city, its people and his ability to listen to criticism and compromise when necessary brought Indianapolis out of a downward spiral and assured success where there had been little before. He was the first to admit that he had not accomplished success on his own. It took a teamwork philosophy, but there is always someone at the head of the parade – even in a green leprechaun suit to get the job done.
Bill Hudnut passed away on December 18, 2016. His vision, leadership and heritage will continue to live on for many years to come.