Former mayor wants to take lead of county Democrats

Former Columbus Mayor Nancy Ann Brown wants to be the next Bartholomew County Democratic Party chairwoman.

If elected, she would replace Priscilla Scalf, who announced in November that she would step down from her position to spend more time with her family.

“The Democratic Party has always supported me and my endeavors, and this was an opportunity to give back to the party for the next year and a half,” Brown said.

Brown entered the local political scene in 1971 when she was elected as the first female county treasurer and, eight years later, Columbus’ first female mayor.

Since her time in office, Brown said the local Democratic Party has lost steam.

Democrats Tom Dell and Elaine Wagner were elected to the Columbus City Council in November, marking the first time two Democrats hold seats on the council in more than 20 years and bringing an end to complete Republican control of the city’s governing body.

Despite that victory, Brown said local Democrats still have a long way to go on the journey toward re-establishing their place in the community, and her experience could help guide the party on that journey.

“I want to get all of the precinct people together and some of the party leaders in the community together and come up with some basics that will start building the party back from the ground up,” Brown said. “If we can get a good base established, then future elections will be easier.”

Brown will be challenged in her bid for the party’s highest position by Chris Rutan, a regular Democratic candidate in Columbus elections.

Rutan’s most recent bid for city office was the November general election, when he unsuccessfully challenged Republican incumbent Dascal Bunch for the District 1 council seat.

Like Brown, Rutan said he would help Bartholomew County Democrats rebuild their reputation.

“We’ve suffered quite a few devastating losses because people felt the Democrats did not want to listen to them, so they left the party altogether,” Rutan said. “My common goal would not only be to get the party back on its feet, but it’ll also be to unify each and every member.”

Rutan previously sought the party leadership position but later conceded his candidacy to give his support to former party chairman Jaimie Johns. He also submitted candidacy paperwork to be considered for secretary of the party if he is not elected chairman.

Elections for the next Democratic Party leader and for party secretary will be Jan. 18. Scalf said it is possible that there will be nominations from the floor at the Jan. 18 meeting. Scalf’s resignation will take effect Jan. 19. The next party leader will serve until March 2017.

Although she is stepping down, Scalf said, she will stay involved with the party.

Recent family obligations, including being a caretaker for a parent and a grandson, and starting a business made it difficult to continue as chairwoman, she said.

“I really enjoyed it,” she said of leading the party. “I’m going to miss it.”

Nancy Ann Brown bio

Nancy Ann Brown entered Columbus politics in 1971 when she became the first female clerk of Bartholomew County. In 1979 she was elected as the first female mayor of Columbus but ultimately lost her bid for re-election against Republican Bob Stewart in 1983.

After her time in public office, Brown continued to work in the Bartholomew County community by serving on boards related to tourism, business and professional women. She is best known for establishing the program now known as Leadership Bartholomew County, as well as the First Tuesday Forum, which sought to keep women informed about local politics.

Chris Rutan bio

Chris Rutan is the property owner and manager of CST Properties. He began his role in Columbus politics in 2010, when he ran for the Columbus Township Advisory Board, a position he did not win. He also unsuccessfully ran for the District 1 city council seat against Republican Dascal Bunch in 2011 and 2015 and for Columbus Township trustee in 2014.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.