Democrats choose former mayor to lead county party

The first female mayor in the history of Columbus is now chairwoman of the Bartholomew County Democratic Central Committee.

Nancy Ann Brown won more than 90 percent of the votes from the county’s Democratic precinct chairs and vice chairs on Monday, according to a news release from party vice chairman Zack Ellison.

While seeking support in recent weeks, both Brown and her sole challenger as party chair, longtime party supporter Chris Rutan, pledged to help Bartholomew County Democrats rebuild their reputation.

Brown succeeds Priscilla Scalf, who resigned as Democratic Party chair to spend more time with her family. Brown will serve through March 2017.

During its organization meeting, the Democratic Central Committee also voted for Ellison to continue as vice chairman. Chris Clerc will serve as secretary, while Kathy Thompson will be the party’s treasurer, the release stated.

When Brown was elected mayor in 1979 at age 39, she became the youngest person to hold the city office — and one of only 13 female mayors across the state at the time.

Since then, the city and county have had a number of women win election in local government offices, including a second female mayor.

Brown takes over just a few months after local Democrats received their first encouraging results at the polls in several years with the election of Tom Dell and Elaine Wagner to the Columbus City Council.

Prior to last November, Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann was the only Bartholomew County Democrat holding a major elected office in city, county and state government.

But the former mayor, who also served two terms as county treasurer in the 1970s, said local Democrats still have much to accomplish in re-establishing their place in the community.

When Brown announced she would seek to succeed Scalf, she expressed her desire to establish a stronger Democratic base and “start building the party back from the ground up.”

After Fred Armstrong stepped away as Columbus mayor in 2011 after serving four terms, an all-Republican slate of city office holders was elected that fall.

Scalf, who has chaired the Democratic Central Committee since May 2012, said she intends to remain involved with the party.

Upcoming event

The Bartholomew County Democratic Central Committee will hold its first quarterly dinner of this year on Jan. 26, starting at 6 p.m. in Donner Center.  The keynote speaker will be District 44 Indiana Senate candidate Linda Henderson. $15 tickets can be reserved by calling Priscilla Scalf at 812-344-6290 or Jessie Hill at 812-378-4264.  

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.