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Democrat incumbents claim victory in South Bend council primaries

 Sharon McBride, left, moves to hug Shelia Niezgodski after both women won their Democratic Primaries for re-election to the South Bend Common Council on May 2, 2023.
Jeff Parrott
Sharon McBride, left, moves to hug Sheila Niezgodski after both women won their Democratic primaries on May 2, 2023, at Corby's Bar in South Bend.

Despite a slate of younger Democrats who set out to challenge the status quo in South Bend, it was largely the incumbents who emerged victorious in Tuesday’s primary elections.

All but one Democratic incumbent won their primary and the reemergence of former councilman Oliver Davis means the common council figures to feature familiar faces come next year.

Led by Mayor James Mueller, the incumbents focused on South Bend’s economic and population growth as signs the city was building off the progress of the Buttigieg years. They also pointed to a fully-staffed police department and more mental health resources as ways to combat crime.

Davis came in third among at-large Democrats, trailing longtime council member Karen White and Rachel Tomas-Morgan. Incumbent Lori Hamann, who has been a voice for more progressive causes on the council, lost out getting just over 17% of the vote compared to Davis’ 21%.

In the 1st District, incumbent Canneth Lee beat out Nick Hamann by a 64 to 36 percent margin. The story was similar in the 3rd and 6th districts where incumbents Sharon McBride and Sheila Niezgodski cruised to victory over challengers Drew Duncan and Bruce Mitchell.

“We’re going to make South Bend a better place to call home and the only way forward is together,” Lee told supporters at Corby’s Bar on Tuesday after the results of the election were announced.

Incumbent Troy Warner ran unopposed in the 4th District while Sherry Bolden-Simpson took 55% of the vote over Patrick Reighter in the 5th District.

The city council races mirror the results of the mayoral primary. Current mayor James Mueller handily defeated council member Henry Davis as he seeks reelection. Davis and his slate of candidates emphasized the perceived lack of investment in minority neighborhoods and raised concerns about gun violence in the city. Those who joined Davis at his watch party on the west side of South Bend said they were disappointed in the results, but promised not to give up the fight.

“I pray for this city, because unfortunately I feel that it’s on the wrong path,” said Lori Hamann, who lost her bid for re-election. “My fight’s not over. I’ll be right in it with all of you because it is what is right.”

Davis’ former 2nd District is still a close contest between South Bend schools employee Ophelia Gooden-Rodgers and Jorden Giger, who leads South Bend’s chapter of Black Lives Matter. Unofficial results put Gooden-Rodgers 15 votes ahead of Giger on Tuesday night and it's unclear if Giger will seek a recount.

LaQuita Hughes, who also campaigned with Davis, came in last among the at-large candidates.

This year also saw the fewest number of voters in recent memory, with unofficial counts from the clerk’s office showing just over 10,400 people voted. According to voter data, about 11,000 votes were cast in the 2015 primary and 12,000 people voted in 2019.

Republicans had primary candidates in the at-large, 2nd, 3rd and 5th districts, and all were unchallenged. The party will still have the option to install challengers in the other districts by July to run in November’s election.

Republican Desmont Upchurch hopes to become the party’s first mayor since 1972 when he takes on Mueller in the general election.

In Mishawaka, voters approved a referendum that will see around $2.7 million each of the next eight years go to the city’s school district to pay for educational staff salaries.

Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood also ran unopposed in the Republican Primary. Full results can be found on the St. Joseph County Clerk's website.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.