Mayor-Elect Emily Styron: On Her Journey to Winning the Zionsville Mayor’s Office

 November 2019

With only 88 votes separating the two candidates, Emily Styron defeated the incumbent mayor, Tim Haak, on the November 5 general election, becoming not only Zionsville’s first Democratic mayor but its first female mayor as well.
Styron graciously accepted our request for an interview the morning after the election as a chance to introduce herself to her impending constituency and share with our readers what the road to the mayor’s office has been like.

Meet the New Zionsville Mayor

Styron, a 19-year resident of Zionsville, is the proud mother of two children and is currently the associate vice president, IT operations, at Ivy Tech Community College. She holds a master’s degree in public administration and began her public service career in May of 1995 as an executive in former Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith’s administration.

As the chief financial officer for the Indianapolis Department of Public Safety, Styron managed a $170 million annual budget for the Indianapolis Police and Fire departments as well as Emergency Management.

In the five years Styron spent in Indianapolis, her management experience encompassed public finance, parks and recreation programming, public facility maintenance and construction, emergency management communication systems and county-wide technology initiatives.

Deciding to Run for the Mayor’s Office

“This was ​the first general election where there has been a mayor’s race contested or otherwise,” Styron said, “going back to when the town created the mayor’s role through the referendum process. I was really excited about that. I thought that was a very strong next step for our community. I was a part of the Redevelopment Commission in the early 2000s for Boone County, and I was part of the Parks Board in the middle 2000s here in Zionsville. So, I was able to leverage the experience that I had working full time in the Goldsmith administration to some very specific community development opportunities here in Zionsville, and I really loved those opportunities.”

Styron expressed that she enjoyed the redevelopment work and building parks for our community in areas that didn’t have existing town-owned community resources that had infrastructure, such as Mulberry Fields.

“For me, I was for getting a mayor because we had been operating by committee for far too long and were missing out on too many opportunities,” Styron said. “We needed a single point of leadership.”

Keeping a close eye on projects in Zionsville, such as Creekside Corporate Park, Styron said she became concerned about the town leadership’s “traction.”

“What I was concerned about is that despite having that single point of leadership, we weren’t getting any traction,” Styron stated. “There were no gains in Creekside, and neighboring communities—such as Brownsburg—are booming. I started talking with more people around town, trying to get a better understanding of what is holding us back, why are we struggling in this arena in terms of corporate investment. And I decided that I have a background, skills and an interest that I was not seeing in the town government and had the opportunity to offer those [skills and interest] up to residents as an alternative. So, that’s what I did.”

Styron sought advice from trusted advisers and mentors, such as former Indianapolis Mayor Steven Goldsmith, about running for mayor’s office and on how to be an impactful politician.

“I know how to be the manager of things and how to be a chief executive officer,” Styron said. “What I was really worried about was how do I run for office and how do I become a politician? I had enough people tell me that I know what the town needs, that I know how to articulate those needs and that I have the experiences where I’ve helped other communities and organizations. So why not? It became clear that my experience with economic development and workforce development and my desire to work on behalf of my community and do the nuts and bolts of government was why I needed to run.”

Styron continued, “But I don’t really care so much about everybody’s policy issues that can divide us so easily—that’s not really a world I’ve ever wanted to live in. It also became clear that if I see a problem—for example, Creekside [Corporate Park] and I know how to fix it, then why don’t I step up and start talking about that. Throughout the campaign, I kept hearing themes from other residents and business owners about other areas not having economic development or not having that corporate investment and how it was holding us back from investing in some of these other areas that people really clamored for.”

Leading Zionsville into the 2020s

When asked what it means to Styron to have marked history as Zionsville’s first female mayor and how she feels about impacting young people—in particularly young women—she replied, “It’s pretty remarkable, and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve and to bring more young people and women into local government.

“I really do want to include young people in local government because when I was growing up, I was able to get involved in my local government [of Winston-Salem, North Carolina], and it made a huge impression on me.”

As she reflects back on the campaign, we asked her what surprised her the most about the campaigning process.

“I was really nervous about knocking on peoples’ doors,” Styron shared. “I had done that for other candidates growing up, but I was concerned about people not wanting to have me there and getting resistance because I was running as a Democrat. We have a very divisive political environment now, and I was nervous, but I discovered that I loved going door to door and talking with people and began looking forward to it rather than dreading it. I only had one person slam the door in my face, and after that, I just kept on knocking on others’ doors.”

Styron emphasized that she thinks it’s time and important for people to put aside party politics and speak to one another as neighbors who all want to see Zionsville thrive in the present and future.

“I think that it’s important for us to start to see each other as humans again,” Styron expressed. “We have to. Republicans are not bad, and Democrats are not bad [people]. We are people with different ideologies and perspectives in some ways, but in the majority of the ways, we hold the same values. We have the same goals for our families and for our communities.”

Styron continued, “For me, I ran for the job [of mayor] that I have worked my whole life. The issues impacting Zionsville are important issues for all of us: neighbors, business owners, firefighters, police officers—all of us. We need strong leadership to govern this town towards tomorrow and not hold on to where we are now.”

Thanking the Supporters and Volunteers

“Truly, this was not me winning,” Styron said. “This was a crew of people winning. I can’t begin to name them all because it is dozens of volunteers that have been walking and knocking on doors for months—in the hot, the cold and the rain. It has been remarkable. My campaign manager, Kristen Self, is a small but mighty human who has organized people and made sure that we stayed focused on the tactics that wouldn’t drain the bank account and would yield votes. I am so grateful to my children for letting me dial in for meals for the entire last six months. My poor son is so over Door Dash.”

Styron also commended Mayor Tim Haak for running a positive campaign and for his gracious concession.

“I think this campaign has shown our children how politics should be done,” Styron stated with sincerity. “He [Haak] has been so gracious and positive towards me throughout this whole process. He is a good person, and he has served our community well and in so many ways. I’m glad that we could go through this process and show our children what a positive political process can look like.”

In that same gracious spirit, Mayor Tim Haak offered these words about Styron:

“It has been a privilege to serve as mayor of my hometown, Zionsville, and work to make it a better place to live, work and raise a family. I have the deepest gratitude this evening for the volunteers and supporters who gave their time, skills and resources to this campaign. Zionsville is a better place because you stepped up to the plate. I want to congratulate Emily Styron on her victory and invite all to join me in wishing our shared home a successful future.”