The look on Keith Klein's face last primary election night spoke volumes about Lucille Bertuccio's grass-roots campaign for Monroe County Council. As he reported throughout the evening on Community Access Television that Bertuccio was leading incumbent David Hamilton, that it looked like she might beat him, and finally that she had, Klein's countenance evolved with the story, from disbelief, to concern, to shock.
After all, Hamilton had served the community his entire adult life as a Babe Ruth League baseball coach, deputy city fire chief and three-term county councilman. He was a popular figure in the community. And he had been a true friend to the community's economic-development machine. During the campaign, Hamilton reportedly said he had never met a development he didn't like.
Bertuccio, by contrast, is a political newcomer who had joined the citizen rush on the Council when it voted to give an out-of-town developer tax breaks to build apartments on environmentally sensitive land under the ruse that it would help the working poor. She had gotten herself arrested for trespassing when the developers' bulldozers began gouging the land. And she's vowed to stand up to the vested interests if elected.
It wasn't quite clear that evening if Klein, who ran for City Council as a Republican in 1999, was shocked that Hamilton had lost, or worried that Bertuccio had won. But it is has become abundantly clear since then that those who see local government as minority investment partners in their land-development schemes are petrified of Lucille Bertuccio. And that makes her chuckle.
"I think that's hilarious, when people say they're scared of me," she says. "What are they scared of?"
The youngest of five children of Italian immigrant parents, Bertuccio, 66, was born in New York, moved to New Jersey when she got married, and graduated suma cum laude from Trenton State College, after raising her two daughters Mary and Elizabeth.
"I'm a late bloomer," she laughs. "I got my bachelor's at 30, my master's at 50, and now I'm running for council in my 60s." She moved to Bloomington in 1988, after her husband Tom had been hired as an engineer at the Cyclotron. Today, she teaches two classes at IU: Environmental Education, Outdoor Education and Interpretation; and Exploring New Environmental Attitudes.
Bertuccio's home on Rose Avenue mirrors her philosophies and lifestyle. It feels open and spacious, yet it's filled with life, spirit and peace. Plants abound, inside and out. Reading material is scattered in every room. It's the place where her mother died, with Lucille by her side.
Gently flipping her beaded earrings, created by her daughter Mary, Bertuccio says her own mother sewed beads on rich women's dresses during the Depression to help feed her children. "My daughter's carried that line," she says with a broad smile.
Bertuccio talks about children a lot. And she leaves little doubt that children are an important reason why, perhaps the reason why, she got involved in politics. "What are we promoting here?' she says. "McMansions on top of our drinking water? Seven hundred and something thousand dollars for a house? Is that what we really want for our children?"
Bertuccio thinks not. She says we need people in government who will make sure public policy and economic development is designed to protect our children, not serve as an enabler for those who profit at the expense of their health and well-being. And that, she says, is the source of the power structure's fear of her candidacy and the emergence of "green" politics as a potent force in this community.
"Are they scared of somebody telling the truth?" she says. "I think that's what it is. They just don't want people to know what the problems are, and they're afraid somebody is going to tell them."
Bertuccio has been labeled an "environmental whacko" by some in the community because of her views and lifestyle. She hasn't driven or owned a car in the past three years, she doesn't eat meat, and she believes that the state of our environment is the No. 1 issue facing our community, our nation and our world.
"The environment is an umbrella that overarches all our concerns," she says. "It's the strata upon which our whole civilization is built, and that's what some people don't seem to understand. … We can't keep taking from the earth."
The environment must be considered across the board when government officials make decisions about the community's future, she says, citing economic development as a prime example.
"Don't we have to look at what these big businesses are bringing to our community?" she asks. "If we're really concerned about our children, shouldn't we be concerned about new pollution these businesses bring to our community."
And now they're talking about making Bloomington a center for the "life sciences industry," a euphemism for biotechnology or bioengineering. Bertuccio says she's read books on the subject, and the business of taking genetic material from one life form and melding it into another is precisely the sort of enterprise that she says Bloomington does not need or want.
"I'm totally against that," she says, "We're still reeling from PCBs. And now they want to bring bioengineering in here. This does not sound wonderful to me."
The environment, Bertuccio says, is also inextricably linked with quality of life issues, which she plans to emphasize in her fall campaign.
"Do we want to build new roads every square inch so that the whole county is covered with roads to accommodate all the traffic?" she asks. "Do we want crowded classrooms, so our children don't get the attention they need? Do we want polluted air and water? These are important quality of life issues that are part and parcel of what's involved with county government."
Accountability and fiscal responsibility are other issues that rank high on Lucille Bertuccio's political agenda.
Citizens are rightfully concerned about increasing taxes, she says. But almost no one talks about the reasons why they keep going up for county government. Among them is the county's inability to keep pace with the growth it is promoting. More people and more businesses require more essential services, like roads, police and fire protection, parks, and schools.
"Where does the money for these come from? The taxpayers," she says. "Don't let them tell you that the new taxpayers are going to foot the bill for them. It's not true."
Bertuccio says when she's elected, she will vote to stop offering tax incentives for new development on "greenfields." The community has an abundance of underutilized industrial and commercial space that needs to be used before anything new is constructed, she says.
And she would cut county's annual subsidy to the Bloomington Economic Development Corp. from $50,000 a year to zero. Like most of the out-of-town corporations that have gotten tax incentives to come to Monroe County, the BEDC is not accountable to anyone, she says. And on top of that, it's a lobbying group that actually lobbies the county.
"Why should we give them $50,000 a year to lobby the county to get what they want?" Bertuccio says.
Her economic development focus would be local. Local businesses would come first. And when tax incentives are granted, they should be tied to community issues like paying living wages. "I'm for tying tax abatements to community issues so if a business gets a tax abatement, it means they're going to have to follow certain guidelines," she says.
Bertuccio says she's not anti-business. But neither does she support the transferal of power that local officials have conferred upon business in this community. "Privatization is not the way to go," she says. "Business is good for the community. But we can't give business the store. We have to have people in the store, too."
Lucille Bertuccio believes the time has come for a new approach to government. And her view is that the public agrees.
Take last month's public hearings on Interstate 69, which drew nearly 2,000 people to meetings in Bloomington, Terre Haute and Evansville, where speakers passionately argued against the new-terrain route by a 4-1 margin.
"You could tell from the I-69 meetings that people are tired of the business line that we have to accept whatever it is that people give to us," she says. "I think people are interested now in seeing a change, a change in government, and a change in accounting that takes into account people's health and well-being."
She plans to carry her message throughout the fall campaign anywhere people are willing to listen. "Mostly, I'm going to pound the pavement" she says. And she expects to be well-accepted, as it was last spring when she upset David Hamilton and rattled Keith Klein.
"The majority of the people I got a chance to speak to in the spring really were interested in what I was saying and were really for me," she says. "I think we have our fingers on the pulse of the real people."