High on the list of pitfalls faced by those who regularly put their words and thoughts up for public consumption is having to eat them at some subsequent point in time. Such a dinner date appears to have arrived for me, as the 2003 City Election moves to center stage.
Consider the healthy serving of word pie I cooked up for myself in the Bloomington Independent following the 1999 election of Andy Ruff and Chris Gaal to the Bloomington City Council. (Andy was the second leading vote-getter in a six-way major party at-large race.)
"Conventional political wisdom had city council candidate Andy Ruff finishing a distant fifth. In his words, political insiders considered him 'out there.' He was too radical.
"Ruff championed a no-growth direction for the community. Just four days before voters cast their ballots, he issued a statement proclaiming that the citizens want to rein in growth and sprawl.
"Add to Ruff's victory the no-surprise election of Chris Gaal in District 6, and progressives have every reason to eagerly anticipate the next four years of political policy making in Bloomington.
"Gaal is a lifelong, dedicated adherent to progressive principles. He's committed to the environment, labor and the poor. And the skills he is acquiring in his new profession as an attorney should make him an effective advocate on the council.
"As the city moves to revise the Growth Policies Plan, the city's master plan for growth and development, progressives can expect their two new representatives to stand up to pro-development forces and status-quo Democrats who dominated the creation of the growth plan last round."
It's been nearly four years since I cooked up that sweet-smelling little dish. And, of course, Andy has stayed the course. He meant what he said about standing up to vested economic interests. He's fought tenaciously for the principles on which he earned the progressive community's support.
But because of his efforts, Andy's campaign, along with Dave Rollo's, is being undercut by the same pro-developer forces that torpedoed Lucille Bertuccio's and Bill Hayden's in last year's County Council races.
Mark Kruzan, for example, has distanced himself from Andy on more than one occasion since announcing his mayoral candidacy. He hid from the I-69 press conference Andy and other dangerous radicals - like Pat Cole, Patty Pizzo, and Sophia Travis - held last January to denounce Frank O'Bannon's new-terrain selection. He's rejected Andy's vision for Bloomington by refusing to be associated with his campaign literature this year.
Former Democratic Councilman Jim Sherman is running as a Sour Grapes Independent against Rollo, significantly boosting developer Rod Young's chances to capture Rollo's council seat this November.
As for Gaal, here's some of what he had to say in his opening comments at last week's Council meeting:
"I would also add that the Chamber recently published its new list of top priorities for their organization, their 'High 5,' and looking over the list, it seems to me that those priorities indicate that they're reaching out to the diversity not only of their own membership, but also to the community, the broader community, working to promote their interests, but also reaching out beyond their organization.
"I think in talking with (new Chamber president) Denise Lesso about those priorities, again, Denise is someone that I look forward to working with and try and find common ground. And even though, as elected officials representing the community, the whole community, we may not agree on specific issues with the Chamber, there certainly is room for open dialogue. And I do think that we can find common ground on many important issues."
"One final thing that I wanted to say. Councilman Ruff said a few words last week about the BEDC, and at the time I wasn't able to - I didn't follow up on that - but I do want to point out something that I do think needs to be reiterated and added to the conversation.
"And that is that the issue of the Bloomington Economic Development Corp., the BEDC, is an issue that this council has struggled with for its entire term. For four years we've been discussing this issue, and I have to say that I believe that we've made significant progress in moving that issue forward, in broadening participation in that organization, but also in discussions about economic development. And it's something that the council did together as a group of us.
"First we got representation on the BEDC Board of Directors so that we could participate in their discussions and have some input, which I think is important for us as representatives of the community. That was an initial victory that we achieved. More than that, we asked for and received additional representation from the community, specifically, from small businesses, from labor unions, and from the environmental community. And again, that broadened community participation in their organization.
"And that discussion continues, by asking questions and encouraging dialogue, and that is an important process. I think we need to have broad representation from the community at the table to talk about an issue that's as important as our economic development strategy for this community and to try and find common ground. And I believe for one that that kind of common ground exists."
For perspective, the BEDC 2002 Annual Report - ... - lists 102 members on its Board of Directors. Two are from the environmental community; one is from small business; and one is from labor. Six are elected public officials from city and county governments.
The public is now outnumbered 9-1 in this public-private "partnership," even though city and county governments hand the BEDC $122,000 of taxpayer funds each year.
When Gaal initially got the four citizen voices appointed in 2002, the BEDC board had 63 members. Since then, 40 more from the development, real estate, banking, construction, utility, telecommunications, and other business communities have been added to help drown them out.
It should also be noted that the last round of Campaign Finance reports showed that BEDC Board Chair and local developer Eric Stolberg contributed money to two City Council candidates: Chris Gaal and Jason Banach.
At the risk of having to eat my words again someday, I must say that I chuckle when I hear Chris refer to himself as a progressive these days. Telling Bloomington voters that he's a progressive while cozying up to the rich and the powerful sounds to me like a Business Democrat strategy for seeking higher office (Vi Simpson's State Senate seat, perhaps?).*
Talk about gall.
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.
* The Bloomington Alternative supports Mark Stoops for the District 40 Indiana State Senate seat now held by Vi Simpson.