What follows is the script from which I questioned Bloomington’s three candidates in the May 5 Democratic Mayoral Primary during interviews between April 17-19. Audio and video from the interviews will be posted to YouTube and embedded here on the Alternative website. They will also air on Community Access Television Services at times to be announced shortly.
The conversations deviated some from the script, but all of the issues here were addressed by each candidate.
"I have walked, biked and driven Bloomington’s streets since I moved off campus the first time in 1971. And from that street-level view, I’ve seen a remarkable transformation of this community, especially here in the Smallwood Era.”
Thank you for agreeing to sit down and talk with me about the important issues facing our community. I really appreciate it and am sure the voters who see this will as well. So let me lay some brief background, and we’ll get right to it.
In addition to my years writing about local politics as a journalist, I have also walked, biked and driven Bloomington’s streets since I moved off campus the first time in 1971. And from that street-level view, I’ve seen a remarkable transformation of this community, especially here in the Smallwood Era.
Smallwood, of course, was the first of the “luxury student housing” developments in downtown Bloomington.
As I told you in advance, I want to focus on the four areas that most interest me and, from my prep work for these interviews, I believe are foremost on the minds of a lot of Bloomington citizens:
- Homelessness and low-cost/affordable housing,
- Downtown character,
- Police, and
Over the past 13 years, on a near daily basis, I have passed by the library and the old Shalom Center, and I live just a few blocks from the new Shalom. I’ve watched the street people’s character transform from folks who, for whatever reasons, just couldn’t seem to function in society – like Dorothy, who used to sleep in the post office with her grocery cart – to a whole new crowd.
"Let’s start with a couple questions about the street community. Who are they? Where do they come from?”
What I see today is a population of people who have been left behind by the Reagan Revolution’s live-and-let-die philosophy, a population whose ranks are almost certainly going to grow.
So let’s start with a couple questions about the street community.
- Who are they? Where do they come from?
How do you propose the community address the issue, both short and long term?
- Emergency shelter?
- More Crawford-type housing?
The Housing Trust Fund is a program that was designed in 1995 to buy and provide affordable housing and has almost $900,000 that is seldom used?
- Why has that much money just sat there?
Inclusionary zoning, the practice of requiring developers to set aside percentages of their projects for, say, affordable housing, has been suggested as a tool to force more diversity downtown.
- Is inclusionary zoning legal?
- Hasn’t it been used in the past?
The homeless and downtown development issues segue to the next one: community policing. I’ve seen government data that suggests roughly one quarter of those in homeless shelters suffer from mental disabilities.
"In a time when excessive police force is on display from coast to coast on a seemingly daily basis, how will you, as mayor, ensure that what we see on TV and the Internet will not happen here?”
I wrote about James Borden, a Lawrence County man with mental disabilities who tragically died in the Monroe County Jail in 2007. At the time, all the talk was about better police training and alternative ways to deal with the mentally ill.
It’s my understanding that the police are still the public agency with the most direct contact with the homeless. And I hear tales that not much has changed, that nonviolent people with mental disabilities are routinely arrested, released, re-arrested, etc.
- What do you hear about the relationship our police have with the street community?
I’ve heard mixed reviews on the outreach officers that Chief Diekhoff has assigned to intervene when conflicts arise.
- Why are police still the initial contact with the homeless with mental disabilities? Why not trained caseworkers?
The H-T reported that they paid from parking meter money?
- Are they?
In a time when excessive police force is on display from coast to coast on a seemingly daily basis, how will you, as mayor, ensure that what we see on TV and the Internet will not happen here?
- What is your position on body and dashboard cams for Bloomington police?
Downtown development/parking meters
The concept of compact urban form as a way to energize downtown and combat urban sprawl seemed a solid, progressive idea way back when. But the resulting concentration of high-end, downtown student dorms are not what many envisioned, you and I included. You all have described these developments as “ugly,” as “unattractive canyons,” as “concrete canyons,” and as “cash cows for out-of-town developers?
- First, how did that happen?
- Who is responsible?
"Will you make changes in the plan department and on the plan commission? ... Will you take away some of their authority?”
The mayor controls the plan department. He appoints the plan director and controlling majority of the plan commissioners.
- Will you make changes in the plan department and on the plan commission?
The plan commission has authority to make exceptions to city regulations, such as building heights, like the hotel on Kirkwood.
- Will you take away some of their authority?
We couldn’t really discuss downtown without touching on the parking meters.
- What is your position?
- Wasn’t the City Council decision to reduced their impacts a month before the election a little transparent?
There is obviously no more emotional issue in Bloomington than the deer. While the issue has two separate components – one involving the natural environment, the other the built, urban environment – both are a function of the same root cause – an overpopulation of white-tailed deer.
"Do you support the Griffy deer cull?”
This is an issue that I have followed as a journalist and a citizen. I covered the first Brown County State Park deer hunt for the H-T in the mid 1990s. And on my late-night walks with my dogs I have traced their migration from the Southdowns area through Bryan Park west to my back yard and on toward Walnut.
Let’s talk about Griffy first. The science hasn’t changed in the 20 years since the Brown County hunt. Unless the herd is reduced, Griffy Lake will become a monoculture.
- Do you support the Griffy deer cull?
I do not see Bloomington condoning the use of lethal methods such as guns and arrows neighborhoods.
- What, if anything, do you think should be done in the neighborhoods?
"Could you please define progressive?”
I have one more question I want to ask each of you.
On their websites, Darryl and John (Hamilton) use the term progressive to describe their visions. I suspect John Linnemeier would characterize himself in those same terms, as well.
Frankly, I think the term has lost its historic meaning. It seems to me it’s devolved into a more palatable term for liberal.
- Could you please define progressive?
I will practice what I preach in class and ask you the question I tell my students to end all interviews with.
- Is there anything else? Anything you’d like to talk about that I didn’t ask about?
Thank you for talking with me.
Steven Higgs is editor and publisher of The Bloomington Alternative.