by Steven Higgs
It’s doubtful that anyone who has ever sought elective office in Monroe County has brought more experience as a citizen advocate to the effort than Bill Hayden. For a full three-and-a-half decades, the retired schoolteacher has lobbied, confronted and cajoled the power structure at all levels of government, from the deep woods to the neighborhood.
And it’s always been for the public interest. “Since ’71,” the Monroe County Council candidate says, explaining just how long he’s been at it. “Since about a year after Earth Day I’ve been active doing this and that.”
Hayden tells stories about leading environmental tours through off-road-vehicle trails in 1971, in what is now the Charles Deam Wilderness Area in the Hoosier National Forest, which has been ORV-free since pretty much those days.
“I could probably find the parking lot that they built that is all overgrown now and gone away,” he says.
In 1986, Hayden individually appealed and stopped every clearcut the U.S. Forest Service had planned for the southern half of the Hoosier. In the 1980s and ’90s, he lobbied the Indiana General Assembly on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Hoosier Environmental Council and the Izaak Walton League.
Among his recent efforts to protect the commons is a stint as the Bryan Park Neighborhood Association president. “I got the brick sidewalks on South Washington redone,” he says.
In fact, he did much of the work himself, along with Bryan Park neighbors. He also presided over the neighborhood’s successful fight against an acreage-packing, vehicle-driven development on one of the last undeveloped parcels of land in the city.
As Hayden approaches his second run for a Monroe County Council seat from his book-filled, rustic home two blocks from Bryan Park, he acknowledges that, yes, he does know how things work in politics. But with characteristic resonant laugh and booming voice, he adds, “I know how it doesn’t work.”
The gray-bearded, bespectacled, 63-year-old Hayden’s list of public service commitments is lengthy, with an emphasis on the environment and one of its policy twins, transportation. He has served on both the city and county traffic commissions and on citizens advisory committees for the Bloomington Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and Monroe County Solid Waste Management District. He serves as treasurer of the Community Bike Project.
Like protecting the forests during the chainsaw era of public lands management in southern Indiana, transportation is Hayden’s political passion today as the age of Peak Oil begins.
“My vision is of a pedestrian-, bicycle-friendly community,” he says, adding he wouldn’t mind serving as a Council representative to the MPO. “I really think that even though there has been progress, I still think that a lot of people on the MPO don’t get it. I do think that there are staff who are starting to get it, and they need support from policy makers.”
In Hayden’s community vision – be it local or global – transportation, zoning and the environment are all connected.
“I mean, roads determine how things develop,” he says. “But unfortunately, our development has outgrown our infrastructure. The question is, to me, as far as planning goes, how do we think a development fits the infrastructure. Or are we willing to figure out how we can come up with the money to develop the infrastructure?”
Hayden’s bid for the heavily Democratic Fourth District Council seat this year is his third run for elective office.
In 2002, he ran for County Council in District 2 and finished second in a three-way race. Last year he accepted the sacrificial-lamb status institutionally bestowed upon any Democrat in the City Council District 5 seat held by Republican David Sabbagh.
Whoever wins the District 4 Democratic nomination – Hayden or political newcomer Jill Lesh – will be the next County Councilperson for that district. In a thinly veiled assault on Democratic County Councilman Mark Stoops, Republican County Commissioners Joyce Poling and Herb Kilmer redistricted the county electoral map last year to gut Stoops’ district of his Democratic support. They moved those voters into District 4.
“It’s 70 percent Democrat,” Hayden says. “It was the sacrifice district so that they could beat Stoops and hold the other two.”
Stoops is a powerful progressive voice on the council, on which Democrats hold a 4-3 majority. Although he lives just north of Bloomington near Lake Griffy, Stoops will effectively be running for office in Ellettsville.
Hayden narrowly lost to Republican Trent Jones in the pre-redistricted-but-heavily-Democratic District 2 race in 2002 that also included Green Party candidate Julie Roberts.
Whether Roberts split the progressive vote or establishment-Democrats abandoned their party to keep Hayden out of power, as was debated in the post-2002 election, his independence hasn’t always been an electoral asset. He was not surprised when opposition appeared in the Primary.
“The Democrats have not been friendly to me,” he says.
Regardless, consistent with his independent past, Hayden trudges on.
“I basically want to run in order to be able to leverage what I’ve learned in the past 15 to 16 years living in Bloomington,” he says. “I guess my hope is that people will make their judgment based on who has the record of service, who has shown that they have some vision for what ought to be.
“I’m not interested in just collaboration,” he says. “I’m interested in achieving some things.”
Steven Higgs can be reached at .