Tomorrow, May 3, is the Democratic mayoral primary, which — given that in no way, shape, or form is a Republican ever going to get elected to lead this city — will essentially determine who the next Mayor of Bloomington, Indiana will be.
I’ll admit, I don’t normally spend much time on too many local issues: I consider myself a temporary member of the community; my focus is more on national policy; etc. But I’ve really taken time to consider this choice, because I really do love Bloomington and I’ve come to care about the community it is and will become. Not to mention the fact that local politics has so much more an impact on my day-to-day life than the issues I normally spend my time thinking (and trying to write) about.
My instinctive reaction was to support the status quo. And there were plenty of reasons to do so, not the least of which is my incredible appreciation of the incumbent mayor, Mark Kruzan, for his dedication to the arts and their place in the community. The creation of the Bloomington Entertainment & Arts District (BEAD) and his leadership during the Waldron Arts Center debacle last year are just two of the most significant demonstrations of his belief that not simply acknowledging but cultivating the arts is vital to keeping Bloomington dynamic and appealing.
Further, not knowing much about challenger John Hamilton at first, I was tempted to think “Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I mean, there’s a reason Kruzan’s campaign slogan is ‘We’ve Got A Great Thing Going!’. He’s shown in various ways — the B-Line trail; again, the establishment of BEAD; the incredible fiscal health of the city — that he is capable of building and maintaining a thriving, successful community that a broad and diverse population can proudly call home.
So, confronted with that, why would a voter decide to change course?
It’s easy to understand the desire for change when, as a voter, you disapprove of the course taken by the incumbent. It’s much harder to justify a shift in leadership when things are going well. Why rock the boat? Why risk jeopardizing the progress made in favor of exciting, yet unproven, ideas for the future?
Well, that’s what I’ve been asking myself for the last several weeks, and I’ve come up with the following conclusions:
First, while it’s tempting to stick to the status quo (I promise, no ‘High School Musical’ reference intended…), it is important to remember that every institution, at some point, requires a surge of new ideas and energy. In bad times, we simply call it a course-correction and accept it as necessary. During a period of successful leadership, however, we have to consider the possibility that, even though current leadership may continue doing a fine job, different leadership might do even better.
But second, and more important, I don’t worry that Hamilton — a proven progressive — would reverse any of the accomplishments of the last eight years, and is in fact uniquely qualified to build on them and continue to improve the quality of this community. I look especially to his time spent leading the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which gives him invaluable experience managing and protecting natural resources. This will enable him to act as a much-needed, sustainability-oriented counterweight to the surge in development Bloomington has experienced over the last few years.
Further, he has several specific, imaginative proposals that I believe would go a long way to enhance Bloomington’s standing as a progressive community and make it a national model for sustainable growth, such as:
- Sustainable Jobs and Greening Downtown Funds — using existing city funds, matched with outside investments, to enable local businesses to grow while sticking to eco-friendly principles
- Importing the “Cleveland Model” — encouraging the development of employee-owned co-ops
- GreenScore and tiered water rates — making public building-by-building energy usage data, and tying water rates to levels of usage
At a time when Bloomington is growing at an incredible rate — ranked Indiana’s sixth-largest city in the most recent census — it is important to me that the person leading Bloomington through this period be someone who considers sustainability not just a popular policy but a guiding principle.
This is the dilemma I have as a voter: I have only respect and gratitude for the work Mayor Kruzan has done for the city I’ve called home for just shy of a decade. But in any community — local, national, global — sometimes you reach a juncture where, even when previous leadership has inarguably done a good job, what will benefit the community most is a shift towards a different set of skills and priorities.
I believe Bloomington is at that juncture, and that John Hamilton is the man to lead us through it. And for that reason, he will be getting my vote Tuesday morning.