On Wednesday, the day after Election Day, current Bloomington city council president Susan Sandberg filed amended paperwork to convert her campaign organization from a mayoral exploratory committee to a campaign committee.
And on Sunday afternoon, Sandberg, a Democrat, kicked off her campaign for mayor with a gathering of about 60 people in one of the indoor shelters at Karst Farm Park.
Another declared candidate for Bloomington mayor in 2023, Democrat Kerry Thomson, will be kicking off her campaign this coming Thursday. Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, also a Democrat, has not yet publicly announced if he will seek re-election to a third term.
Karst Farm Park is a Monroe County government facility, Sandberg acknowledged in her opening remarks. And it was chosen for the kickoff with a specific intent, she said: “One of the things that I know I can bring to the table is a much better working relationship with our colleagues in Monroe County.”
Sandberg’s statement was a reference to the strained relations between Hamilton and the county commissioners. Policy issues where the friction between the two layers of government has been evident include a stalled collaborative effort on the convention center expansion and the location of a new county jail.
On Wednesday this past week, county commissioners invited the mayor to make the next move after voting to establish a capital improvement board to govern the new convention center expansion, contingent on the city council and the mayor’s agreement to its terms.
On the question of the jail location, for this Monday’s (Nov. 14) second city plan commission hearing on a requested rezone by the county government, to allow for jail construction in the southern part of the city, the city planning staff recommendation is now against the rezone. For the first hearing, the planning staff had not given a staff recommendation either way.
Better city-county relations are just one plank of Sandberg’s campaign platform which includes: affordability; safety; collaboration; and basic services.
On the point about basic services, Sandberg said, “Let’s make Bloomington a city with excellent and reliable public services for all.” She continued, “I will prioritize the maintenance, repair and restoration of the assets and infrastructure that make Bloomington a unique and livable place.” Sandberg wrapped up with a tag line that she’d floated as early as a city council meeting in April this year: “We should restore before we do more.”
The tagline drew loud cheers and applause.
On Sunday, Sandberg traced her introduction to Bloomington city council politics to a time when she lived a couple of doors down from former city councilmember Andy Ruff’s parents. Ruff’s mother called to recruit Sandberg to run for the District 2 seat—because at that time the Democrats had no one to run against the Republican incumbent. Ruff attended the campaign kickoff, along with former city councilmembers Chris Sturbaum and Dorothy Granger.
Sandberg’s District 2 campaign in 2003 against Republican Jason Banach was unsuccessful—Banach prevailed with 562 votes to Sandberg’s 477. But in 2007 she was caucused into the at-large seat that had been left vacant by Chris Gaal. That makes her period of service the third-longest among the nine sitting city councilmembers. They’re all Democrats.
With longer terms of service are Steve Volan, who was elected to a term that started in 2004, and Dave Rollo, who in 2003 was caucused into the vacant seat left by Jeffrey Willsey.
Rollo delivered introductory remarks at Sunday’s kickoff, and gave Sandberg his full-throated endorsement. Rollo sized up his view of Bloomington like this: “I think the city is going in the wrong direction. I’ve served on the city council now for 20 years under three mayors. And we are going the wrong way, not not the right way. And I think that sentiment is shared by a lot of people.” That assessment drew sustained applause.
Rollo characterized Hamilton’s approach as “top-down.” Rollo said that Bloomington now does not draw on the talents and expertise of its residents. Rollo concluded, “So we need a course correction. And Susan is that course correction.”
Also delivering introductory remarks for Sandberg on Sunday was Sherry Knighton-Schwandt, who said she and Sandberg “go way back” to the time when they both worked for Indiana University. Knighton-Schwandt is assistant vice provost for research at the university.
Knighton-Schwandt said that she had always been impressed with how well prepared Sandberg was and still is for city council meetings. “She comes to work at the city council and is so prepared. I know that she had read everything that she needed to read before she engaged in a conversation, about whatever issue was on the table.”
Knighton-Schwandt said that she was glad to hear in the spring when she asked Sandberg if she had ever thought about running for mayor, that Sandberg said she actually had.
In her remarks on Sunday, Sandberg foreshadowed an issue that could become one of the ways that city council candidates in 2023 seek to differentiate themselves: Should the city council need to sign off on specific transportation infrastructure projects affecting neighborhood streets?
About projects that change street infrastructure, by adding protected bicycle lanes, bump outs, speed tables, or other traffic calming devices, Sandberg said, “We need to make sure that elected officials are signing off on these projects.” She added, “Our boards and commissions are wonderful. They are citizen advisory groups, but they should not be the ones that finally sign off on some of these projects.”
Related to that topic, on the agenda of the city council’s meeting this coming Wednesday (Nov. 16), is a first reading of an ordinance that would revise the city’s approach to both kinds of process for installation of traffic calming projects—resident-led and staff-led processes. The big policy change would be that for both kinds of process, city council approval of an installation would be required.
About the nature of city council meetings, Rollo had led off with some lighthearted remarks, alluding to the recordings of the council’s proceedings that are broadcast on community access television services (CATS): “You’ve probably seen us on TV. We’re in a kind of part drama, or part comedy—dark comedy, tragedy…” Sandberg was quick to chime in: “But it is a pleasure to serve the city!”
Preceding the remarks was a short set played by Sandberg with her ukulele band, The UkeTones—Kathy Romy, Ellen Campbell, and Mark Wiedenmayer
Their set list included: “A Little Help From My Friends,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Teach Your Children Well,” and “Bloomington, Indiana, My Home”
Photos: Nov. 13, 2022 Sandberg Campaign Kickoff