Kerry Thomson kicks off campaign for Bloomington mayor: “A public that labels itself ‘progressive’ deserves to see some progress.”

On Thursday, at a gathering of nearly 200 people at Switchyard Brewing on Walnut Street in downtown Bloomington, Kerry Thomson kicked off her 2023 campaign to become Bloomington’s next mayor.

About an hour before Thomson’s event, incumbent mayor Democrat John Hamilton had announced that he won’t be seeking a third four-year term.

Thomson led off her remarks with a recognition of Hamilton’s news: “I don’t know if anybody has heard, but John Hamilton decided he’s not running.”

She added, “We are grateful for his service to the city. And we are building forward with new leadership in the city of Bloomington—that’s what we know.”

So far at least, there are two declared candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for mayor in the 2023 race—Thomson and city council president Susan Sandberg. Their candidacies won’t become official until they file the paperwork in early 2023.

Since late 2018, Thomson has served as executive director of Indiana University’s Center for Rural Engagement (IUCRE). The center’s website describes the IU initiative as tapping the research, expertise, teaching, and service of IU Bloomington faculty, staff, and students to create connections between non-land-grant, research institutions and rural communities.

Thursday’s gathering was Thomson’s second public campaign event. In June, at Bloomington Bagel Company on Dunn Street, she hosted a celebration of her announcement that she was making a mayoral bid.

At June’s event, Charlotte Zietlow, who has served as a city councilmember and a county commissioner, introduced Thomson to the crowd. Zietlow said, “Several years ago…I talked to Kerry. And I said, you know, we need somebody who is gonna listen and who will hear what people are saying. And have you considered running for mayor?”

Zietlow reported that Thomson said at the time: “No, absolutely not!” Zietlow called that “a good sign of sanity”—which drew its intended laugh from the crowd. Zietlow wrapped up: “But she thought it over. And she’s also gotten older and wiser.”

On Thursday, it was Thomson’s daughter, Caroline, who made the introduction. She alluded to a time when she was critically injured in a boating accident: “When my life was on the line, she’s the only person that made me believe I could make it through.”

Caroline talked about her mother’s former role as CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County. Thomson served in that position from 1997 to 2017.

Caroline said, “We have parks filled with people in need. And all we hear about the help that they have received is getting kicked out of and banned from the places that they call home.” Her mother has a track record of providing shelter for people by building houses, Caroline said.

When she took the mic, Thomson said, “As a first-time candidate for public office, I know that the road ahead won’t be easy.”

Thomson continued, “But as a nonprofit leader, with more than 20 years of executive experience, leading complex and large organizations to address very real problems, and as a mom and a wife, and someone who chose Bloomington as my hometown, I know it’s worth this work.”

Thomson recounted how she came to choose Bloomington as a place to live. “In 1995, I rode my bicycle from San Francisco to DC. I stopped in Bloomington for just 36 hours. And that was long enough for me to understand this was a city that was so exceptional, I had to live here.”

Thomson said that something about Bloomington she couldn’t comprehend until she moved here was “this deep sense of community that Bloomington has.” She described that sense of community as “the way that we treat each other,” adding, “It’s the way that we welcome other people. It’s our gatherings, around art and music. It creates a sense of belonging in an ever-changing population.”

Bloomington’s exceptionality has started to slip, Thomson said: “Our city has sidelined huge problems, allowing them to grow to crisis levels.”

Thomson reported out from the listening sessions she’s been hosting over the last few months. “I’ve heard about unchecked giant apartment complexes, tax increases, failed annexations, inability to cooperate with the county, a city bureaucracy unfriendly to business and even water we can’t drink,” Thomson said.

A line from Thomson that drew applause: “What I’ve heard in listening sessions is this: Why are we spending millions on bike lanes and annexation lawsuits when we have people living in tents?”

Thomson asked, “Why do we quibble over parking garages when no one can move into this town, because there’s not a place to live?”

Thomson said, “It’s time for a fresh approach, an inclusive approach, an approach tied to impact and to results. We need to work together.”

“We’re servants of our public,” Thomson said, adding, “A public that labels itself progressive deserves to see some progress.”

Photos: Kerry Thomson campaign kickoff (Nov. 17, 2022)

10 thoughts on “Kerry Thomson kicks off campaign for Bloomington mayor: “A public that labels itself ‘progressive’ deserves to see some progress.”

  1. It’s nice to see a candidate that views the housing crisis as an actual crisis. However, it’s kinda weird to frame “unchecked giant apartment complexes” as a bad thing. We need all the housing capacity we can get; so I don’t understand the consternation about large apartment complexes.

    1. I think the fact that none of the housing being built is affordable to folks who work here, is the point she was making in regards to “unchecked.” All these new apartments are $1200+ and aimed at the student population.

      1. I would say we need to understand the drivers for the cost of housing. I know it’s tempting to be like the rent is too high. Maybe we look at tax abatements for housing in certain price ranges. Maybe we look at building codes in Monroe county and how they differ compared to counties were housing is cheaper.

      2. 1400 + affordable units have been added in the past six years. The HAND department says we don’t have enough housing. BHA, HAND, Beacon, and other partners are continuing to add housing. Voucher housing is continuing to be added.

      3. It is difficult to make new housing very cheap and affordable (they are new). Compared with the case of not having these apartments, they still add lots of supply to the market and it should have positive impact. But we may need the non-market housing to really address the affordability issue:

  2. So much to unpack, but I’ll narrow in on the Epimetheus Afterthought topic: that Bike Lanes should be deemed an irrelevance and posed as a choice (false dichotomy) between housing the homeless or annoying bikesters is certainly not Pr🚫greSsive. The lack of any focus on Climatastrophe, when our first clear casualty of Global Warnings was drowned when their car was swept into Switchyard Park in the Flood of ’21, is a huge blind spot, possibly broached at the event, but not surfacing in this piece.
    At age 51, with Long Covid and cardiovascular fallout, I have never kept a motor vehicle and rock an industrial strength bike trailer that could haul a fridge. I had gotten out of shape from not biking the breadth of BeeTown a few times daily, as an influx of SUVs on cell phones, dramatically densified traffic due to some 10,000ish new residents made the almost daily close calls a mental and physical health hazard.
    Now that there are axial arterial bikeways, I again enjoy and utilize them to span much of town without fear of being crushed by cement mixers and gravel trucks, behemoth pickups. The scooters are a bane in so many ways, and much of the bike laning and traffic calming isn’t practical and was never enforced, hence the need for more encumbrances.
    But I can now start a bicycle based business thanks to the long overdue prioritization of such zenfrastructure, particularly the paveways, the wide multiuse bikeroads in place of sidewalks on a side of “whose streets? your streets”, still with much tire killing gutter debris and flood fodder filled drains tackled too rarely.
    Walkability and Bikeability is a MAJOR healthcare issue, will garner savings as more folk feel safe and comfortable to commute without polluting us all, forsaking our Future.

  3. Can’t candidates make the case for taking homelessness seriously without dismissing other Bloomington residents’ reasonable needs, like being able to find an apartment or bike safely on the roads?

    Bike lanes are basic, necessary infrastructure, especially for people who can’t afford cars. We spend far more on car infrastructure, so if you’re going to demonize something, please pick that next time. Whining about bike commuters contributes to a culture of mockery and dehumanization that makes us even less safe on the roads.

    1. Robust walking and biking infrastructure is a sustainability imperative and also helps with affordability in our expensive city. Our formerly two-car family is able to manage with one vehicle due in part to that kind of infrastructure. I like a lot of what I hear from Kerry Thomson, but was a little surprised to hear the false choice of serving the unhoused vs creating bike lanes even if it was framed as coming from listening sessions. I hope the hatred of the biking community from a vocal and vitriolic subsection of the public doesn’t drive policy.

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