On Thursday evening at the Griffin Realty offices on College Avenue, Don Griffin kicked off his campaign for mayor of Bloomington with a gathering of around 50 people.
Griffin is running for the Democratic Party’s nomination, in what will be at least a three-way field, that includes Susan Sandberg and Kerry Thomson. The catchphrase of Griffin’s campaign will be: “Believe in Bloomington.”
In his remarks to the group, Griffin alluded to the fact that he is stepping down as deputy mayor to focus on his campaign. On Thursday, Griffin said, “My time as deputy mayor has provided me with a masterclass in city government and helped me understand what it means to serve in a more meaningful way than I could ever have imagined.”
He added, “And I want to thank John Hamilton for that opportunity.”
On Thursday night, Griffin led off the presentation of his platform by saying he wants Bloomington to be considered “the best small town in the United States.”
The four elements of Griffin’s platform are: sustainability; diversity, equity, and inclusion; housing; and job creation and attraction.
On the idea of sustainability, Griffin said, “Sustainability is at the core of our growth. Climate change is upon us, and communities that prioritize sustainability are better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.”
A commitment to sustainability improves Bloomington’s quality of life, Griffin said, and Bloomington’s quality of life can attract companies to locate in Bloomington. He put it like this: They’re not hiring people to come to them, they’re looking for communities…where there’s the brain power, and the quality of life.”
On diversity, Griffin said, “We need to be more of a community that says, I see your differences—and we celebrate them. That’s where we need to be.” He continued, “It doesn’t matter what color you are, who you love.”
Griffin wrapped up the point saying, “We already have that core value, but can we be that community? Can we be that community that just says: This is who we are and we can shout it from the mountaintops?” That rhetorical question drew a yes from the crowd in the form of applause.
On housing, Griffin cited his experience in the real estate business. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” he said, which meant he’d sold more than 2,000 houses. He pegged the value of those transactions at “almost a half a billion dollars.”
He added, “I didn’t do that by selling mansions. I did that by starting out as a first-time homebuyer guy.” The city is currently cataloging property that might be suitable for increased density, he said. Griffin quipped, “Your neighborhoods are safe—just calm down!”
Griffin continued by saying there are areas where there is one house on a two-acre lot, with a sewer connection right next to it: “How can we create more housing in these small areas that we pass by every day?”
On job creation and attraction, Griffin said it’s not just a matter of attracting existing businesses. Some of Bloomington’s largest employers are companies that started here, Griffin said, pointing to Cook Medical as an example. He also pointed to a local company in the arts segment of the economy, record label Secretly Canadian.
“Let’s stop the brain drain,” Griffin said. Indiana University has one of the “greatest music programs in the entire world,” Griffin said. He said Bloomington should be able to tell artists and musicians: Don’t go to Nashville, don’t go to New York, stay here in Bloomington.
Griffin talked about making Bloomington the “artist and music destination” of the midwest. He put it like this: ”I want this to be the Austin, Texas of the midwest.”
Griffin was introduced by his two campaign co-chairs, city councilmembers Kate Rosenbarger and Jim Sims.
Rosenbarger said, “When I first started working with Don at the city, I wasn’t sure what he would be like as the deputy mayor. And I will be honest, maybe it was a rough start for a while.” That drew laughs from the crowd, and Griffin piped up: “I thought I was doing great!” Rosenbarger added, “But I think he’s done great.”
Rosenbarger continued, “I wouldn’t want to work with anybody else in that position.” She added, “The main reason is, he listens to understand—and this is something that is very uncommon for men, sorry!”
About fundraising, Rosenbarger told the crowd the campaign would have some catching up to do, because the other two candidates in the Democratic Primary have been working at it since the summer.
In his remarks, Sims took up the theme of listening. He cited what he called a “grandma-ism” he’d learned from the woman who raised him and his two brothers: “The good Lord gave you two ears and one mouth. That’s why we should listen twice as much as we talk.”
About Griffin, Sims said, “I want you to listen to this man’s ideas and visions of how to make Bloomington a more inviting, equitable place for all of us to live and call home.”
Sims continued, “I want you to listen to his ideas and visions on how we can deal better with our housing situation.” Sims added, “Listen to his ideas and his vision on our infrastructure needs, water, roads, and city services.”
Sims also cited his personal history with Griffin: “One of the reasons why I support him is because I will always support people that have always supported me.” Sims added, “And from Day One, before many of you knew who Jim Sims was, this man was there.”
Griffin included as part of his announcement last week his intent to step down as deputy mayor. The filing of his campaign committee paperwork came the week before his formal announcement. Griffin has served as deputy mayor of Bloomington since late April of 2021, when Mick Renneisen retired from the position.
On Thursday morning, the city announced that to start 2023, public engagement director Mary Catherine Carmichael would take over the deputy mayor position, and that now chief of staff Kaisa Goodman would backfill the public engagement director position.
Goodman worked the sign-in desk at Griffin’s Thursday kickoff.
Many attendees at the kickoff were wearing masks, as COVID-19 cases are showing an uptick. Bloomington mayor John Hamilton did not attend Griffin’s kickoff—the city announced that he had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Besides Sims and Rosenbarger, notables in attendance on Thursday included at least: city councilmember Matt Flaherty; Monroe County clerk Nicole Browne; sheriff-elect Ruben Marté; Bloomington’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) director John Zody; deputy fire chief Jayme Washel; past 9th District Congressional candidate Isak Asare; and past county commissioner candidate Dominic Thomson.
The musical backdrop for the event was provided by Charlie Jesseph.
Photos: Don Griffin mayoral campaign kickoff (Dec. 15, 2022)