Independent hopeful makes uninvited appearance at Bloomington mayoral primary candidate forum

Who gets invited to participate in mayoral candidate forums? What happens if an uninvited mayoral hopeful shows up to participate?

With early voting in the May 2 municipal primary races starting in a little over a week, those questions got asked and answered at a Saturday event hosted by the Kappa Tau Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Alpha Kappa Alpha is one the Divine Nine—that’s the nickname for the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), which is an umbrella council composed of historically Black fraternities and sororities.

The forum, which was held at the Crestmont Boys and Girls Club on the north side of town, included the three Democratic Party primary candidates: Don Griffin, Susan Sandberg, and Kerry Thomson.

Not invited was Joe Davis, who has filed the paperwork to form a campaign committee called “Joe Mama for Mayor.” Davis has not submitted the required 352 signatures to be placed on the Nov. 7, 2023 ballot for the general city election.

But Davis arrived at the venue on Saturday, ready to participate. In the end, he was allowed to sit at the table with a hand-written “Joe Mama Bear Davis” name card sitting in front of his spot on the table, and to answer questions in turn with the other questions.

That’s not the way the Alpha Kappa Alpha wanted the event to unfold.

About 15 minutes before the start of the event, Alpha Kappa Alpha member Jennifer Crossley, who was elected to the Monroe County council in 2022, laid out for Davis the reasons why he was not invited to participate.

Crossley told Davis the invited candidates were officially on the ballot in a primary race. (Only the Democratic Party is holding a mayoral primary. No Republican candidates declared a candidacy.)

Crossley told Davis that even though he has filed the papers to form a campaign committee, the fact that he has not yet collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot means that he’s not yet an official candidate of any kind.

For those reasons, Crossley told Davis he was not welcome to participate in the forum, but was welcome to stay and watch.

Responding to Crossley’s point that he was not yet qualified for the November ballot, Davis said that was also true of the three candidates in the Democratic Party’s primary—none of them were sure to appear on the November ballot.

Crossley was not persuaded by that reasoning, and told him he was not welcome to participate. Davis responded: “I’m happy to participate!”

As the time approached for the forum to start, Davis approached the table where the three Democrats were seated and where Crossley was standing. He indicated an intent to take a seat at the table. After a brief exchange with Crossley, Davis strode away, looking back as he went, pointing at her, saying, “You’re discriminating against me right now, as an independent candidate.”

From his seat on one end of the table, Griffin called to Davis, “Joe, c’mere a minute.” When Davis came back, he had a folding chair in hand, ready to place it at the table. “No, no, no, I don’t mean come up here and sit down!”

But Davis placed his chair on the table and sat down.

From the audience, Bloomington city councilmember Jim Sims joined the gathering at the table which included forum moderators Marvin Jones, Jr. and Camille Scales, timekeeper Kwan Wallace, along with event organizer Kira Richardson.

Inertia was on Davis’s side.

Afterwards Sims told The B Square that instead of dragging Davis out of the place, it seemed like the best way to get the forum started was to just allow him to participate.

But Sims said he’d told Davis that Davis had exercised his white privilege by inserting himself into the forum against the organizer’s wishes. Sims said he’d told Davis to please remember that it was Alpha Kappa Alpha that had allowed him to participate in the forum.

Crossley confirmed to The B Square that the decision to allow Davis to participate was grounded in the practicality of holding the forum in a timely way.

Kerry Thomson had to leave the forum a few minutes early because she had a prior engagement.

After the forum, Davis told The B Square that he felt the event listing on the League of Women Voters website, which indicated “No Registration Needed,” meant that he was invited to participate in the Alpha Kappa Alpha forum.

Davis also said he thinks that the assumption should always be that if there’s an independent person running, they will get enough signatures to appear on the ballot.

In 2019, two people attempted to collect enough signatures to appear on the ballot as an independent candidate for Bloomington mayor—Nile Arena and Andrew Manson.  Neither collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The B Square asked Davis if he is planning to try to participate in other upcoming candidate forums to which he has not been invited. Davis said that based on that afternoon’s experience, he would probably reach out to the organizers of upcoming forums and say: “Hey, I’m running, please prepare for me!”

Reached by email, president and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce wrote to The B Square that for the chamber’s Elect Connect event on April 10, Davis is not eligible to participate, because he’s not a primary candidate and has not qualified for the ballot as an independent.

Spoonmore added, “We’d be happy to include Mr. Davis in a candidate forum for the general election, should he become an official, legally recognized candidate for mayor.”

About the forum on April 3, to be hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV) spokesperson Debora (Ralf) Shaw responded to an emailed B Square question: “The forum is for candidates who are on the ballot for the May 2 primary election. Joe Davis is not on the ballot, so he has not been and will not be invited to be on stage with the candidates. He is of course welcome to attend as a member of the audience.”

Local Democratic Party insiders reported there had been some grousing about the exclusion of Griffin by the Democratic Women’s Caucus (DWC), when it held a candidate forum on March 2 at the Monroe County Public Library. The position taken by the DWC was that their mission is to get women elected to office. Griffin sat in the audience of the March 2 DWC event.

Davis has been invited to participate in at least one mayoral candidate forum, on March 30, which is hosted by Stone Belt and Bloomington’s council for community accessibility. That’s according to Michael Shermis, who is special projects coordinator and human rights director for the city of Bloomington. This past week, Shermis was testing out the Zoom connections for city council chambers for the forum. During that testing, he mentioned to The B Square that Davis would be included in the forum.

In a separate matter, Davis has now filed a claim in Monroe County circuit court against the city, the housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department, the board of public works, the planning and transportation department, and the board of zoning appeals, over the citations he has received for the condition of his residential property at 530 Washington St.

The citations culminated in an order for abatement, which was granted by the board of public works in mid-March.

Audio recording of March 25, 2023 mayoral candidate forum

8 thoughts on “Independent hopeful makes uninvited appearance at Bloomington mayoral primary candidate forum

  1. Reminds me of Leon Varjian who ran on the Fun City ticket in 1975 🙂

    1. When Varjian ran for IU Trustee he was depicted hoisting a full pilsener glass in the photo he used on the official ballot. I never got the sense that Varjian was seriously pursuing an office, rather that he was rather playfully mocking the election process. Not sure what to make of ‘Joe Mama’…

    2. I knew Leon pretty well since I managed Mayor Frank McCloskey’s campaign in 1974-75 when Leon ran. Leon wouldn’t have expected to participate in a debate for candidates if he hadn’t met the standard to be, well, a candidate. He was a clever guy but never rude.

  2. It is too bad he didn’t comply with the organizers. He took up time meant for those on the ballot

  3. He also shouldn’t be allowed to participate in any other forum since he is not on the primary ballot. He would be irrelevant. It would be as if I wanted to participate.

  4. Decorum and respect for the democratic process are necessary for participation in the process as a candidate for office. At least, for those doing so seriously. Those doing so as to mock the process? Apparently all rules are out the window.

    It is rude, to me, to show up to an event uninvited and shoehorn your way into the conversation. It’d be like me going to a house party for a candidate and talking over everyone and making it about me. It’s not about me, it’s about the person(s) people are there to hear speak. If no one expected you, you can reasonably expect that no one is particularly longing to hear you speak.

  5. Those organizing an event should have the ability to make the rules for that event. Mama Davis certainly didn’t make any friends by trying to bully people into giving him a pulpit to air his views.

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