Bloomington mayoral primary forum: Are we scared of being the best at taking care of the less fortunate?

2023 Democratic Primary candidates for mayor of Bloomington, from left: Don Griffin, Susan Sandberg, and Kerry Thomson. (March 28, 2023 Heading Home forum)

At a Tuesday evening event for mayoral hopefuls in the Democratic Party’s May 2 primary, moderators from Heading Home of South Central Indiana quizzed the candidates about housing for low-income residents and homelessness.

The hosts also flipped the usual script for part of the event.

Each candidate had submitted one question for the audience to answer on arrival at the venue—Crestmont Boys and Girls Club on the north side of town. The questions were accessible through a QR code that appeared on a handout at the reception table.

Out of the roughly 100 people who attended, 58 responded to the three questions.

Co-moderator Leon Gordon, who is administrative director for Bloomington Housing Authority, reported a perfect 50-50 split for the question submitted by Don Griffin:

Are we as a community scared of being the best at taking care of those that are less fortunate?

Griffin then gave his take on the response to the audience poll question, followed by Susan Sandberg  and Kerry Thomson.

To aid understanding of remarks from candidates, by way of background:

  • One Heading Home maxim is that homelessness should be “rare, brief, and non-repeating.”
  • Griffin’s campaign catchphrase is “Believe in Bloomington.”
  • Beacon, Inc., which was formerly known as Shalom Community Center, offers services that include a day shelter, an overnight shelter, a community kitchen and street outreach. Wheeler Mission operates a homeless shelter off West 3rd Street.
  • The Stride Center is a diversion facility that’s meant to be an alternative to jail and emergency rooms, for people with substance use and mental health disorders.
  • Hoosier Hills is a food bank.
  • Heading Home is a member of the Built for Zero  initiative, which takes a data-driven, approach to measurably ending homelessness.

Don Griffin:

You know, I think that my whole “Believe in Bloomington” means that we find a benchmark and we do the best at the things that are important to us as Bloomingtonians. And I think we’re scared to be the best at taking care of folks with mental health and substance abuse and unhoused issues.

I think we’re scared that it will bring in more people that will also seek our assistance. And that is scary for some people—even folks who are working in the industry, who are already overworked and underpaid. And that’s one of the reasons why we need to get ready. If we’re going to do this, we need to do it the right way. And I think that scares a few people. That’s what I think.

Susan Sandberg:

I’m not sure that “scared” is the right word here. I know in my experiences both in working as a case manager and doing social service work, and working closely with many of the nonprofits who do here in the community, I have a sense of pride about that. I’ve always bragged about the fact that Bloomington is a generous community. It’s a caring community. We care for our people. I think what I wish other cities would do throughout the state is do an equally good job of using their resources and their community strengths to take care of their individuals.

Because let’s not mistake it: When you are a community that cares and you do provide a lot of services, you’re going to attract individuals from other communities who come here. I started to say in my last answer, one of our issues is a capacity issue. I mean, we can be such a caring community that we don’t have the capacity now to take care of all of the issues that maybe other cities and towns are sending our way, because they know when they come to Bloomington, they’re going to have some food security—because of Community Kitchen and Hoosier Hills and Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard. They’re going to be able to get health care, because …it used to be called Volunteers in Medicine—now it’s HealthNet.

We do have shelter opportunities. We do have Heading Home. We do have Beacon, Wheeler, the Stride Center. We are a tremendous community when it comes to that. And I wouldn’t change that. But it is creating some issues. So I’m not sure “scared” is the word. We can’t deny that that’s happening.

Kerry Thomson:

Think the 50-50 split is likely a representation of the fact that our community does care. And we want to be really good at this. And we also are a little bit scared, that if we get too good at it, then we are going to be attracting people.

But what if we believed we actually can solve the problem? What if Built for Zero really does work? What if working together, we can create a system, where we can have people who are unhoused for just a brief and non-repeatable time—I think we can do that. But we have to work together. And we have to work with the other communities, so that they understand the resources they need to help the people that are already in their communities.

Tuesday’s forum was co-sponsored by: Community Foundation of Bloomington & Monroe County, United Way of Monroe County, South Central Housing Network, Bloomington Multi-Faith Alliance, IU Political and Civic Engagement (PACE), South Central Community Action Program.

The Heading Home initiative is a partnership between the city of Bloomington, Monroe County government, the Community Foundation, and the United Way of Monroe County.

A team from CATS was on hand to record video of Tuesday night’s forum, which lasted about 90 minutes. When it’s available online a link will be installed here: [CATS video: March 28, 2023 Heading Home mayoral forum]

[Note: The reporter is married to Mary Morgan, the director of housing security for Heading Home of South Central Indiana, and co-moderator of the forum.]

7 thoughts on “Bloomington mayoral primary forum: Are we scared of being the best at taking care of the less fortunate?

  1. If you live in Bloomington, the best choice is Don Griffin for mayor. He’s the only candidate who wants to proceed with the annexation. While the other two candidates express some interest in having discussions, feedback, or starting all over, after four years of discussions and lawsuits I think that time has passed. Simply put no one wants to pay taxes. Almost no one would pay taxes if they weren’t forced to do so. A good example is the recent WFIU fund drive, in years past they’ve highlighted the fact that only about 10% or so of their listeners ever contribute. As Trump was proud to espouse use OPM, other peoples money to make yourself wealthy. If you live in the city and you want others to help you make our city the wonderful place to live it is, vote for Don Griffin. He has the experience and the vision to keep our city a thriving metropolis.

    1. What thriving metropolis are you referring to? If Don Griffin is your choice for mayor, you must ask, as deputy mayor for two years, why didn’t he negotiate with the fire and police unions? Our public safety people are understaffed and underpaid. Public safety is critical to a thriving metropolis and we are putting our public at risk by not adequately taking care of our fire and police.

      1. Let’s look at some facts. Bloomington has a nationally accredited police dept (CALEA) and a top-rated fire dept (ISO) and is the only city in IN with both distinctions. We have a declining crime rate and a 90% reduction in fire fatalities.

    2. I’ve been very surprised to see that two of the three mayoral candidates favor stepping back on annexation (although their approaches are not identical).

      I believe many (not all) people who live in the City share Mr. Drescher’s view and be inclined to vote for a candidate who will make “others” pay to make Bloomington more wonderful. It’s easy to see why Mr. Griffin would appeal to their self-interest and take the position he does–that’s where you’d expect the votes to be.

      I think it’s overwhelmingly true that those people who are opposed to the current annexation effort live in the areas targeted for annexation. They have no vote in this election. So why would Ms. Sandberg and Ms. Thomson take the position they have, which will tend to appeal to people who can’t vote for them rather than the people who will? I presume the reason is because they understand how destructive the City’s specific annexation initiative has been, and they’re anxious to repair the damage and pursue a more judicious approach. I’m impressed. I hope Bloomington voters will take note of how unusual this is and give these candidates a fair hearing.

  2. I believe some candidates for mayor oppose annexation in order to garner campaign donations from those who live outside our city limits. Much like Trump solicited campaign donations from Russia.
    Let’s review some of our cities accomplishments:
    Nationally accredited police and fire dept.
    Since 2016 1400 units of affordable housing, including 11,00 new bedrooms.
    City’s first Climate Action Plan with $1.6 million in new annual funding.
    Wages have risen faster in our city than those of comparable IN cities.
    Racial Equity Plan
    Recover Forward has committed more than 15 million to critical investments in housing, security, job creation, climate action, infrastructure, social service, digital equity, arts, and public safety.
    38 miles of trails.
    New Switchyard park.
    City has installed solar systems at 31 facilities since 2018
    Our Human Rights Commission has earned a perfect score for 8 years.
    I realize many people living on the outskirts of Bloomington want to use and thrive in the environment city taxpayer’s have provided them without the burden of having to contribute, Because they believe like the Trumps that the way to wealth and happiness is to use OPM. But actually what we do together is so much better for us because people are herd animals, our ancestors never lived alone, we lived in groups and accomplished much because of our group effort.

    1. “Much like Trump solicited campaign donations from Russia.”

      Mike, this is not only a terrible argument, it’s kinda sleazy. The argument flaw is that you rely on the idea that these two candidates have calculated they will earn more in-City votes by strongly and publicly advocating policies that benefit non-resident non-voters and do not directly benefit resident voters. What good can campaign money do them if to get it from outsiders they must take strong public positions that will lead actual voters to Mr. Griffin? I see no sense in this line of argument.

      The sleazy part is your attempt somehow to link Ms. Sandberg and Ms. Thomson to former president Trump (who, by the way, for all his sins did not in fact solicit campaign donations from Russia). This used to be called a “smear tactic,” but I think you’re just getting carried away. Still it doesn’t help that you used the same tactic to characterize those of us who live in the fringe: “they believe like the Trumps that the way to wealth and happiness is to use OPM.” It does you no honor to say things like this. If you feel the way to make your point is to find some hook that will make your opponents seem odious by linking them to Trump, it would be wiser not to make your point.

  3. It’s interesting that you know in over 200 meetings between the Trump campaign staff and Russians during the 2016 election they never solicited any help? And I don’t really comment online to win friends, I try to just use logic and known facts to state my opinion. The fact is people do not want to pay taxes regardless of what contracts or agreements they’ve entered into or how much they might use services provided by others. To have discussions with those people is completely useless and sometimes governments must use their powers to force the matter. That’s what many in the IRS do daily and why the GOP/Russian party is so steadfast in denying funds to the IRS to force citizens to support the services they demand. Our cities attempt to annex areas contiguous to our current boundaries to give everyone the opportunity to contribute to the place where they live, work, and play is similar in many ways to national attempts to encourage our richest citizens to help support the quality of life for all citizens.

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