Appearing on stage in the auditorium of the Monroe County Public Library on Saturday afternoon were all three candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination as mayor of Bloomington: Don Griffin, Susan Sandberg and Kerry Thomson.
Early voting for the May 2 primary starts on April 4.
The theme of Saturday’s forum was: racial justice, social justice, and economic justice. The event was hosted by Monroe County NOW and several other organizations that are committed to advancing the interests of marginalized communities and promoting civic participation.
After giving two-minute opening statements, the candidates fielded questions delivered by moderator Maqubè Reese, who is associate director of diversity initiatives at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and president of the Monroe County Branch NAACP.
Asked how they would describe the racial climate in Monroe County the candidates agreed that improvement is needed.
Sandberg called the climate “uneasy” and mentioned the impact of national events on local conversations. Sandberg said, “I always take the view that with conflict comes the opportunity to have discussions, just like we’re having here today.”
Griffin put it like this: “We’re in silos.” He drew a culinary analogy: “It’s like having a kitchen with all these great ingredients…We brag about having different cultures, but no one has had a chance to mix them.” Griffin said “We were a community for a long time that said, we didn’t see our differences. In this next chapter…we need to say: We see our differences and we celebrate them.”
Thomson said, “Sometimes we don’t recognize the racism that exists here,” after calling Bloomington “a nice midwestern town, full of great liberal Democrats.” Thomson continued “We do need, not only to come together, and mix it up, but I think that we have a ways to go to keep people safe.” Thomson pointed out that in addition to routine microaggressions, Bloomington had actually seen violent acts.
One of those violent acts was the subject of a specific question at Saturday’s forum. In January this year, an Asian student at Indiana University was stabbed several times on a Bloomington city bus—targeted for no reason other than her Asian appearance. A gathering in Dunn Meadow was held to show support for the Asian community in Bloomington.
The paraphrased question put to candidates on Saturday was: What should local government do to respond to hate-motivated incidents like the bus stabbing?
Sandberg’s answer started with “Bloomington United.” That’s a reference to a group that was formed in 1998 after anti-Semitic leafleting, followed by the murder of Won-Joon Yoon as he was entering the Korean United Methodist Church on East Third Street. Sandberg said, “The Bloomington United movement said, ‘No hate here, not in our yards, not anywhere.’”
Sandberg continued, “And that is the kind of response that you hope does not come after the fact. You hope that we are working proactively in our community to be against hate crimes, instead of having to be reactionary, when these kinds of horrible incidents occur.”
Sandberg said, “We need to address it through education, through coming together.” She added, “But we don’t tolerate that in Bloomington.”
Griffin started his answer by saying, “Bloomington must lead with the message that: Love starts here.”
Griffin said that Bloomington is politically different from the rest of Indiana, drawing a standard analogy: “Bloomington is this blueberry in this bowl of tomato soup.” He continued, saying “And we have to make that blueberry big and huge and say: This is who we are. And we’ve got to be bold about that.”
Griffin said, “We don’t want to hear excuses about whether or not it’s a mental illness. We need to say: It’s a hate crime. And we need to be the community that says: It won’t happen here.”
Thomson said, “Leaders in Bloomington need to speak out immediately when something like this happens and condemn it.” She noted that after the bus stabbing took place, the city of Bloomington posted online a statement that said that Bloomington is a safe city and that the bus stabbing was an unusual attack.
Thomson pointed out that the city’s online statement was later revised to say that Bloomington is “relatively safe.”
“I would say that a community where an Asian-American woman is stabbed on a bus doesn’t feel safe at all for her. And it probably doesn’t feel safe for other Asian American Pacific Islanders,” Thomson said.
She added, “Rather than saying that we’re safe enough, we should be looking at how we can make ourselves more safe for everybody.”
In addition to Monroe County NOW, the forum was sponsored by: The University Alliance for Racial Justice, Indiana University PACE, ICPE Monroe County, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Monroe County NAACP, NAPAWF Indiana, and Indiana University Student Government.
Saturday’s forum was recorded by CATS. When the CATS video is available online, a link will be installed here: [CATS video: April 1, 2023 Monroe County NOW mayoral forum]
The CATS video includes forums for city council candidates at the start. Below is the clip of just the mayoral forum:
April 1, 2023 NOW mayoral candidate forum