2023 Bloomington primary: Black Lives Matter B-town assesses Democratic Party candidates

Early Saturday (April 15), Black Lives Matter B-town  released its assessment of Democratic Party city primary candidates who responded to a survey that included 10 questions for all candidates and two questions just for mayoral or city council candidates.

Pull quote from the questionnaire. The quote reads: Do you believe that these trainings are effective to actually prevent racism, homophobia, transphobia and bias from happening in city government?

Sent the questionnaire were Democratic Party primary candidates for Bloomington mayor, city clerk and city council. The questionnaire was not sent to candidates affiliated with the Republican Party, because BLM B-town does not consider the party to be in alignment with its basic principles.

According to BLM B-town, their candidate assessments are provided to voters for informational purposes—they are not endorsements.

Candidates were given seven days to fill out the questionnaire, and were sent subsequent reminders after the survey was sent, according to BLM B-town

A total of 18 candidates wrote out answers to the questionnaire. It was designed to allow assessments of candidates in the categories of: Awareness, Position, Vision, Voices at the Table, Commitment & Effectiveness, Passion & Comportment.

Candidates are assessed on a scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”.

Some candidates did not respond to the questionnaire. About those candidates, BLM B-town wrote: “[C]andidates’ refusals to provide answers for this Voter’s Guide should remind us that the majority of the Bloomington political landscape is built to sustain anti-Black practices.”

BLM B-town gave candidates who did not respond to the BLM B-town questionnaire an assessment of “strongly disagree.”

The assessments were released as three separate .pdf files:

The text of the questionnaire and direct links to the responses from individual candidates are included below.

Questions for all candidates

  1. How do you define Anti-Racism? Please try to use your own words and do not quote from a book or online resources. Additionally, how as an elected official would you apply anti-racism? Give specific examples in either your current policies as a seated official or in your candidate platform.
  2. How do you define privilege? How has privilege impacted decisions you have made as an elected official, or if you are running for the first time, as an engaged community member? If you are elected, how will you use your privilege to assist BIPOC communities?
  3. Given the history of the BLM Movement and the surge of support in 2020 after George Floyd was brutally murdered by police, the promised police and law enforcement reform that ultimately has not happened; in fact Bloomington has increased support for police financially. There has been a backlash against the BLM Movement we are currently seeing in media and politics. Are you as a candidate or a current elected official a supporter of the BLM Movement and its position on police and if so please articulate what that means in your own words? Give specific examples in your policy work or in your candidate platform.
  4. Given the American legacy of slavery, tyranny and discrimination against Black people Indigenous people and other people of color; do you believe that White Supremacy exists today in the U.S. within the populace, our systems of government, schools and education, etc…? If SO please give as many examples as you think are necessary to elucidate that belief and if NOT please tell us why. Name a specific issue in our community relating to White Supremacy and how you have or would respond to it.
  5. To the best of your knowledge, describe why people of color are disproportionately targeted and arrested by the criminal justice system. What ideas do you have to make the justice system more equitable and impartial? What concerns do you have about the militarization of our police force? Name a specific issue in our community relating to the militarization of the police and how you have or would respond to it?
  6. What does restorative justice look like to you? What programs focused on restorative justice do you support or would you support as an elected official? How, give as many details as you can?
  7. Describe a society in which there are no prisons. How does that justice system differ from ours? What other aspects of culture would be different in a society without Prisons?
  8. Given that the food insecurity rate for Monroe County is 14.4% which is 32.1% higher than the national average what plans or ideas do you have for food justice in our community? Do you support community based food programs that bring locally grown nutrient dense food to those in need? If so please detail those programs here. [Statistics from Feeding America Org 2019. These stats have only gotten worse during the global pandemic, though new numbers have not been compiled in this form yet.]
  9. In what ways does food justice fit within wider social issues, ie economic, environmental or racial justice? Do you support allowing white supremacists in our local food movements/farmer’s market? If so, why? If not, how do you propose to remove or ban them?
  10. Bloomington and Monroe County finds itself in an affordable housing crisis. How will you ensure more affordable housing? Do you support density housing with priority given to people of color, people making under $30,000 a year, families with dependents, and people with disabilities? What is your definition of “affordable” housing? Specifically, please discuss non-student housing.

Questions for mayoral candidates

  1. Given the recent anti-LGBTQ bills across the country and in Indiana & given that BIPOC LGBT folks will be doubly impacted, how will you as Mayor make sure LGBTQ Youth and in particular Trans and Non-Binary Youth have access to life saving gender care services in our community? How will you support our LGBTQ Elders? How will you address the intersectionality of Race and LGBTQ needs in our community? How will you help to bring more BIPOC physicians that specializes in the LGBTQ+ community to Bloomington?
  2. Bloomington’s housing crisis means we have an unhoused population in need of places to socially gather, live, and go to for safety in bad weather. The previous administration has removed them from public places like parks and the downtown area, causing trauma and further displacement for our unhouse community members. Given that this affects BIPOC folks disproportionately, what would you have done differently and who you would have consulted? Give as many details as you can. Tell us what type of Mayor you would be in a crisis especially related to issues of marginalized communities. How do you distinguish yourself from the previous administration?

Questions for city council candidates

  1.  In recent years many community members including BLM BTOWN has interrupted city council meetings in order to bring to light various issues that the council has overlooked, as well as, not taken enough public comment, and neglected to implement community recommendations. The council often chooses to shut down public comment or limit it to two minutes or end council sessions entirely. Do you support this form of censoring the community? Or do you purpose a different strategy to hearing public comment and discourse? Please describe that strategy in detail giving examples from recent or notable comment sessions from the past. For reference here is a article from 2018: Black Lives Matter Bloomington Protesters Shut Down City Council
  2. Given that anti-racism, DEI and anti-bias trainings are needed for all levels of government, city employees and consultants; and given that the city of Bloomington has mostly had trainings from organizations not based in Bloomington. Do you believe that these trainings are effective to actually prevent racism, homophobia, transphobia and bias from happening in city government? If not, what do you propose to do to help get the city the training it needs? Do you support local community based training instead of hiring out of town trainers? If not, why?

Links to Verbatim Responses

Links are set up to target the page of a single .pdf file where a candidate’s response starts. In some cases that will mean a quick scroll to the bottom of the page is required.

Don Griffin
Susan Sandberg
Kerry Thomson

City Clerk
Nicole Bolden

City Council District 1
Joe Lee
Isabel Piedmont-Smith

City Council District 2
Kate Rosenbarger
Sue Sgambelluri [did not return questionnaire]

City Council District 3
Ron Smith
Hopi Stosberg
Conner Wright

City Council District 4
Dave Rollo [did not return questionnaire]

City Council District 5
Shruti Rana
Jenny Stevens

City Council District 6
David Wolfe Bender

City Council At Large
Isak Asare
Matt Flaherty
Andy Ruff
Lois Sabo-Skelton [did not return questionnaire]
Jonas Schrodt
Ryne Shadday
Steve Volan [did not return questionnaire]

23 thoughts on “2023 Bloomington primary: Black Lives Matter B-town assesses Democratic Party candidates

  1. That’s a pretty damning evaluation of Kerry Thomson. I’m pretty much planning to vote for Thomson but it would help if she had at least one coherent policy other than “bringing people together”. Nightmare scenario is Thomson and Griffin splitting the progressives and Sandberg winning with 40% of the vote.

    I’m also disappointed that Volan didn’t return the questionnaire.

    1. It may be damning but it is also biased and not accurate. A questionnaire about 4% of the population is not a way to asses a candidate for mayor. Look at a person’s heart and see that the only candidate who has spent a career building affordable housing is the best option. Vote Kerry for Mayor.

      1. It was not just 4%. It was also LGBTQ, BIPOC, and any marginalized population. It is so very important to listen to these voices

    2. The irony, of course, it that Kerry Thomson has detailed plans that go beyond, “I’m for” or “I’m against.” Her housing plans for example are comprehensive and acknowledge the multiple approaches necessary to confront our shortage in affordable housing. And, it is more than ironic to critique her for suggesting cooperation is essential. In order for Bloomington to move beyond the current stalemates and negativity will require the building of some newly conceived alliances. Like other candidates, Kerry has a broad range of knowledge of fiscal issues, public safety, appropriate development strategies based primarily on LOCAL builders, etc. She also understands that citizen input is more than holding another town hall meeting. Anyone checked out how she has lead in growing the Center for Rural Engagement at I.U. from five counties to over fifty. That is an example of building cooperative alliances.

  2. Bringing people together is not enough. We also need someone who can actually make decisions and execute. Someone who has a vision. Someone like Donald Griffin

    1. It is apparent that when some people support a candidate, they try to dump on the other candidates. Why do you crap on the only candidate who has actually built affordable housing?

      1. No crapping on anyone. Just expressing my thoughts on candidates. Kerry is a very fine public servant and worked for a national organization. Don has actually worked here to help create policies and use financial incentives to help build low income housing for people who will never qualify for Habitat

      2. “Why do you crap on the only candidate who has actually built affordable housing?”

        obviously i cannot speak to what motivates Sue Wanzer (though i generally agree with her, and i will be voting Griffin too). but i think this is a good question, and one which deserves an answer. and of course, my favorite thing, the answer is easy!

        at Habitat for Humanity, many of their most ambitious projects met pushback from NIMBYs and from zoning law. especially since Thomson left, but even when she was there, Habitat was constantly in the position of begging to be allowed to build basically to what is now called the “R4” zoning standard. they wanted small lots (0.1 acre instead of 0.2 acre). they wanted small-scale multifamily (duplexes). they basically kept saying again and again that they can deliver less expensive housing if they have a higher-density zoning code. and then they proved it by delivering the goods!

        i have absolute faith that Thomson knows that regulatory mechanisms that prevent middle densities put up a potent hurdle to owner-occupied affordable housing. i know she knows that the secret to integrated housing is allowing that middle density inside of existing neighborhoods. that she knows infrastructure costs are more manageable when you build middle densities in an existing neighborhood instead of forcing high density to the edge of the city. i believe in my heart that she is smart and knew what she was doing.

        and then she left habitat…and she went to the city council’s UDO debate as a private citizen and told them to ban middle densities. and she’s spent the whole time since then carefully saying nothing. she clearly resents the implication that she’s a NIMBY but she’s unwilling to say that she isn’t. she wants the pro- and anti- side to unite on the common ground of voting for a candidate who has said nothing.

        her credibility is precisely why this consistent vapid talk is so damning. she’s doing it on purpose as a tactic. it’s poison.

        anyways, that’s my answer to your excellent question. 🙂

      3. I don’t know that Thomson is all that concerned about being a NIMBY. A campaign email I got made her sound pretty proud of it:

        “Kerry…was a driving force in having the city administration dramatically scale back its plans. The result of this compromise has been no multiplexes in single-family neighborhoods and only a limited number of duplexes being allowed in these same neighborhoods.”

  3. The times I’ve heard Thomson, or read her literature, I’ve had no idea what she is talking about or even if she has any plan other than being mayor. Lots of catch phrases though, like “a mayor who listens” or “real change” or “making housing attainable” I’ve heard no actual plans from her.
    What I’ve heard from Don Griffin is “Bloomington is going to grow whether we like it or not.” Figures from IU recruiting offered by council candidate Volan prove that to be true. Griffin wants sustainable, planned growth in the suburbs which can only be attained by annexation as well as an inclusive, welcoming community, I can readily support that. As well as commitment to the current mayor’s Climate Action Plan, which includes more bike lanes, electric vehicles and buses, Griffin supports an infrastructure involving higher density in neighborhoods. These are all proposals I support and I applaud Don for his attention to those goals. Voting for someone who hides what specifics she supports just seems shortsighted. Too often those like Trump feel they can be great leaders b/c they have some experience in some unrelated field, this is just ridiculous.

    1. “The times I’ve heard Thomson, or read her literature, I’ve had no idea what she is talking about or even if she has any plan other than being mayor.”


      Griffin’s vision is: Whatever my boss thinks. The big problem for Bloomington livability is that their vision is more huge apartments for students (citing Mr. Volan on IU recruitment), with other folks to get their housing in so-called core area plexes and, because there is only so much more to squeeze in there, they’ll annex a bunch of neighborhoods in which to build more apartments and plexes. I don’t understand the benefit of that kind of growth.

      1. And … I just opened the envelope with my R. E. tax bill. With the astounding increase the city is getting for its portion, you would think the “vision” would not include axing leaf collection.

      2. I’m glad we agree about Thomson’s nonsense catch phrase candidacy. One way to address the housing situation is through greater density not only in core neighborhoods but in the current fringe areas. The single family home in sprawling suburbs if we want a sustainable future is on its way out. Until we stop overpopulating our planet with people who need housing our only realistic solution is apartment living. The war photos from Ukraine show massive apartment complexes in urban areas, until overpopulation is seriously addressed this is our only hope to provide livable space for people. It’s not an ideal future, but it is a future.

  4. “Progressive” apparently has no meaning anymore.

    The nightmare scenario is Thompson and Sandberg splitting the vote and ending up with a real estate broker for mayor who finishes the job the current banker mayor started.

    1. I wonder if you really understand what type of bank the Mayor started. It was Community bank that funded local progressive projects.

      Don may be a realtor, but is certainly more progressive than the other two.

      1. Sue, please share your definition of “progressive,” particularly as you ranked the mayoral candidates.

  5. I am so disappointed that not all candidates participated in this survey

  6. I have a few comments on the comments:
    Sue Wanzer is the most informed of the commenters, myself included.
    She realizes we have only one serious candidate for mayor, Don Griffin.
    Susan Sandberg does have a vision, going back to the 50’s, single family homes protected by zoning and covenants that protect family money and investments. This is unfair and ridiculous and does not address current realities. And she professes that people should only pay taxes if they want to, if she is elected I want to be treated like those being proposed for annexation, I only want to pay city taxes, if I feel like it.
    As far as leaf collection goes, it’s a colossal waste of money. Millions spent to get rid of a gift that nature gives our lawns and the trees that shed them, nutrients for our soil, litter for bugs to thrive in, and some animals like deer to eat. Let’s focus on preserving our natural order, not destroying it to please the fashion dictates of some shortsighted individuals.
    Hamilton’s emphasis on creating a sustainable future for all rather than pleasing the wealthy in our community has certainly raised some hackles, but I prefer that approach and think Mr. Griffin will best keep up that high standard. .

    1. High standard? Boy, you are easy to please. It is a joke to not remove the leaves and let our sewer system clog up and have water back up into people’s basements. High standard? Why has Don and his boss not protected us citizens by taking care of the fire and police? They can’t even sit at the table with the county and get the convention center done. Not getting my vote.

      1. I think the county has proven they can’t sit at the table with the city. Look at the jail committee for proof.

        Don is one of the people from the city who has worked with the county. While Hamilton and Griffin share values, their interpersonal styles and approaches are quite different. Which is what makes Griffin a great complement to Hamilton

    2. With Bloomington’s municipal elections at hand, what if ALL sought an Ounce of Humility and a Pound of Citizenship?
      There is much prideful talk about our excellence. Truth is, we are a good people in a good city, but with significant shortcomings (inadequate housing, traffic design snafus, city/county inability to cooperate, watershed threats, bungled annexation, etc.). Candidates respond “we will study this” or have a town hall. It is wash, rinse, and repeat, same old approaches.
      Must all proposals be “top down”? Only those designated by “experts” who will fix-it? Might we learn from other comparable communities (successes and failures)? What about microbuses, tiny houses, many more land trusts, micro lending, alternative zoning as in other university communities, or an Asset Based Community Development approach that values the gifts of all citizens. Are we locked into a history of broken communication among the various sectors of our city? Might we begin again by the building of circles of trust among the citizenry and leaders? Our corporate community has called for such an alternative — a joining of assets and working together. Let’s offer up some humility and do a deep dive into mutual citizen responsibility.

  7. The responses are so much more than Mayoral candidates. One of the statements from BLM invited candidates to “imagine” and not everyone did. I thought this assessment was about possibilities and not limitations. It was much more refreshing than the normal questions.

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