Bender resigns as nominee for Bloomington District 6 city council, Dems will caucus to fill ballot

David Wolfe Bender has withdrawn as the Democratic Party’s District 6 city council nominee in Bloomington’s Nov. 7 municipal election.

Two weeks ago, on May 18, the county election board had convened a hearing on Bender’s disputed residency in District 6.

The board voted to refer the matter to Monroe County prosecutor Erika Oliphant, to consider possible felony charges, and to the Indiana attorney general Todd Rokita on the question of his eligibility as a candidate.

Since then, there has been no word on Bender’s case from either the prosecutor or the attorney general.

Given Bender’s withdrawal, the question of his eligibility is now academic.

Bender was unopposed in the primary. No Republican filed as a primary candidate.

To place a Democrat on the ballot, the party will now convene a caucus of the five sitting precinct chairs of District 6, according to Monroe County Democratic Party chair David Henry.

The date of the caucus has not yet been determined. But the deadline for filling a ballot vacancy, for either the Democrats or the Republicans, is July 3.

It was on Thursday afternoon when Bender filed the CAN 46 form, resigning his candidacy.

That could mark a possible end to a saga that began three and a half months ago, on Feb. 17, when the Indiana Daily Student (IDS) published an article that questioned whether Bender actually lived in District 6: “City Council candidate David Wolfe Bender is running in District 6, residents say he doesn’t live there

The county prosecutor could still decide to pursue charges over the filing of his candidacy paperwork. In simple terms, the accusation against Bender was that he filed documents stating he lived in a place where he knew he did not live.

A key question, now moot, about Bender’s eligibility as a candidate, is whether a sublease signed on Dec. 9, 2022, which has occupancy starting on May 1, 2023, would meet a residency requirement involving “intent” that has to be satisfied on Feb. 3, 2023.

On the question of whether Bender believed the statements about his residency to be true when he made them, Bender said at the May 18 hearing that it was never his intent to violate state election law, that he did not believe he had violated state election law, and that he believed he had declared his candidacy in accordance with the requirement of state statute.

Bender echoed that basic position in a statement that he sent to The B Square after submitting his paperwork to withdraw as the Democratic Party’s nominee. “I never did anything to try and violate any election statute,” he wrote in the statement.

Even though he believes his legal position is correct, Bender wrote: ​​”[W]ithdrawing is what is right for the residents of the Sixth District. Allowing a new candidate to run in the general election will ensure our election in November is about nothing but the issues facing the Sixth District.”

In his statement, Bender also expressed some uneasiness about the current relationships among elected Democrats in local government. He wrote: “I’m increasingly concerned about the lack of reasonable dialogue between our city and county governments; I fear fighting and factioning within the Democratic Party on our council.”

Bender also indicated a hope that his status as a student and the controversy surrounding his residency, will not have a negative impact on student candidates in the future. He wrote: “I also hope this single incident does not undermine the chances of a student—in the future—winning an election in this city.”

Looking ahead to the caucus to fill the ballot vacancy, Bender wrote in his statement: “I want to make this explicitly clear: It is my fervent hope that the precinct chairs slate in a young, future-focused candidate who will work on behalf of all Bloomingtonians.”

It is only the precinct chairs of the district where there is a vacancy who participate in the vote on the nominee to replace Bender.

Already known is one intended candidate in the Democratic Party’s caucus to fill the District 6 vacancy. Sydney Zulich, an Indiana University student, responded to a late Thursday afternoon text message from The B Square, saying that she intends to stand as a candidate in the upcoming caucus.

Zulich already filed the paperwork to establish a campaign committee as an independent candidate for Bloomington city council District 6, and had already collected the nine signatures required for an independent candidate to appear on the ballot.

But Zulich has not yet filed the declaration of her candidacy. So she can amend her campaign committee filing, and declare herself a candidate in the Democratic Party’s caucus.

Zulich was visible at polling places on May 2, supporting Democrat Isak Asare’s campaign for an at-large city council seat. She also worked for Democrat Penny Githens’s campaign for a District 62 state house seat.

But those efforts don’t qualify her as a Democrat under state election law. She has so far voted in just one Democratic Party primary in Indiana—the automatic qualification would require participation in two primaries.

That means Zulich will need a signature from party chair David Henry to run for the nomination in the upcoming caucus. Reached by The B Square, Henry said, “I’m happy to sign her back in as a Democrat.”

Chances are good that if anyone else steps forward to stand as a candidate in the caucus, they will also be a student. District 6 is located in the center of Bloomington, and includes a chunk of the university campus. Even the non-campus parts of the district are mostly populated by college students.

It will be just five people who decide the Democratic Party’s nomination for the District 6 city council seat. As indicated by the Monroe County Democratic Party website,  the six precincts making up District 6, with their precinct chairs, are: Bloomington 01 (Nora West), Bloomington 03 (Nicole Bolden), Bloomington 04 (Geoff McKim), Bloomington 05 (vacant), Bloomington 18 (Emma Shriberg), and Bloomington 19 (Henry Wolfla).

According to Henry, as party chair he would have had to appoint someone to fill the vacant precinct chairship at least 30 days before the ballot vacancy occurred—in order for that precinct chair to participate in the caucus. That means it’s down to the five sitting precinct chairs to make the choice.

Two of the precinct chairs are recognizable elected officials—Monroe County councilor Geoff McKim, and Bloomington city clerk Nicole Bolden.

It’s not a requirement that a precinct chair live in the district for which they are chair—because the party chair can appoint someone to a precinct chairship, even if they don’t live in the precinct.

McKim doesn’t live in the city of Bloomington. Bolden lives in Bloomington, but not in District 6.

Based on the most current voter registration file, which was provided to The B Square by Monroe County election staff, two other District 6 precinct chairs, Shriberg and Wolfla, also don’t appear to live in District 6. That leaves just one current District 6 precinct chair who does live in District 6—Nora West.

3 thoughts on “Bender resigns as nominee for Bloomington District 6 city council, Dems will caucus to fill ballot

  1. ugh. i happen to like McKim and Bolden (don’t know the other precinct chairs), but i still hate the idea of district 6 being decided by people who don’t have any particular connection to district 6. and i’m extremely (and perhaps unjustifiably) down on the idea of a Githens supporter on the council, especially without facing a real election first. i guess this was all to some extent inevitable, what with district 6 not only being a student/renter district but also the boundaries changing so close to the election, making it even harder for multiple candidates to organize in time for the primary.

    oh well, it could still be a good thing. Zulich could even turn out to be a good or great representative, and/or someone else could step up. the whole thing just stinks and i’m pretty disappointed in Bender for not heading this off.

    one silver lining: i was so disappointed in McKim for misrepresenting the principles of representational democracy during the local income tax debates a few years back, and this at least gives me something to rub in his face in vengeance. 🙂 he’s now going to have a thousand times larger voice in city council than most city residents

  2. 1. I am really sorry that Bender decided to drop out.
    2. I regret that someone outside the city limits will help decide the district 6 nominee.
    3. It is unfortunate that the open Precinct chairs weren’t appointed at the beginning of this controversy knowing Bender might drop out since he had early on in this.

  3. I don’t know where their registration is, but Shriberg and Wolfla are both IU undergraduates.

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