Category Archives: Bloomington

1000 Words: Casting Call — Hero

Both my cities — Bloomington and Chicago — are staging mayoral races this year. Both of them, too, will have a new mayor next term, no matter what happens in their respective contests.

Chicago is my beloved hometown and Bloomington my adopted home. I like and, occasionally, love them both for wildly different reasons. I dislike and, occasionally, loathe them both, similarly for disparate reasons.

Chi-town was the home of my younger days when I had all the energy in the world, all the curiosity, daring, rashness, and adventurousness, too. One of the great cities of the world, Chicago offered the younger Big Mike all the art, frissons, sex, food, sports, music, booze, and mildly criminal pursuits I could have imagined. Then, as my body began breaking down and I started dodging a string of death bullets, I found myself more composed, more exhausted, more circumspect, and less in need of thrills and spills. I wanted a slower pace, a more bucolic environment, but one that still offered me intellectual and artistic stimulation. Bloomington fits the bill.

Both cities are staunchly liberal, a must for me. I can’t tell you how difficult it is for me to live in this godforsaken Republican state with its reactionary, lunkhead legislators and largely Trumpist countryside. But being that Bloomington is a deeply entrenched island of progressivism — or what passes for progressivism these days — it’s almost bearable to live in what is sometimes referred to as the Alabama of the north. Or is it the Mississippi of the north? No matter.

Make no mistake, though, Illinoisians outside of Chicago are no more prone to read Cornel West or Noam Chomsky than most habitués of the aforementioned Mississippi. Or Alabama. Whatever. It’s just that Chicagoland is so huge and sprawling that a majority of state senators and representatives in Springfield are far closer to me in terms of life and political philosophy than, say, Indiana’s Todd Rokita, now the state’s attorney general but previously a longtime statehouse fixture. Rokita, for instance, gained national headlines last year when he launched a slander campaign against a medical doctor for performing an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim. In Rokita’s world, the doctor is the villain in the case, not the rapist.

Not everybody in Indiana buys into Rokitaism but plenty do. Way too plenty.

So, Chicagoans and Bloomingtonians are trudging to the polls this year to select shiny new chief executives. Bloomington’s current mayor, John Hamilton, unexpectedly announced this past November he wouldn’t be seeking a third term. The announcement opened the door for three Democrats to declare their candidacy in the party’s primary, which in this town is a coronation. To the best of my recollection, there hasn’t been a Republican candidate for mayor in any general mayoral election since I arrived here in 2009. As usual, there are no declared Republican candidates for any citywide office this year. A single Republican is running for  one of the nine city council seats.

The last Republican mayor of Bloomington was a fellow named Jack Hooker who was ousted in the 1971 election, a revolution of sorts that transformed this college town from a Republican stronghold to a Democratic one. For more info on that election read my friend Charlotte Zietlow’s new book, 1971: How We Won. While you’re at it, pick up the book I wrote with her, MInister’s Daughter, her memoir.

Hooker, by the way, was indicted for some zoning and development malfeasance, the likes of which deserved a slap on the wrist. Hooker was found guilty in a criminal trial. His punishment? A $2 fine. Let me clarify that: two bucks.

Back in Chi., a ward heeler in those days would use two dollars to light the hundred dollar bill he’d use to light his cigar. Which he probably stole or extorted in the first place.

Anyway, the three Dems wrasslin’ with each other for the right to sit in Hamilton’s warmed-up chair are Kerry Thomson, former longtime CEO of the local Habitat for Humanity branch and current director of Indiana University’s Center for Rural Engagement; Susan Sandberg, longtime and outgoing city council member and retired career development advisor in IU’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs; and Don Griffin, real estate holding company founder and former deputy mayor under Hamilton.

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I’ve invited all three candidates to appear on my WFHB radio interview program, Big Talk. Thus far, Sandberg and Thomson have come on the show. I’m still waiting to schedule a recording date with Griffin. After the May 2nd primary, I’ll put out the call for any potential independents or Republicans (under state law, a major party may caucus in a candidate up until July, bypassing the primary process; I wouldn’t bet the mortgage this county’s GOP will do so this year, despite the heavy lifting performed by Taylor Bryant and William Ellis, current and former party chair, respectively).

Catch the Sandberg Big Talk here and the Thomson edition here. As soon as I get a Griffin edition on the air, I’ll post that podcast as well.

So, as I said, Bloomington’ll have a new mayor soon. So will Chicago. Current mayor Lori Lightfoot got the hell kicked out of her yesterday, finishing third to Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson. Perhaps it’d be more accurate to say the events of the past few years kicked the hell out of Lightfoot. The pandemic and resultant economic slowdown as well as an alarming violent crime rate and mob actions on the city’s showcase Magnificent Mile did her in. Vallas capitalized on those troubles, focusing his campaign on public safety. He emerged the top vote-getter yesterday. He’ll face Johnson in an April runoff. Chicago’s mayoral elections are non-partisan (well, technically, at least) and if a candidate doesn’t get a numerical majority in the first go-round, the top two meet in a runoff.

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The first question I asked of both Sandberg and Thomson was Why in god’s name would you want to be mayor? People vote for a mayor to solve the many intractable problems of a city, be it a part of a megalopolis or a modest mid-sized burgh. Invariably, those problems persist, voters get disenchanted and then seek another hero to come to the rescue.

Lori Lightfoot learned that lesson the hard way yesterday.

1000 Words: Homeless and Helpless

Here’s a little story about what a weird town Bloomington is. In fact, we may take this to another level and count it as an indictment of liberals in generals. Loyal Pencillistas, natch, know I’m about as liberal as liberal gets. By that, I’m referring to the old 1960s definition of the term, not the newish-slash-retro def. that equates liberalism with the excesses of late-day American capitalism. I don’t know much about that; I leave it to economics majors, philosophy buffs, and other navel gazers to champion that particular usage.

When I say I’m liberal, it means:

  1. I stand four-square against the military-industrial complex (which, BTW, is the real, honest-to-gosh incarnation of today’s American economy, with Hollywood, fossil fuels, and the gun industry playing slightly smaller roles in the scheme of things);
  2. I long for the day when the wealth gap is dramatically narrowed. I believe billionaires are not to be revered but, instead, seen as they really are: ruthless, soulless, aggressive, likely borderline sociopathic acquisitors of more dough and things than they or their descendants will ever, ever, ever, ever need;
  3. We, the richest society in the history of the human species, should care for the weakest, least fortunate of our brethren and sisteren;
  4. Health care is a right and should be paid for by our tax dollars;
  5. Abortion, too, is a right;
  6. As are education, housing, food, water, and mobility;
  7. Gun ownership should be highly regulated, as called for in the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution;
  8. White America must make amends, proportionally, to black Americans and all people of color for the benefits of empire we enjoy, an empire built on their backs;
  9. Public schools, a free and vibrant press, literacy, scientific awareness, rational and critical thinking, and political engagement are the pillars upon which a thriving democracy stands;
  10. Rights and responsibilities are equally essential in a free society;
  11. We, both individuals and effective government regulators, must watch corporations like hawks;
  12. We must embrace The Other, all Others, and keep our doors open to the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse, the homeless, and the tempest-tossed, as Emma Lazarus so eloquently put it.

I’m sure there are more identifiers for What A Good Liberal Should Be but these dozen ought to do for now.

That all said, I realize even those who buy into these bullet points can be as dopey as many of the Republican, conservative, obsessive free marketeers who’ve somehow wormed their way into federal and state power around the country despite the general electorate being, according to a lot of polls, attuned to the liberal, progressive agenda. How that happened would take six volumes to explain, but it did.

Anyway, dopey liberals. We have ’em here in Bloomington in excess, as this tale will illustrate.

A business owner I know, a downtown retailer, found himself in a pickle the other day. A clearly deranged man stood outside the retailer’s establishment, verbally harassing passing women, threatening them with rape, going into excruciating details about what he’d do to them in the process of raping them, spitting, cursing, and otherwise scaring the crap out of pedestrians and shoppers.

The man might have been dangerous so, rather than confront him, the retailer called the cops, figuring they’d tell the man to take a hike at the very least.

Instead, the retailer was told by the police dispatcher that there was nothing the cops could do about the situation. Which, by the way, had gotten so bad that customers in the store had to be allowed to exit in the rear so as to avoid the threatening man.

The retailer couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Here was a clearly deranged soul causing a disturbance on the street, interfering with commerce and free access to the sidewalks, and actually vowing to visit violence upon the citizenry. Certainly something in the law covered that.

But no, the retailer, was told, the city’s and the police department’s hands were tied. As long as the man wasn’t actually whacking a woman on the head or grabbing her pussy or whatever sick misogynists wish to do, he was violating no laws.

Not even disturbing the peace? the retailer asked. Sorry, no.

The retailer told the dispatcher he didn’t believe it. So the dispatcher promised some functionary from city hall would call him to explain further. Twenty minutes later, the phone rang. It was the functionary who sang a tale of helplessness. The law says…, the functionary explained, our hands are tied, the city council, lawyers, the homeless situation, and so many other rationalizations for inaction that the phone call lasted a good 25 minutes.

To which the retailer commented, bullshit.

The city of Bloomington, indeed, has been grappling with the problem of homelessness, mainly by doing everything it can to make sure the homeless stay out of sight. And the shouting man in front of the store exhibited all the signs of being, himself, homeless.

College students and activist (read: liberals) have screamed bloody murder about the homeless in Bloomington for years now. The city has responded, when not coming up with ways to make the homeless invisible, by granting the homeless extraordinary leeway in their behavior on the streets. The college students and activists see this as a victory, albeit small, despite the fact that nothing, really, has been done to find the homeless homes, to get them health care, to remedy the mentally ill among them.

An aside: the other day I saw an obviously homeless man laying on the sidewalk, blocking the crosswalk at College and 1st streets. I called 911 to report a man being down. The dispatcher told me nothing could be done. I wasn’t surprised.

Anyway, the upshot to all the screaming bloody murder by college students and activists has been the homeless of Bloomington are now able to plop down in the middle of the sidewalk, unmolested by the authorities, or can promise female passersby the worst methods of sexual assault. Yet, the homeless remain without homes, health care, mental health treatment, dignity, security, and safety.

But the screaming bloody murder college students and activists have got the cops to leave them alone.

Very alone.

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