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.
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).
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.
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.