Five of six candidates running for three seats in the Bloomington City Council at-large Democratic primary spoke Monday night at a Democracy For Monroe County forum.
At-large council members serve as representatives of the whole city instead of representing a certain district of the community.
The candidates range in age, background, ethnicity and sexual orientation. They talked about a variety of issues , from climate change and development to transparency and the inclusion of marginalized populations. Incumbent Susan Sandberg did not attend. Jada Bee of DFMC moderated.
Many candidates agreed that climate change is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with immediately. Matt Flaherty, 33, and Vauhxx Booker, 35, the youngest at-large candidates, were especially vocal.
“We need to act boldly,” Booker said. “It’s going to affect race, it’s going to affect class, it’s going to affect every aspect of our lives.”
Booker, a community activist, said he wishes to link affordable housing and environmental action together.
Jean Capler, a social worker who is running for a more inclusive Bloomington, said she thinks public transportation and promoting different diets that are plant-based is key to combating climate change.
Candidates with council experience were vocal as well. Jim Sims, who has been on city council for more than a year after replacing retired council member Tim Mayer, said making changes to mitigate climate change isn’t as simple as some think. He said he does not want to harm the business community in the effort to get rid of cars.
Some candidates saw a push and pull between conserving the character of the city’s neighborhoods and increasing density to fill growing housing needs.
Flaherty is an advocate for creating a more dense downtown by creating more duplexes, triplexes and townhomes.
“I think that would do a lot to alleviate what young professionals need in this community,” Flaherty said.
Capler agreed that duplexes and other high density housing needs to be added to neighborhoods throughout town. She said she lived in rented duplexes when she was young.
“I think duplexes add a certain character to a neighborhood,” she said. “They’re an opportunity for people to get on their feet.”
Sims and Andy Ruff, who has served on the council for more than 15 years, talked about the delicate balance of preserving single-family homes and neighborhoods and creating more density. Sims said he thinks it’s important to preserve the character of core neighborhoods.
With several of the candidates being from marginalized populations, the topic of inclusivity was popular Monday night.
Capler shared her personal experience as lesbian advocating for transgender people within the lesbian community.
All of the candidates agreed there is racial disparity in Bloomington.
Booker and Sims spoke about the importance of giving people of color and of different sexual orientations leadership positions in city government.
Sims said he has been on various diversity groups in the community and has seen Bloomington begin to take action on its racial inequality in the school and justice system. He said it should have happened 20 years ago, and there is still a ways to go.
“No one is immune,” Ruff said. “Certainly not Bloomington.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated Vauhxx Booker's title. Booker is a community activist. The IDS regrets this error.