In Nile Arena’s opinion, an election isn’t an election without a little competition.
After Amanda Barge suspended her campaign for the Bloomington mayoral race, Arena, 30, announced his run as an independent against unopposed incumbent John Hamilton. Arena had planned to run as an independent even before Barge dropped out of the race.
To be on the ballot in November, Arena will need at least 522 signatures on a petition by July 1, according to Monroe County Election Supervisor Karen Wheeler.
Arena has no political experience but has seen his fair share of government meetings as a master controller at Community Access Television, which streams and records city and county government meetings among other content. He said what he knows about local politics has inspired him to do more.
“Participatory democracy is for everyone,” Arena said. “If you’re able to do more, why not try? And maybe I can inspire someone to do this that is better and smarter than me.”
Laura Stockwell, a friend of Arena’s and member of the improv comedy group he's in, "Fabuloso," said Arena is one of the smartest and self-driven people she knows.
“Nile is a Bloomington guy,” Stockwell said. “He truly knows what’s going on.”
Arena said he was inspired by the story of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who ran for district attorney as a defense lawyer with no prosecuting experience and won. Krasner ran on a progressive platform including eliminating mass incarceration and police misconduct.
The story made Arena question if pedigrees really matter. Arena decided to run for mayor to address the “lopsided” growth he sees in Bloomington, concerns about the rising cost of living and the urgency of climate change in a collaborative way.
“Over the past four years, some of the things that make Bloomington so special have been disappearing,” he said.
Arena recalled Player’s Pub, Yogi’s Grill and Bar, Rhino’s All Ages Music Club, and the Void are all recently shut down local restaurants, bars and music venues that represent some of the losses in local businesses and charm, especially in the arts community.
“Growth is good,” Arena said. “But only if it’s balanced and if we don’t give up some virtues of Bloomington all in the name of growth.”
He said lopsided growth is seen as housing costs rise, incomes stay well below the national average and small businesses struggle to survive.
Arena grew up in Bloomington and left to go to Columbia College in Chicago where he got his bachelor’s in theatre. He has returned to Bloomington a few times, most recently in 2016. Arena has held a variety of jobs including working at a theater in Philadelphia, teaching kids acting and improv, working at university libraries, including IU Libraries and working in bookstores in Chicago and New York.
“I think a lot of people my age, we graduated during the Great Recession and held a lot of different jobs,” Arena said.
The constant challenge of holding and changing jobs is a theme Arena has seen affecting his generation. He said he wants to make Bloomington a place of stability for people his age by addressing overall quality of life and affordability for young adults.
Sam Torneo, 29, is a co-worker of Arena’s at Community Access Television. He said he sees a lack of representation of his age group in local government. He said Arena would be a good representative and an inspiration for others to engage in government to make change.
“Even him participating in the election is an attention-getter,” Torneo said.
Since he has returned to Bloomington, Arena has moved multiple times farther out from the center of town to find housing he can afford. The cost of food, childcare and leisure also concern him.
“If we’re working hard and gosh, we’re not in Los Angeles or Manhattan, we should live with some dignity in Bloomington, Indiana,” Arena said.
Besides working at CATS and doing improv with Fabuloso, Arena helps run Cicada Cinema, a pop-up cinema in Bloomington that shows independent and underseen films.
Another issue Arena said he would prioritize as mayor is climate change. He compared his vision of creating a more self-sustaining community as moving into the fast lane.
“We’re trying to pass that really slow Dodge Caravan on the road to progress,” he said.
Arena said he wants a moratorium placed on development that do not meet certain environmental standards, city-wide compost pickup and more grants for businesses and groups to increase their sustainable practices.
He said the community and creative spirit of Bloomington is what made him come back in 2016. Preserving the feeling of community and creativity in Bloomington is one of the driving forces of his run for mayor.
“If you like something and you have the time and energy, it’s kind of your job to keep it alive,” Arena said.
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