Bloomington’s outgoing mayor, John Hamilton, delivered his eighth and final State of the City address at the Waldron Arts Center on Feb. 23.
“It is a great time to be in Bloomington with the state of the city so strong,” Hamilton said.
His statement summarizes the tone of the speech, which was complete with a rapid-fire list of the city’s accomplishments to a cascade of applause and music.
Hamilton said Bloomington is a blend of idealism and pragmatism, and he identified with the Hillary Clinton quote: “I’m a progressive who gets things done.”
The accomplishments he listed range across public safety, affordable housing, sustainability and more.
Hamilton said Bloomington is the only city in Indiana with both a top-rated fire department and a national accredited police department.
[Related: Police union speaks out against city council decision to move police headquarters]
Since Hamilton took office, Bloomington has added, approved or preserved 1,400 affordable housing units, which is a twenty-fold increase from the previous two terms according to Hamilton.
The Public Works Department has paved 106 miles of city streets, filled 40,844 potholes and installed 547 Americans with Disabilities Act sidewalk ramps.
He also touted the city’s recent partnership with Meridiam to provide high-speed fiber internet, the Climate Action Plan, which aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Toward the end of his speech, Mayor Hamilton said that change is essential but can be unpopular. He expressed optimism for the future of the city, particularly due to federal funding as a result of several major pieces of legislation like the American Rescue Plan Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.
“What’s possible in the next five to seven years is fantastic,” he said.
[Related: Cyclists wish Bloomington was safer, but opposition says proposed plan is not so simple]
Mayor Hamilton also cautioned future public officials to use the opportunity wisely, saying that the state of Indiana was unlikely to provide aid to help the city due to its conservative leaning and that new, less liberal versions of Congress may not be approving more federal funds.
“These and other challenges mean we need to chart our own destiny locally,” Hamilton said.
The mayor echoed these themes again with the subject of climate change, which he listed as one of his four priorities for the city.
“We need to lead,” he said. “Our state of Indiana will not.”
His second priority was growth in the economy, including providing free pre-K.
His third and fourth priorities were affordable housing, which included increased density of housing in the city and public health, particularly mental health and substance abuse. Hamilton said these were both factors affecting homelessness.
Hamilton said the city needed to invest more in prevention and post-incarceration services when it comes to the criminal justice system, citing the bad conditions in the Monroe County Jail.
[Related: "Some of my neighbors were actually in tears": Opposition to annexation continues amid lawsuits]
Finally, Hamilton emphasized the importance of combining finance with political will to get things done.
“Taxes is not a bad word,” he said.
The local income tax, which was increased in 2022, is still the second lowest income tax rate of the seven neighboring counties, Hamilton said.
The conclusion of Hamilton’s speech was followed by a standing ovation from the crowd, an audience which included city councilmembers, several candidates for city council and mayor, prominent Democratic party members and many employees of Hamilton's administration.
After eight years as mayor, Hamilton has decided not to run for reelection, which means Bloomington’s next mayor will be one of the candidates running in this year’s election.
[Related: Meet the candidates for the 2023 Bloomington mayoral election]