Around 100 members and supporters of the Monroe County Democratic party celebrated victories in Tuesday’s municipal election under the faux-iridescent strung lights of The Mill, a coworking space in north-central Bloomington. Throughout Tuesday night, a sweeping sense of “new,” between new leadership, new city council members and new ideas pervaded.
Though all but two of the election's races were uncontested, David Henry, chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party, said he was still cheerful for the Monroe County Community School Corporation referendum’s passage and celebrated democratic process at the event. The MCCSC referendum, which will increase property taxes to fund the expansion of early childhood education and elimination of extra costs for families, passed narrowly by 108 votes.
“In some ways we already knew the result of tonight in that we had so many uncontested races out of the May primary,” Henry said. “It's still a good night for our community to reaffirm our democratic values and to really turn the page and start a new chapter in our community with new leadership, new city council, and of course, a new mayor.”
Mayor-elect Kerry Thomson said she was encouraged by the civic engagement at the watch party, especially with the large amount of young people who attended. She also stressed her administration, when inaugurated on Jan. 1, 2024, will focus on community engagement.
“The city doesn’t run on one person. The city runs because the people of Bloomington help us achieve what we need,” Thomson said. “I am encouraging everybody if they have an idea or a solution to bring it to the table, and I will do my best to help you get it accomplished.”
For her administration's future priorities, Thomson said she will focus on three main points: transparency in government to ensure the city works for everyone, increasing affordable housing and combatting mental health issues and substance abuse. She said implementing Bloomington’s 200-point climate action plan would be a priority as well.
Bloomington’s climate action plan, passed unanimously by city council on Apr. 21, 2021, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from 2018 levels by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
On day one, she said she will reach out and create relationships with city employees.
“We have over 800 people who work for this city, who have been working tirelessly, some of them for decades,” she said. “I haven't gotten an opportunity to meet them all, I plan to be there and meet them, to open the doors of city hall and to get started on the work on my priorities and the leftover projects this current administration has.”
After a short speech by the re-elected city clerk Nicole Bolden, Thomson took the stage.
“It's the honor of really my lifetime to be elected the mayor of Bloomington,” Thomson said in her speech. “I honestly can’t believe that I’m standing up here right now.”
She also laid out her hopes for Bloomington under her administration. Bloomington has never chosen to sit frustrated and hopeless, she said. Through her campaign, knocking on doors, and talking with the community, Thomson said, she heard visions of hope expressed time and time again.
“We will be the place where we all operate at the very top of our human potential,” Thomson said. “The place that believes, as I do, that homelessness is solvable and where people do not die alone on our streets.”
After her speech, the city council members-elect in attendance took the stage individually for small speeches, expressing hope looking forward to Jan. 1, 2024 when candidates will be inaugurated.
Bloomington’s newly elected city council will be significantly more diverse, with several historic candidates to take office in January. District 6 council elect Sydney Zulich will be the youngest person ever elected to Bloomington’s city council at 21 years old and District 5 council elect Shruti Rana will be the first woman of color elected to the governing body.
District 3 city council elect Hopi Stosberg, who won the only contested city council race with 82.5% of the vote, said she was relieved her campaign was over and was excited to get to work. In her speech, she said she appreciated her opponent, Republican Brett Heinisch, for running and upholding the democratic process.
Andy Ruff, who had previously served on city council before losing re-election in 2019, was elected Tuesday as member of Bloomington’s city council. He said he was looking forward to the mix of new ideas, energies and the enthusiasm all the newly elected members will bring. He said while many criticize the city council because of its single party -nature, the council debates as robustly as a multi-party council would.
Isabel Piedmont-Smith, a returning member to the city council, said she was excited for the new group elected to govern Bloomington, and wanted to get to work on solving issues pervasive in Bloomington.
“I’m excited, we’re going to have a lot of new faces on city council and we’re going to have a new mayor,” Piedmont-Smith said. “I think it’s a really good group and so I’m excited to look at some of those tough problems we have, between housing, homelessness and other things that have been kind of intransient.”
Five out of the nine city council members will now be women, as well as women being elected to the positions of mayor and re-elected as city clerk. To many at the event, this rebuked restrictions on women’s rights to abortion in Indiana following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022.
Scott Rogers, a Monroe County resident, said he became more politically involved since Indiana passed sweeping bans on abortion in August 2023, and ultimately ended up attending the event due to this issue.
“After Dobbs, I decided voting was not enough anymore,” Rogers said. “I have a wife, I’ve got a daughter, and my state doesn’t think they're full people with full control of their bodies anymore.”
In this sense, Rogers said he wants to see Bloomington and the surrounding communities continue to be a bastion for progressivism in Indiana.
“I just want to see us continue being a leading progressive town and an example to what other cities in this state could be with good democratic governance,” Rogers said.
After the speeches concluded, attendees continued to chat, discuss policy and celebrate victories. Isak Asare, a newly elected city council member for Bloomington’s at-large district, emphasized hope and the role of new ideas and people going forward, including young people and Bloomington’s large student population. According to IU, 47,527 students are enrolled at IU Bloomington out of Bloomington’s total population of 79,107.
“We need to make this the best college town in America.” Asare said. “We do not exist without the students at IU, and so let's do everything possible to make this the best city for IU students, too.”
Sydney Zulich, the youngest person ever elected to Bloomington’s city council, said she also sees hope but recognizes the troubles residents face. Like many residents, Zulich said, she is a renter facing increasing prices.
Zulich said she understands the panic of undergraduates, graduates and everyone in Bloomington trying to make ends meet, but also understands why people choose to stay in Bloomington and make the city their home. To her, open communication with residents will be the key to addressing these issues.
Mayor John Hamilton will end his term as mayor, and city councilmembers Stephen Volan, Sue Sgambelluri, Ron Smith, Susan Sandberg and Jim Sims will not be returning to the council.