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Tuesday, June 25
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion

OPINION: What does mayor-elect Kerry Thomson stand for? We have no idea.

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For the first time since 2015, Bloomington has elected a new mayor: John Hamilton is out, and Kerry Thomson is in. 

Who is Kerry Thomson? We know she was former CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County and Executive Director of IU’s Center for Rural Engagement. But what does Kerry Thomson stand for? This we can’t answer so easily because we don’t know. In the simplest terms, Kerry Thomson has no positions, or at least none that mean anything. She speaks a lot but doesn’t say anything substantial, a sort of living public relations statement.  

She’s a Democrat touting safe, liberal stances like affordable housing, community safety, open government and inclusivity. And while the positions on her website are numerous, they read as though they were written by ChatGPT — ask the program to write an affordable housing policy as if they were a Democrat running for mayor of Bloomington, and you’ll pretty much get the same drivel that’s on her campaign website.  

We agree that, though her accusation of Bloomington’s “complacency” being “the enemy of progress” rings true, like Hamilton, Thomson will almost certainly stumble and fail to make any of this progress she claims to strive for. 

Thomson’s victory has much to do with the depressing reality that she simply raised more money than her Democratic opponents. It's as though she bought her place in City Hall: according to her political committee’s report of receipts and expenditures, or CFA-4 form, as of Oct. 19 Thomson raised over $150,000 — more than twice as much as Don Griffin and Susan Sandberg, both of whom lost in May. 

Her advertising campaign was efficient and her budget was high. According to the Herald-Times, Thomson sent about $67,000 to Berlin Rosen, a New York City-based public relations firm. Voters didn’t need to know what she believes — as long as they knew her name, they knew who they were going to be voting for. 

Statistically, the candidate who raises the most money wins races, and that’s what happened in Bloomington on Tuesday. 

[Related: Voters approve school funding referendum, elect mayor, city council]

Despite how infuriating it is for Thomson to have seemingly won with her pocketbook, she did win — so now what? What can we expect from her administration? 

On every issue, it’s not very clear. Thomson’s five-point housing plan on her campaign website, for example, includes such vague statements as, “In her first 90 days as Mayor, Thomson will begin to implement recommendations from Bloomington’s 2020 Housing Study,” neglecting to say which recommendations she plans to implement. Some of them? All of them? What recommendations? Voters shouldn’t have to scour a 100-page document to understand a candidate’s position — your average citizen doesn’t need to become a journalist every election cycle.  

Not to mention, her position on partnering with the state government and the university to create affordable housing seems to be tainted by the fact she received thousands of dollars in donations from real-estate moguls, according to her CFA-4 form. Elliott Lewis, owner of E.R. Lewis Real Estate Professionals, gave her $16,800, and Kevin Osburn, principal of Rundell Ernstberger Associates, donated $2,000. 

With friends like these, how can anyone expect Thomson to truly solve the Bloomington housing crisis? 

Just as vague are Thomson’s positions on public safety. Her campaign website points to problems in our town like homelessness, substance abuse and mental health, but says very little about how she intends to solve them other than “listening to the community.” Clearer are her statements about the police. Bloomington currently employs 84 officers and has the budget for 105 — she believes, however, based on alleged studies she hasn’t cited, that we need 120.  

So little is known about her it’s worth wondering if “progressive” Bloomington knows it just voted for more cops. It’s also worth wondering if voters know the Bloomington chapter of Black Lives Matter was scathing toward her lack of a clear message about race and BLM as a social movement. And, weirdly enough, for a woman who claims to believe anti-racism means “advocacy,” Thomson admitted she hasn’t been active in the BLM movement — if she had been, perhaps she wouldn’t argue that hiring more police officers is the answer. 

Most pressing for Bloomington students and townies alike is that it’s just not affordable to live here. How will Thomson tackle that? Under the “economic vitality” section of her website, she says she will take a two-pronged approach to creating and retaining jobs that pay a living wage: she will create collaborative partnerships with the university, county governments and employers, and she will prioritize promoting the city as a tourist and cultural destination. 

Thomson’s talk about creating partnerships all seems very nice, but it isn’t known how this will be done or who will benefit. And while there are many things for tourists to do in Bloomington already, it’s unclear how Thomson will enhance this aspect of our economy.  

It’s also unclear how this specific focus on this specific aspect of our economy will benefit students and working-class townies who are struggling to afford rent and housing costs. Is Thomson envisioning a trickle-down system? We don’t know because she hasn’t plainly stated her positions on the matter.  

[Related: 2024 Bloomington budget increases by nearly $120 million to address climate change, jobs and diversity]

This is a microcosm of her campaign in whole: she says a whole lot, but nothing that means anything. Again, we ask, what does Kerry Thomson stand for? We are journalists trained in analyzing documents, thinking critically of public officials and finding every source possible. And we are still unable to answer this simple inquiry. It begs the question: how does she expect the over 5,000 citizens who voted for her Tuesday to know the answer themselves? 

We are aware of the fact Bloomington needs to improve and we want it to. We hope Thomson uses her new position to further this goal. But we’re not confident this will ultimately be the case. Until she proves otherwise, we can only assume Thomson will hang onto the status quo and continue to give us nothing. 

Jared Quigg (he/him) is a senior studying journalism and political science. Joey Sills (he/him) is a junior studying English and political science.

CLARIFICATION: This piece has been updated to clarify the opinionated nature of certain statements.

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