On Don Griffin’s Candidacy for Mayor of Bloomington

By Peter Dorfman

Access to the halls of power in the US remain stubbornly restricted for people of color — the brief, exceptional interlude of Barack Obama’s Presidency notwithstanding. But there has long been an exception to this pattern, at the level of municipal government. Black, Latinx and Asian-American mayors have served, often with great distinction, in cities large and small across the US for many decades. And it is about freaking time that a credible Black candidate for mayor came forward and got elected in Bloomington, Indiana.

However, having said that, that candidate is not Deputy Mayor Donald Griffin. I can’t and won’t support his candidacy for Bloomington Mayor, for two really basic reasons.

1The Hamilton Legacy. As a key member of current Mayor John Hamilton’s administration, Griffin must be assumed to stand for continuity with the policies and the vision of that administration.

I don’t support the vision, which can best be summed up as follows: If we just make Bloomington big enough, good things will happen.

If you’ve followed this year’s Facebook posts from the Office of the Mayor, or if you’ve been subscribed (whether you asked to be or not) to the City’s almost daily promotional emails, you’ve been seeing what can only be described as an aggressive re-election campaign, going back as far as the spring, from the office of a mayor who promised to withhold announcement of his future plans until after November’s countywide election.

Notice how many of those posts (especially the chatty videos on Facebook) have pushed Don Griffin into the limelight. If Griffin is entirely his own man, as opposed to John Hamilton’s handpicked successor and heir to Hamilton legacy policies, I submit that the burden of proof for that contention is on Griffin.

The good news about Griffin’s entry into the mayoral race is that it restores to the electorate the opportunity for a referendum on the Hamilton administration’s record — an opportunity we seemed to have lost when Hamilton himself bowed out. This very divided and polarized city needs that opportunity. My vote in such a referendum is “No Mas.”

2Don Griffin is a Real Estate guy. He’s been a success at it. But that’s precisely the problem. The real estate industry is radically over-represented on the city’s boards and commissions, and has far too much power and influence in Bloomington as it is. It sent an appalling message when Hamilton appointed Griffin as deputy mayor.

I know Griffin slightly. He has struck me as fundamentally decent in the several conversations we’ve had in the last few years — conversations I’ve enjoyed. But electing a real estate executive as mayor would be the ultimate sellout to that industry, just as Bloomington is struggling with the failure of private sector market forces to provide any meaningful assistance with the city’s generally acknowledged shortage of affordable housing. The optics of this are awful.

The prevalence of identity politics among Monroe County’s Democrats makes it feel a bit risky to oppose the candidacy of an African-American leader who occupies a position of high stature in Bloomington. But OK. I’m out on that limb. Hear me out: Look past the man. Focus on the background and the legacy.

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