Bad Cop, Good Cop

By Peter Dorfman

Idon’t have facts to prove this objectively, but this is how I believe Bloomington will be run in 2023: As a bad-cop-good-cop, tag team cage match.

“You know, he may get his way, if he’s a big enough bully to push people around and force the override not to work.”

City Council President Susan Sandberg, in the B Square Bulletin, on Mayor John Hamilton’s veto of the Council resolution to establish a Capital Improvement Board for the convention center expansion.

Remember the 2020 version of the zoning amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance, and that ugly first zoning map with the core neighborhoods blanketed with R4 zones, promising quadplexes (or worse) on every block?

I bring it up now because it was the perfect example of the John Hamilton template for municipal governance. That map was designed to present an utterly unreasonable, stupefyingly arrogant, extreme proposal. It made people angry and fearful — because it was deliberately created to make people angry and fearful.

Over a period of months, marked by repeated public presentations by Planning & Transportation staffers, Bloomington residents, especially those in the core, spent their anger pushing back on the proposed UDO amendments. That was the intent all along. Because at the end of the process, the mayor and his allies on the Plan Commission and the City Council could then retreat to a seemingly kinder and gentler upzoning plan, which was what they’d anticipated getting and in fact wanted from the beginning.

The angry rabble, having worn themselves out shouting down the original map, would greet the duplexes-everywhere proposal with relief — maybe even gratitude. Hamilton could make the (spurious) claim that he’d taken public input into account, and might even look as though he’d hatched a magnanimous compromise.

The eventual response was closer to bitter resignation than relief, but Hamilton ultimately got the upzoning he wanted. It’s doubtful that he anticipated that, having rushed the process through the Council two years before the next election, he’d still be taking flak for it as 2023 gets underway, especially since hardly anyone has applied to build a new plex in the former single-family-zoned neighborhoods. The ill will that upzoning proponents engendered continues to color each new debate in Bloomington, and not only those involving land use.

But that’s the template. I suspect something similar is in the works with respect to the current confrontation between Hamilton and both the City and County legislators over the governance of the prospective expansion of the Monroe County Convention Center.

I strongly surmise that Hamilton ultimately will relent and allow a CIB to lead the convention center project. More specifically, I believe he’ll allow himself to be talked down from the ledge by his new tag-team partner in this game: Just-departed Deputy Mayor and announced mayoral hopeful Don Griffin.

Think about it: Hamilton is no longer a candidate for re-election, so he can get on with his agenda (which consists mostly of building monuments to himself, like the police and fire headquarters at the Showers Complex and the bigger convention center) without worrying much about who he alienates. He has an entire year left to gratify these cravings.

Now, though, he has a teammate. Griffin is Hamilton’s handpicked successor-in-waiting. The mayor is in a position to boost Griffin’s campaign with campaign cash he raised, ostensibly for his own re-election, and by anointing Griffin as his preferred standard bearer for the Monroe County Democrats; that blessing still has some cachet in certain circles.

Griffin has baggage, though, as Hamilton’s heir-apparent and presumed ideological ally, because a lot of Bloomingtonians oppose many of the things Hamilton has done — and the way he’s done them — and were climbing aboard the Anyone-But-John bandwagon before Hamilton declined a third run. It’s important to Griffin’s campaign that he escape characterization as Hamilton 2.0. I suspect that’s the real reason Griffin left the administration — it wasn’t about freeing up time to campaign.

Back to being just Realtor Don, Griffin can strike a thoughtful pose and pronounce himself unconvinced that Hamilton’s insistence on a 501(c)(3) to manage the convention center project is the right way forward. He can offer to intercede between the administration and the Council, fashioning some face-saving retreat for Hamilton (and maybe for Council Member Kate Rosenbarger, the sole Council opponent of the CIB resolution, and Griffin’s own campaign co-chair).

Double win for the tag team: Griffin, a political novice, looks sagely executive in crafting peace between the administration and the Council, and he creates some daylight between himself and a deeply unpopular mayor to whom he is deeply indebted and with whom a restive electorate now assumes he’s joined at the hip. And ultimately, Hamilton still gets his monument.

See the pattern? Keep an eye out for it, especially between now and the May 2 primary.

Just remember what they say about the wrestling game: There’s going to be a lot of pushing and shoving, but you know it’s all fake.

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