We Endorse: Lois Sabo-Skelton and Isak Nti Asare (City Council At Large)

On March 13, The Dissident Democrat published its endorsement of former At Large City Council member Andy Ruff to retake his old seat. We deemed returning Ruff, a smart, thoughtful progressive and a champion for working Bloomingtonians and for fair wages, to the Council as one of our most urgent priorities as an advocacy.

But there are three At Large seats on the Council, two of which are being vacated by their incumbents (Jim Sims, who has chosen to retire from the Council, and Susan Sandberg, who stepped down to run for mayor). With early voting getting underway this week and seven candidates to consider, we now round out our endorsements for the citywide Council seats.

For City Council At Large, alongside Andy Ruff, we endorse Lois Sabo-Skelton and Isak Nti Asare.

The Dissident Democrat assumed its current mission in the wake of the City Council’s vote to approve the upzoning of the city’s residential neighborhoods — a deregulation of housing we had argued for years would be destructive to neighborhoods and to the viability of homeownership as a goal of Bloomingtonians. That upzoning met broad disapproval on the part of residents who turned out in droves to oppose it at Plan Commission and City Council meetings.

City Council At Large candidate Lois Sabo-Skelton

One of the more eloquent of those who appeared regularly to denounce the policy was Dr. Lois-Sabo-Skelton, a former MCCSC Board of Trustees member and past president of that Board, a music educator and advocate for Bloomington’s arts community. She’s been a vocal opponent of the Hamilton administration’s aggressive growth policies, not just the upzoning but the massive, forced annexation of the suburbs as well.

One of the more common demands among Bloomington policy advocates, especially those seeking greater inclusion in public forums for people considered marginalized, has been for representation. Our support for Lois Sabo-Skelton might also be viewed as a call for representation — specifically, for residents of the Green Acres neighborhood, where she lives.

If you share our concern about the adverse impact of housing deregulation — runaway urbanization, driven by out-of-town, private equity-backed developers building large portfolios of rental properties — then Green Acres is the center of the bullseye. It’s close to the Indiana University campus, composed mainly of small houses on small lots, and unprotected by historic preservation rules. It’s rental-heavy now, and the first new duplex application since the mayor signed the UDO amendments sweeping away single-family zoning was (inevitably) in Green Acres.

A pragmatic progressive and public school advocate, Lois Sabo-Skelton is well-positioned to observe the way housing deregulation and unrelenting student rental demand can transform a modest neighborhood, first hand.

She’s a calm, deliberate thinker and an experienced hand in Bloomington politics. She’s been active in the League of Women Voters and a co-founder of the Democratic Women’s Caucus. We would welcome her thoughtful leadership on the Council.

City Council At Large candidate Isak Nti Asare

Dr. Isak Nti Asare, a cybersecurity professor at IU and expert in global technology policy, has ventured into politics before. He was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Congress in Indiana’s 9th District in 2022. People who saw him make his case at last year’s Democratic Black and Latino Caucus Candidate Forum immediately recognized his stunning command of a microphone — he’s a captivating presenter and a deeply committed progressive.

We were enormously impressed with his take on national issues and intrigued when we learned he was considering a run for local office, but unsure what positions such a big picture thinker would take on the relatively mundane issues faced by a small town City Council. We have watched his proposals evolve and mature, and are pleased at the direction he’s taken. We caught an exchange with a Blue Ridge voter, which was posted on Nextdoor, which we think sums up the approach Asare has adopted:

On upzoning: “[N]o neighborhood should undergo rapid, drastic, or sudden changes…people who live in neighborhoods should be able to co-create their spaces and have significant input on changes that take place…I do not think that the way we went about changing the UDO to allow duplexes was consistent with my political approach of bottom up governance and decision making and this is unfortunate.”

On growth generally:  “…In my mind, growth is not an appropriate end goal. Our priority as a city government is simple: to make the lives of Bloomingtonians better. I am interested in raising our per capita income, quality of life, quality of public services etc. Some of this may require some population growth but we have to take the time and think about this.

On closing Lower Cascades Drive: “[L]ong term, we should move toward making things less centered around cars and car usage. But at the moment this just isn’t the city we live in and we cannot force this in one place without thinking about the necessary and supporting infrastructure to make this work. I think in practice closing the road makes accessing the park quite a bit more difficult for many people… We often act in city like there is only one way to solve a situation but we need to be a bit more creative.”

This is a serious and disciplined expert — an academic who moves confidently in policy circles — gradually evolving a platform we look forward to seeing realized in week-to-week deliberations on city government priorities. We strongly support Isak Asare’s candidacy for the third At Large Council seat.

We’re also pleasantly surprised by political newcomer Jonas Schrodt. Honestly, we hadn’t heard of him before he decided to run. He’s a manager at the Comedy Attic, a stand-up comic himself, and a scion of the family-run Brown County Winery.

When we became aware of his candidacy, perhaps the most visible element was his intent to represent the LGBTQ+ community in city government, and we were prepared to hear a strong push for the inclusion messaging familiar in Bloomington campaigns. But in a lengthy conversation, we saw more in Schrodt.

He has an array of developed legislative priorities, to which he’s clearly given mature deliberation. His stances on growth, economic development and the homelessness issue recognize the complexities of these issues. He made it clear that he identifies as a strong progressive, and we differ with his stances on upzoning and annexation — he apparently supports both — but he seems disinclined to approach government as a dug-in ideologue.

There is a clear ideological divide among the seven candidates for At Large seats, reflective of the counterproductive theatrics we’ve seen over the last three years on the Council. For the sake of courtesy, it would be normal to suggest that our choices are simply those we felt were best qualified among a field of good alternatives. But in candor, this website speaks for a group as much committed to removing certain incumbents from office as to electing candidates we admire.

Matt Flaherty is a first-term incumbent who was one of the key advocates for the UDO amendments that eliminated single-family zoning in Bloomington. We differ fundamentally with his positions on growth, development, historic preservation and urban planning, and have stated that opposition on multiple occasions. He hasn’t always been wrong; he spoke out against the multi-year tax abatement for Catalent when that was proposed, and for that he deserves credit for recognizing an unnecessary and ineptly-negotiated compromise. But generally he’s gone along with the Hamilton administration’s priorities, and has pursued an ideological agenda — based on social and environmental justice convictions about which, we have no doubt, he is sincere — with an arrogant certitude that has alienated many Bloomingtonians. He’s certainly alienated us.

Steve Volan is a long-time District 6 Council member who, redistricted out of his seat, is running At Large in 2023. We respect Volan’s intellect and his commitment to issues such as expanding mass transit, but many of us are out of patience with his frequent feuding with colleagues he sees as insufficiently progressively pure, and especially his disruptive tactics when Council procedures don’t fit his idealized model.

A seventh candidate, Ryne Shadday, is a local realtor whose most visible policy position is his buy-in to the highly suspect (for most of us, convincingly debunked) proposition that simply increasing housing density in Bloomington will lead to affordability benefits. He’s one of three LGBTQ+ candidates in the citywide election this year, which will attract some inclined toward identity politics, but we don’t think this has much elevated a lackluster campaign.

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