Ward 7 candidate Ryan Fiala (second from right) speaks on infrastructure while (from left) Matthew Koetters, Jennifer McDade, Scott Black, and Bernie Uszcienski (far right) listen. (photo by Zach Dietmeier/WJBC)
By Zach Dietmeier
BLOOMINGTON - One night after Normal candidates took the stage to discuss the issues, Bloomington aldermen hopefuls gathered to discuss the concerns of the city.
The League of Women Voters hosted the event at the Mount Pisgah Baptist Church on Market Street. The nine candidates for Bloomington City Council gave their opinions on major topics like managed competition, infrastructure, and economic development. When the conversation came around to the downtown bar situation, everyone had differing opinions.
“Proper staffing for the police department and enforcement of what is in place are the real keys here,” Ward 3 challenger Lane Hansen said.
While he wants more police officers on the streets, incumbent Mboka Mwilambwe said city staff should work with bar owners.
“They need to identify what the real issues are and work with them on a monthly basis,” Mwilambwe said. “We’ve seen it work with the police department so I think it could work here as well.”
Ward 5 hopeful Matthew Koetters said downtown needs to move away from the tavern scene.
“I think it was a mistake to not bring in the jazz club to downtown,” Koetters said. “I think that would have helped move us in the right direction in perspective of the downtown as a whole.”
His opponent, Alderman Jennifer McDade, didn’t agree.
“The jazz club was not at all a mistake,” McDade said. “It would have increased the density downtown of liquor licenses and that would have pointed us in the wrong direction.”
Downtown Bloomington has been a focal discussion topic in recent months for the council, from liquor to the newly extended enterprise zone. Ward 1 candidate Kevin Lower sees many development issues.
“You create your own problems,” Lower said. “There’s no simple solution as long as we’re going to mix dwellings with this type of activity.”
While Lower feels there are too many barriers for developers in the downtown, his opponent write-in and former President of the Downtown Bloomington Association Jamie Mathy says a master plan would be a good step for that region of the city.
“Hanging all the burden on the police is not going to work so there’s a whole myriad of solutions needed down there to make it work,” Mathy said.
Both stress proper execution and providing a positive environment for residents, businesses, and patrons.
Ward 7 candidate Scott Black said his ride along with Bloomington Police gave him suggestions.
“Closing out the streets would allow for a better flow of people,” Black said. “It’s important to work with the bar owners to solutions they might have as for bouncers and security.”
Fellow Ward 7 hopeful Ryan Fiala agreed.
“If we take the police and bar owner suggestions and give them more space to disperse and plenty of shuttle buses opportunistic in looking to get them home and make money off it, then the faster you get the students home the fewer problems you’ll have,” Fiala said.
However, Bernie Uszcienski points out there is no magic bullet.
“We all have all sorts of different suggestions and opinions on what needs to be done but what I feel is that everyone needs to come together and everyone needs a voice in this discussion,” Uszcienski said.
On other topics, every candidate calls for immediate changes to the city's pension funding. Candidates also agreed that managed competition doesn't belong in Bloomington.
The election is now just under three weeks away on Apr. 9.