By Mike Matejka
The April 9 election was very interesting and it raised a question in my mind – does it mark a significant change in our local political climate?
Three years ago, all the political energy seemed to be with the less government Tea Party movement. Yet with one exception, in Bloomington the city council victories and the mayor’s race went to individuals leaning toward more activist government. Normal voters strongly endorsed a stay the course mandate, supporting a Mayor and Town Council that has transformed Normal.
Tari Renner’s mayoral victory was not the cliff-hanger he and Mayor Stockton encountered four years ago, when Stockton won by 15 votes. Renner’s victory margin was large. Renner’s high energy is already apparent, reaching out across Division Street, visiting with city workers and following through on his campaign promise of soliciting a downtown Bloomington hotel.
Renner plans to shake things up. Hopefully he won’t get shaken himself in the process. Most Bloomington employees will welcome him and I think respond well to his call for a more service oriented culture at city hall. There are some great and dedicated workers in Bloomington and Renner’s firm message of ending contracting out efforts should boost morale and responsiveness. Still, moving any enterprise as large as Bloomington is going to take time. Plus Renner has to pull the city council together to debate thoughtfully but work coherently once a policy is decided.
A downtown hotel will be a challenge. A hotel would certainly enhance Colesium bookings and attract more people, but is it economically viable? Some city subsidy might be required, but what should be that be and how large, if at all? Hopefully if it can happen, it will spark a downtown Bloomington revival as Normal has enjoyed in Uptown.
Normal hopefully will continue its upward trajectory, with one major challenge to complete – the current excavation at the traffic circle needs a tenant and completion. It looks like that is in process and if completed, the Town can continue the many quality of life initiatives it has started, while also preparing for more transformation if those faster trains start running soon. It was an interesting election, hopefully the energy in both communities will together help create a more vibrant place for all of us.