6 Democrats vie for open city council seat

Herald-TimesSix Bloomington Democrats are hoping to fill the vacancy on the city council following the retirement of a veteran council member last month.

Tim Mayer retired from his at-large position July 31, after 25 years of public service on the council.

Looking to complete his term through 2019 are: Jean Capler, Gabe Colman, Trent Deckard, Sierra Reed, Jim Sims and Sean Starowitz. Former council member Darryl Neher had also put his hat in the ring, but withdrew this week.

The Monroe County Democratic Party will host a caucus at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the council chambers of City Hall to select the next city council member.

“I’ve been encouraged by how enthusiastic the response has been, both from potential candidates and the broader public,” Monroe County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Fraley said. “In the past eight months, people want to be engaged like we’ve not seen in recent history. That includes a desire to volunteer, engage local leaders and seek political office.”

Fraley said 47 precinct chairpersons will vote on Monday during the caucus to fill the vacant seat on the nine-member council. He said voters elect precinct chairs every four years, and filling vacancies is among their core responsibilities.

“The one thing we can be sure of is that on Monday night, we will have a highly qualified, thoughtful, and committed public servant representing us as the newest council member,” Fraley said.

Meet the candidates

Jean Capler

A local grassroots activist and 2016 Woman of the Year recipient hopes to take her community service to the next level as a member of the city council.

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Jean Capler

After moving to Bloomington 25 years ago, Jean Capler has put down roots and has been very engaged in the community through different grassroots organizations. She recently co-founded Call to Action and is involved in many other organizations. Capler said she sees serving on the city council as just another way to be engaged and work toward bettering the community.

“I feel like my social work background and experience and skill will be helpful in finding the solutions for this,” Capler said.

She said throughout her professional career she has spent time working with others, building rapport and having the needed tough conversations. These are skills she used while she served on the Indiana chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and she believes they will be an asset as well on the city council.

If elected, Capler said she will focus on addressing opioid and other addiction issues, improving economic inequality, which includes working to expand affordable housing options and addressing homelessness, and managing growth and development in the city.

Gabe Colman

A downtown business owner is hoping to bring his business acumen and other skills to the Bloomington City Council.

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Gabe Colman

Gabe Colman, owner and operator of The Venue Fine Art and Gifts, a gallery and gift shop in downtown Bloomington for the past nine years, said he is running because he believes council members can benefit from having a small business perspective when making decisions.

Colman serves as the treasurer of the Gallery Walk Committee, a commissioner of the Arts of Bloomington, an advocacy council member for the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Kirkwood Community Association.

If elected, Colman said he will focus on public safety, finding new revenue sources for social service agencies and healing the divide between the city and county.

“We have obstacles that we face in the very near future, and having a firm understanding of these topics is going to be important for moving forward for the betterment of our community,” Colman said. “We have growing pains ahead of us.”

Trent Deckard

A former Monroe County Democratic Party chairman is among candidates for the vacant city council seat.

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Trent Deckard

“Bloomington is the best small town you will ever know and love,” Trent Deckard said. “It did not get to be such a great place without a lot of sacrifice by public servants who lead and citizens who consistently gave back to the community they loved. With so many large national and local issues, it is time for the next generation of community leaders to step forward.”

Among his public service experience: a former Stepping Stones board member, an appointee on Mayor Mark Kruzan’s GE Task Force, a co-director of the Indiana Election Division and a district director and field representative for then-U.S. Rep. Baron Hill.

If elected, Deckard said he hopes to focus on addressing the lack of affordable housing, continuing to work with individuals and bring consensus on the various health and addiction issues the community is facing, and working to ensure Bloomington is ready for its next big challenge.

“I believe my experience balancing the budget of a state agency, strong communication skills, and willingness to work with everyone will facilitate not only tough discussions, but reachable solutions,” Deckard said.

Sierra Reed

An Indiana University student and Bloomington native is hoping to represent the city’s large student population and bring a young voice to the city council.

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Sierra Reed

“Students are a very large part of the population of Bloomington, and in a democracy, every part of a population

should be represented,” Sierra Reed said. “Equal representation is the pathway to the most effective democracy, and with the student population represented, the city council will be more effective in its actions.”

Reed said she decided to run because the voice of young people is often ignored and, while she has little experience, she believes government needs new perspectives and ideas to be effective for the demographics it represent. She serves on the Commission for Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety and helped establish the Women in Government Club at Indiana University.

If selected, she said she will focus on economic development that encompasses areas such as public safety, sustainability initiatives and homelessness. In addition, she said she wants to explore historically sensitive and sustainable ways of directing urban growth through zoning laws and code, and to have residents feel supported and take ownership of place.

Jim Sims

After serving on a number of local boards, commissions, committees and organizations for more than two decades, Jim Sims hopes to bring that experience to the city council.

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Jim Sims

Jim Sims

Sims said he believes the city council is ready for a qualified candidate of color, pointing to his background as public servant on various boards and commissions. Some of the positions Sims’ currently holds include president of the Monroe County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, member of the Bloomington Utilities Service Board and chairman of Second Baptist Church Trustee Board.

“There is a definite learning curve for anyone new to government leadership, which I look forward to, and I have been able to see and be involved in how local politics and local city government works,” Sims said. “I believe I bring a social diversity perspective to the city council while joining a dedicated group of elected council members in performing their duties of representing all members of our community.”

Sims said some of the items and issues he wishes to focus on if elected include city infrastructure needs and maintenance, public safety and the comprehensive master plan, as it will guide current and future growth in the community for several decades.

Sean Starowitz

After moving to Bloomington a year and a half ago, the city’s assistant director of the arts is eager to continue Mayer’s legacy through representation on the city council.

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Sean Starowitz

“Though my experience in Bloomington is limited, my position at the city has allowed me to problem solve with community residents, neighborhood groups, and businesses, always exploring and discussing their vision for the future of Bloomington,” Starowitz said in a letter to the local Democratic Party in which he declared his candidacy.

Starowitz said he is running because he believes in equitable policies that benefit the community and because there is an opportunity to redefine how the city works for its residents.

Starowitz said he plans to focus on pressing city issues, such as affordable housing policy, economic and climate resiliency approaches, workforce development anchoring strategies and inclusive next-generation leaders.