50 Years of Monroe County Democratic Party Leadership

1971-2021: A Retrospective on Our Local Revolution


Viola Taliaferro Dinner
December 16, 2021
Switchyard Park Pavilion


Introduction
Reader: MCDP Vice-Chair David Henry


Fifty years ago, the municipal election of 1971 changed the face of Bloomington and Monroe
County politics. The city council and mayor’s office flipped from a Republican to a Democratic
strong-hold, and the county’s government was not far behind. The issues raised in 1971 are
issues that are still relevant today, and our community--and our party--is stronger for this local
revolution. The following account is informed by news stories from the then-Herald-Telephone,
the Courier-Tribune, the Indiana Daily Student, the book Minister’s Daughter: One Life, Many
Lives, by Charlotte Zietlow with Michael G. Glab, and conversations with Charlotte.


The Circumstances
Reader: Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton


In 1968, tensions ran high. The Vietnam War raged, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was
assassinated, and a heated Democratic presidential primary split the party nationally and
statewide. Bobby Kennedy won the Indiana primary in 1968 against Eugene McCarthy and
Indiana’s governor Roger Branigin. Just one month later, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
With votes already amassed, Kennedy’s votes went to Branigin. This upset a segment of the
party in Bloomington, and discontent began to fuel interest in the inner workings of the party
system at the state and local level. Democrats redoubled their organization efforts at the
precinct level and began to consider what might be possible.


Another major national decision would change the composition of Bloomington’s future
elections. In March 1971, the 26 th Amendment passed Congress, lowering the voting age for all
elections from 21 to 18. On July 1, 1971, just months before the general election, the
Amendment was signed into law approved by three-fourths of the states. As documented in
Minister’s Daughter, “Bloomington’s November 1971 election for mayor, clerk, and city council
would be the first in the nation to feature a more youthful electorate.”


Locally, residents were concerned about a number of issues. A controversial high-rise
development landed then-Republican Mayor Hooker and his controller in hot water, and they
were charged with misconduct in office and misapplication of city funds. Spot zoning, the
process of individually zoning lots without regard to the surrounding lots was controversial, and
many city neighborhoods lacked sidewalks and other infrastructure. Public meetings allowed no
time for public comment, and they were not run transparently. Residents felt unheard.


The Candidates and the Campaign
Reader: MCDP Secretary Ashley Pirani

In 1971, the city election saw a group of young, dynamic, Democratic candidates running for
office against primary and general election opponents. They formed a coalition of sorts,
bringing together a variety of backgrounds and priorities. They were all in agreement that local
government needed more citizen involvement and better communication between elected
officials and their constituents. The candidates, as detailed in Minister’s Daughter: One Life,
Many Lives by Charlotte Zietlow with Michael Glab, included:
Frank McCloskey, 32, candidate for Mayor, a recent law school graduate, awaiting the results of
his bar exam. He’d run the previous year for state representative and lost but had done so well
in Bloomington that he thought he could win a citywide race. When the campaign began, he
was one of the few people to hold that belief.


Grace Johnson, candidate for City Clerk. In her early 30s, Johnson worked as a secretary and
was married to an Indiana University faculty member.

  • Brian de St. Croix, 23, a social worker and community organizer, running for City Council along
    with…
  • Dick Behen, a shoe store manager in his early 40s, was the most establishment-friendly of the
    new breed.
  • Rod Fawcett, in his early 40s, Fawcett was a telephone company lineman who hoped to
    challenge the west side’s other working-class candidate, Republican Jack Morrison…
  • Wayne Fix, slightly younger than Behen and Fawcett, was a land appraiser and, unbeknown to
    his fellow candidates, a law student.
  • Al Towell, mid-30s, was a computer expert working at IU’s Wrubel Computing Center. He also
    was one of the founding forces behind the Voters Union.
  • Jim Ackerman, late 30s, was a Presbyterian minister and an Old Testament scholar. He taught
    religious studies at IU.
  • Hubert Davis, late 30s, was a Methodist minister who served as a chaplain at the university’s
    campus ministry.
  • Sherwin Mizell, well into his 40s, was the elder statesman of the group. He was a professor of
    gross anatomy at IU and one of the founders of Beth Shalom, a local Jewish temple.
  • Charlotte Zietlow, mid-30s, dubbed the “Ph.D. housewife” as the spouse of an IU faculty
    member who herself held a doctoral degree in linguistics.

Together, they knocked doors, hosted forums and coffees, and talked to as many residents as
possible. Their campaign slogan? Build a Better Bloomington.

The Outcome
Reader: Bloomington City Clerk Nicole Bolden

After a hard-fought election, the votes were in, reported by the Courier-Tribune.

For Mayor
McCloskey (D): 7,201
Hooker (R): 4,638

For City Clerk
Johnson (D): 6,406
Tardy (R): 5,115

Council At-Large
Behen (D): 9,825
Fix (D): 7,577

De St. Croix (D): 7,199
Clegg, Jr. (R): 4,860

Faris (R): 4,001
Day (R): 3,829


Council District 1
Morrison (R): 1,078
Fawcett (D): 715


Council District 2
Towell (D): 1,232
Stipp (R): 704


Council District 3
Mizell (D): 995
Nicholas (R): 387


Council District 4
Zietlow (D): 1,711
Day (R): 742

Council District 5
Davis (D): 994
Baker (R): 771


Council District 6
Ackerman (D): 1,221
Fee (R): 1,089


A Herald-Telephone editorial, titled People Wanted A Change recapped the results:
“The message was clear in Tuesday’s Bloomington election.


The people wanted a change.


This is the only rational interpretation of the one-sided outcome which catapulted Democrat
Frank McCloskey to mayor, taking eight of the nine council seats with him.”


The editorial observed that a similar wave propelled then-Mayor Hooker to victory over
Democrats just eight years before. It continued:


“McCloskey had more going for him than just the student vote, however. City Democrats were
fired up. They smelled victory. They put together a solid campaign organization that mustered
strong town and gown support. And the areas of disconnect with the present administration
were more pronounced than even Democrats anticipated.


The editorial went on to portend:
“While the student vote didn’t win for McCloskey Tuesday, it did provide the Democratic Party
with a clout that is an ominous sign for the future of Republican politics in the city of
Bloomington.”


That night, the Democrats celebrated. Then they got to work.

 


The Achievements
Reader: Monroe County Councilperson Trent Deckard


The newly inaugurated council and mayor developed their approach to the city’s business. The
council established a regular presence at city hall, inviting residents to share their ideas and
converse with council members. The Democrats developed a collegial relationship with Jack
Morrison, the lone Republican who they dubbed “Number 1” as the most experienced member
and the representative of District 1.

The council took up several key issues, including zoning and planning, rental housing
inspections and a landlord-tenant ordinance, public transportation in the form of Bloomington
Transit, an economic development commission, infrastructure including sidewalk and sewer
projects, an animal commission and a municipal animal shelter, a human rights ordinance,
town-gown relations, and annexation. These Issues, services, and resources launched in the
1970s are integral to our community’s identity today.


As a party, these officials paved the road for Democratic successes for years to come. Just a
little over a decade later, county seats flipped to a Democratic majority, and the party has
retained a majority in both the city and the county ever since.


The Lessons Learned
Reader: MCDP Chairwoman Jennifer Crossley


We can’t rest on these laurels, however. We must look to the lessons learned from this historic
1971 election and the candidates who took the city by storm and keep fighting for our
Democratic ideals. By listening to and engaging our constituents, actively seeking ways to
improve quality of life, and serving our community, we honor the path our forebearers paved.
In a recent conversation I had with Charlotte Zietlow, she reflected on lessons she learned as a
leader, and I took notes:


 Listen.
 Ask concerned residents what they can offer to address a need or opportunity.
 Engage them.
 Seek out new ideas.
 Increase the discussion by inviting more people to the table.
 Give others permission to do good things.
 Stick to the issues.
 Don’t hold grudges.
 You have to be willing to be wrong to be right.
 Look for common ground.