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At Swearing In, Bloomington Mayor Mwilambwe Vows to Tackle Divisions

History was made Saturday morning as Mboka Mwilambwe was sworn in as the next mayor of Bloomington. 

As he recited the oath of office on the lawn of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, Mwilambwe became the city’s first Black mayor.

Mwilambwe defeated two opponents in the April 6 election to succeed outgoing mayor Tari Renner, who did not seek a third term.

In his first official remarks as mayor, Mwilambwe described an agenda predicated on inclusion and cooperation.

“A house divided cannot stand,” Mwilambwe said, quoting Lincoln. “I have seen the toll that divisiveness has taken on us.”

During his campaign, Mwilambwe cited a growing polarization as one of the most pressing issues faced by the community.

On Saturday, he told the crowd that people were tired of negativity, and that addressing discord within the community may prove to be his most important task as mayor – for reasons both social and economic.

Mboka Mwilambwe speaks
Credit Emily Bollinger / WGLT
Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe speaks at Saturday's swearing-in outside the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

“At a time where the competition for the world’s dollars is incredibly fierce, we must present a united front and a positive view of our community if we are going to attract and retain businesses and residents. Our future prosperity depends on it,” Mwilambwe said.

Mwilambwe said that in a year notable for its challenges, Bloomington still managed well financially. Despite the pandemic, he said, the city saw $260 million in new or continued construction, and added 12 new businesses downtown. 

Mwilambwe also lauded Ferrero North America’s plan for a $75 million expansion at its existing plant as a positive sign of economic growth. 

“Just imagine what we can do if we all pull together in the same direction,” Mwilambwe said. 

Saturday’s ceremony also saw the swearing in of five council members. Newcomers Sheila Montney, Nick Becker, and Tom Crumpler all won seats in the April 6 election. They joined incumbents Mollie Ward and Jamie Mathy, who retained their seats. 

Council members Julie Emig, Jeff Crabill, and Donna Boelen – who were not up for re-election – also were present. Jenn Carrillo was the only council member who did not attend.

Mwilambwe said he was excited to work with the new council, and optimistic for what he and council members could accomplish. He stressed that he did not expect that to mean, however, that they would always be aligned on the issues.

“It’s perfectly OK to disagree,” Mwilambwe said. What is essential to a functional community, he explained, is for its members to seek to understand – rather than demonize – one another. 

Mwilambwe pointed to his own story of coming to Bloomington as a Congolese immigrant as an example of the city’s potential to foster understanding and inclusion.

“This wonderful community has now elevated an immigrant to the rank of mayor. Think about what that says to the rest of the world about the goodness of our community,” he said.

“If you can do that, you can do much, much more.”

Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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