Bloomington City Council member Jenn Carrillo will meet privately with a group of Downtown Bloomington business owners Tuesday to discuss comments she made online about an incoming business.
The popular Facebook page Bloomington-Normal Restaurant Scene posted May 29 about The Gypsy Room, a bistro set to open at the former Satio location at 306 N. Center St.
Carrillo commented the next day that the word “gypsy” is a racist slur, and until the name was changed she would boycott the restaurant and encourage others to do the same.
“C'mon y'all. it's 2019. You should have googled this term before deciding to open a business with this word in the name,” she wrote.
Reuben Granados, co-owner of new downtown business Bloomington Spice Works, said during Monday’s council meeting that Carrillo’s actions set “a dangerous precedent for the future of Bloomington” by launching what he called “an online harassment campaign” with her comments.
“In no way shape or form are the small-business owners of Bloomington and in particular Ward 6 going to stand by and allow this behavior from their own representative,” he said. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Granados said Carrillo’s comments were especially harmful “when we’re struggling to bring up the downtown businesses.”
Carrillo said she was not the first to call for others to boycott the business, but rather left her comment after she saw others posting online with no response from the business owners. Co-owner Chelsea Heffernan later left a comment on the post saying that she and her business partner Terri Vanderlugt would address the issue right away.
“We would never want to offend anyone in our community or segregate anyone. The thought behind the name was something much different than what is being discussed but we understand the concern and feedback,” Heffernan wrote.
Carrillo said she did reach out to Heffernan following an online announcement that the name would be changed.
“I was really appreciative and I made a public post about, this is exactly how you do it. We’re all going to make mistakes, but owning it and acting in ways that are restorative, and coming back from it is what’s critical,” she said.
Carrillo said while she could have directly reached out to the business owners instead of leaving comments online, “Then we miss out on a broader community conversation where I had a lot of people reach out to me and say, ‘I had no idea that that was a slur, and I’m really glad that this happened so now I know moving forward.’”
She also pushed back against the idea that her actions posed a threat to economic development downtown.
“I think being a strong advocate for racial justice is not mutually exclusive to also being a strong advocate for small businesses in downtown,” she said.
Carrillo said she looks forward to meeting with downtown business owners at The Bistro on Tuesday, including Granados.
“For as much buzz as has been going on about this, not a single person has reached out to speak to me directly about this,” she said. “I am hoping that people will assume best intentions on all sides, as I have about this issue.”
Editor's note: Carrillo contacted GLT on Tuesday and said she had, in fact, been contacted by one Downtown Bloomington business owner, Jennifer McDade. Carrillo said she had misspoke.
Support From Renner
Mayor Tari Renner seemed to feel the incident received more attention that it deserved.
“Come on,” he interjected as media questioned Carrillo following the council meeting. “I mean, this was the kind of thing that, nobody is harmed, everybody has learned a lesson, we all understand, we’ve all got to move forward.”
“She’s only been in office a month,” he added. “Give her some time to learn. We’re all learning.”
Renner’s comments came after he was again derided for his comment during a mayor’s open house meeting nearly two weeks ago about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas not behaving “like someone who is African-American.”
Bloomington resident Scott McCoy refused to accept a certificate of completion of the Bloomington 101 program from Renner on Monday because of the mayor’s comments.
“I found this comment disgraceful, and as a new resident of Bloomington, I’m embarrassed,” he said, criticizing the council for “remaining silent” after the incident.
Renner again called his comment a “poor choice of words,” but also said members of the public and the media had taken the statement out of context in a broader conversation about representation.
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