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Bloomington Mayoral Candidates Differ On Local Economy

Cristian Jaramillo

In their last face-to-face meeting prior to next Tuesday's municipal election, the two candidates for mayor of Bloomington debated whether the community is in a recession. Ward One Alderman Kevin Lower, who is challenging incumbent Mayor Tari Renner, has repeatedly said Bloomington is in a recession. During the forum, Lower said the community may not technically be in a recession, but there are clear indications of big problems.

"We can look at Forbes, and we can look at Moody's, and they clearly indicate we have lost a large number of good-paying jobs. Our median family income is down about 9 percent in the last five years. It doesn't add up," said Lower.

Renner acknowledged Bloomington-Normal has lost about 2,200 jobs over the past year. He put some of the blame on the closure of the Mitsubishi auto assembly plant. 

"Some of it just because baby-boomers are retiring," said Renner. He highlighted Google's proclamation in 2016 that Bloomington is the "digital capital of Illinois. It seems like a 'Chicken Little' situation. The sky is not falling," added Renner.

Credit Cristian Jaramillo / WGLT
An overflow crowd attends the final candidates forum at ISU's University Galleries, featuring the two Bloomington mayoral candidates.

The two candidates also discussed their previous social media missteps during the forum. Renner was publicly chastised by the council for his online rant against a blogger in 2015. He said he mostly stays offline now. He said most official city social media communication comes from city hall staffers.

"Obviously, that's the future of our communication. So, I'm involved. I don't have any particular strategy, but I rarely get on myself," said Renner.

Lower agreed with his opponent that candidates for public office must hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to making online comments. Lower has been criticized for past online comments construed by some as racist, though he contends they were economically-focused. He also defended online remarks he said were made seven years ago criticizing same-sex marriage.

"I do not want to discriminate against anyone but, we have a fundamental problem in this country...and I think as a society we need to do more for our kids. It's a proven fact that if there are two stable adults in the household the entire time a child is being raised, they are raised in a better environment," Lower said at the forum. When asked if he meant two, stable adult males or females, he said he didn't specify that.

"But, I am standing up for the Christian definition, biblically, of marriage," Lower continued.

Other issues addressed by the candidates during the forum included the Metro Zone controversy, the role of incentives in luring or maintaining businesses, the condition and longevity of Bloomington's water supply, and whether Bloomington should adopt a "welcoming cities" ordinance as a way to safeguard immigrants living in the city.

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Willis is a Bloomington, IL, native. During his senior year at Bloomington High School, he finished third in the "Radio Speaking" division of the state speech contest, the only year he competed.