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League of Women Voters 95th Anniversary Celebration and Speech

Greater Lafayette League of Women Voters 95th Anniversary Celebration

I had the honor of speaking at the League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette 95th Anniversary Celebration on September 22nd.


Here is a copy of my speech:

On February 8th, 2014 I sent out my first tweet:

@baielala: Good morning all. Need a good profile picture. On the way. Anyone else going to this Legislative Breakfast at MCL this morning? #greaterlala

Over the previous year, I was becoming more active and engaged publicly in our local political landscape. Through some friends and members of the League, I heard about the local League of Women Voters Annual Legislative Breakfast held at MCL Cafeteria. I attended so I could live tweet the event, meet other local, committed political people, ask questions and hear the positions from our representation in the Indiana Congress.

This amazing event was my first direct taste of the Greater Lafayette League of Women Voters. I have always been impressed with the League’s presence at a variety of public gatherings; from our Farmers Markets, to our Mosey Down Main Streets, to educational events held at our Public libraries and community centers, among a myriad of other activities. As we all have learned, if there is a congregation of politicos in Greater Lafayette, there is no doubt that some League Members are also in attendance.

And it’s exactly this breadth of membership, this devotion to political engagement and enlightenment, that drew me into becoming an official, due-paying member. Joining the League gives me an opportunity to give back to the same group of hardworking individuals whose mission couldn’t be any more simple and clear: making democracy work.

Look around you today, as we celebrate 95 years of the League’s existence: be proud to know that you stand among others who, like yourself, are contributing to the success of the League’s lofty and straightforward goal.

West Lafayette Ranks Worst of Big Ten College Towns and What We Can Do About It

It is interesting.  Just earlier this week West Lafayette was named one of the easiest cities to get around for seniors:

Katie Moreau, communications director for AARP Indiana, said West Lafayette was chosen due to its extensive public transportation, close access to medical care and proximity to Purdue University. She said the elderly population has a combination of unique needs that can be difficult to meet if mobility is limited and the residents cannot drive.

She said in West Lafayette, public transportation is abundant and social opportunities for the elderly abound thanks to Purdue, which offers lectures, classes and more.

Now, according to a group of Big Ten ESPN Experts (their term, not mine), surmised that West Lafayette ranks the worst (14th) out of the entire Big Ten:

West Lafayette, Ind. It’s one of the smallest towns on this list at under 50,000 residents. There isn’t a whole lot to do, both indoors or out other than the Lafayette Brewery and the Wabash River. If you like brick and Greek parties, then this is your place. Otherwise, continue down I-65 to Indy or Chi-town. Purdue’s home city got seven last-place votes.
Once the word was out, the local news outlets covered the story:

I find it curious that the students included in the WLFI piece were all shocked by the results.  Did only find those who were against the Big Ten Experts’ assessment?

There were some good quotes from Mayor John Dennis in the WLFI piece:

“When you compare the city of West Lafayette to all the other Big Ten school, we’re the smallest. We’ve got 50,000 static citizens, so that is indicative of a relatively small town environment,” said Dennis.

The website says there isn’t a whole lot to do either inside or outside, unless you like brick and Greek parties. It suggests a visit to Indianapolis or Chicago.

But Dennis thinks some opinions will change with the State Street Project.

“We’re going to bring in more development, to expand accessibility to some of our businesses, and generally improve the overall environment,” said Dennis.


Dennis said when it comes to quality of life here in West Lafayette — that deserves a top ranking.

However, does the City of West Lafayette earn a top ranking when it comes to quality of life?

I am not sure where Mayor Dennis came up with the 50,000 static citizens in West Lafayette.  The population stated in the recent annexation and redistricting places us at 41,950.  This population total also includes a significant amount of students living in Districts 1, 2, 3, 6.  I don’t think we can call students static residents since in most cases, they meet the criteria for temporary residents:

Sec. 7. Subject to section 6 of this chapter, a person does not gain residency in a precinct into which the person moves for:
(1) temporary employment;
(2) educational purposes;
(3) preparing to purchase or occupy a residence; or
(4) other purposes;
without the intent of making a permanent home in the precinct.

As one commenter, Stephen Jack, pointed out in the Indy Star comments:

John Kelsey Oh my. Ranked lower than Rutgers? It's time to do the right thing: give Purdue to Texas. That's where all of the ugly belongs. Stephen Jack · My own boss at Self-Employed Who fuc&^ng cares? Just go and get a good education and find a job and leave!If students (and residents) do not have reasons to stay after their purpose for being here (education), they leave Tippecanoe County if not Indiana entirely.  One could assume that the same reasons the ESPN Big Ten Experts found West Lafayette uninspiring are the same reasons why we have a highly transient population.

Student (and human capital) flight has been occurring for decades.  Those same shocked students included in the WLFI piece will, most likely, finish their education, graduate, and then move to another city, probably outside of Indiana.  One recent change in the history of West Lafayette is the annexation of Purdue and neighboring lands.  Now, for their short stay in West Lafayette, students have a seat at the Legislative table with the addition of District 3 in West Lafayette.  Through this seat on the City Council, students have increased power and representation on a variety of committees and boards throughout Tippecanoe County.

District 3 and Purdue's (Student) Seat on City Council

Mayor Dennis spoke about the upcoming State Street Master Plan/ReState St/State Street Redevelopment Project, where significant transportation changes, along with some new public features, will be added to State St.  If executed well, this could change the tone and tenor of the area for decades to come.

One uninspiring change will be the addition of these pedestrian prison bars in The Village area:

State Street Master Plan, ReState St., State Street Redevelopment Project Pedestrian Prison BarsThese are being suggested initially to avoid having the orange and white barricades out during game days, but a permanent fence around The Village is not the solution.

Besides this horribly insulting addition, what confidence can we have in the future commercial development along this extremely important corridor?  If we look at the history of development in West Lafayette, it will be a majority of chain and franchise establishments that cater to the lowest common denominator of desire in our community: the transient student population.  Once again leaving nothing for the 41,000+ static residents.

If we continue down this path of development, these static residents will turn mobile and leave along with the students.

The Levee was also touted as a game changer for the community in the early 2000s and its impact is not highly regarded nor celebrated in the Community.  It meets some needs, however, the State St. Redevelopment Project is updating the area to address some initial development blunders:

Repair the Transportation Infrastructure along the LeveeThere were also some interesting comments from the WLFI article regarding the Levee:


“But Dennis thinks some opinions will change with the State Street Project.”

Ha! That’s what everyone said about the Levee projects, but that area has flat-lined, and faded, and still offers little more than a theater and some food. The crime statistics don’t help either. I’m sure they’re enough to make people double-think their visits. I’d be curious to see what impact Ferguson, Missouri has had on Saint Louis’ visitor count. I doubt people are flocking to the Saint Louis area.

 jonny bakho reply to MilkAndChocolate

The Levee project was ruined when INDOT turned River Road into an 8 Lane pedestrian kill zone. It is unsafe to walk from campus to the Levee. The traffic around campus is unpleasant. Give pedestrians priority around campus and campus town, move the cars out to parking lots and roads on the edge and things will improve. There is no place to eat near the sports complex but McDonalds. The new Baseball/Soccer/Tennis area is only accessible by car. No amenities for miles. This encourages students to drive and makes the campus unpleasant and less safe.

As always, communication is key.  So is an active and engaged constituency.  Remember, 2015 is a Municipal Election Year.   The City Council seats are all contested by two parties, Independent Donnie Spencer is running in the campus district.  Mayor Dennis is unopposed.

Take a few moments out of your schedule, make some phone calls to the Mayor’s office (765-775-5103), call your City Councilor Representative, write a Letter to the Editor at the J&C.  Share your thoughts.  Attend the City Council meeting on May 4th.  This is the start of a LONG process.

Politics is a war of attrition.

The only way West Lafayette will transcend the contemptuous view people have of it and become an acclaimed and notable City is if you are a part of the process.