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061119-blm-loc-01carrillo

Ward 6 Alderwoman Jenn Carrillo reviews with the media her private discussion Tuesday, June 11, 2019, at The Bistro in downtown Bloomington with about 20 downtown business owners about a controversy involving her criticism of a new business's name.

BLOOMINGTON — About half a dozen downtown business owners walked out of a meeting before it was over Tuesday night, apparently upset with comments Alderwoman Jenn Carrillo was making inside in response to a controversy involving her criticism of a new business's name.

But they left too early to see the issue resolved positively, said business owner and former Alderwoman Jennifer McDade, who was among about a dozen or more people who stuck around to the end of the 90-minute meeting.

"We're in a good spot," said Ruben Granados, co-owner of the recently opened Bloomington Spice Works in downtown Bloomington, after the meeting. Granados had accused Carrillo at Monday's City Council meeting of initiating an online harassment campaign against the owners of what was to be called the Gypsy Room.

He said it was "unfortunate" that the emotion of Tuesday's meeting prompted some to leave before it was over. 

"I did learn a little about government. Today, we see that it works," he said of the outcome.

The closed meeting at The Bistro was called by an informal group of downtown business owners after Carrillo called for a boycott of the coming business because its name included the word "gypsy." The term is a pejorative reference to the Roma community.

"I think conversations like these are difficult. It wasn't easy. It was a struggle," said Carrillo after Tuesday's meeting. "I think we got there because we stuck with it and I think we came to an agreement about the social justice issue that I wanted to bring to the table.

"And I also had an opportunity to hear from business owners about what their concerns were."

Carrillo said she could have handled the situation differently and would have avoided a lot of the controversy if she had.

"I shared this with folks in the room. I'm a fighter and some people want to interpret that in the best ways or in the worst ways, but I have always had to fight to be recognized," said Carrillo. "That's where I come from. Those are my roots.

"That doesn't mean that is the way to handle every situation, and so this is a learning opportunity for me," she added. "I am excited that folks had the kindness and patience to sit with me and share their thoughts with me. I think we can all move forward together."

McDade, who owns the downtown business Elemental Market and Art Hive, agreed.

"Community comes from things like the meeting we had tonight," said McDade. "I got to witness a really beautiful moment in downtown tonight when individuals with multiple points of view sat down in a room and had a conversation together and walked out of there feeling more connected, more understanding, more humble and more ready to make this community great."

De Urban, owner of Alley Kats, an arts and antique store at 401 S. Center St., was one of the business owners who walked out early.

"We wanted her (Carrillo) to take responsibility for attacking an innocent business in downtown Bloomington," said Urban. When she didn't hear Carrillo do that, that's when she decided to walk out, she said.

Chelsea Heffernan and Terri Vanderlugt, co-owners of the new restaurant planned for the former Satio at Center and Jefferson streets, did not attend the meeting. They previously apologized to Carrillo online and said they will change the name.

"I am sorry I didn't handle this is in a different way because I think I missed an opportunity to connect to the two women who are looking to open a business downtown, which we definitely want to encourage," said Carrillo.

In hindsight, Carrillo said she thinks the better option would have been to meet with the co-owners privately to discuss her concerns with them and then maybe discuss it publicly "to educate people who may not understand the harmfulness that is associated with this word," she said.

The name was offensive to her, Carrillo said, because it's "a slur that was used to justify the genocide of over a half a million people in the Holocaust."

As Carrillo was explaining her concern to the media after the council meeting Monday night, Mayor Tari Renner intervened on her behalf. 

"Come on. This was the kind of thing that nobody is harmed, everybody has learned a lesson, we all understand, we all have to move forward," said Renner. "Alderwoman Carrillo certainly wants to make sure that we have strong economic development downtown ... and she's only been in office a month. Give her some time to learn. We're all learning."

Contact Maria Nagle at (309) 820-3244. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Nagle

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Bloomington Reporter

Bloomington reporter for The Pantagraph.

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