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Former mayor of Bloomington Jesse Smart dies at 84

Written by on August 30, 2023

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Former mayor of Bloomington Jesse Smart died at his home in Glendale, Arizona on August 25. He served from 1985 to 1997.

Smart was the mayor for 12 years, but he was a public servant for much longer. In 1961, Smart began teaching agriculture and biology classes at Stanford High School, now known as Olympia High School. After a few years teaching, he made the move with his wife Susan and their family to Bloomington.

He served on the city council for nearly eight years before he was elected mayor. After his two decades in city hall, he grew a reputation as a hands-on mayor who knew how to move policy forward. Former mayor of Bloomington Tari Renner spoke highly of his character.

“He made substantial contributions, there was no question,” Renner said. “One of the things he stressed, if you really want to move forward, if you got at least five votes on the city council, just move. Don’t wait to get everyone on board or you may never get anywhere.”

Renner also recounted that Smart would keep a shovel and a bucket in his car, so that he could help out citizens and put some ease on the public works employees. Smart was always ready to help and to practice what he preached.

Smart had a mind for business and ways to attract it and tourism to Bloomington. Diamond-Star came to town and State Farm saw major growth while he was mayor. Not only that, but he also worked to facilitate the arrival of Mitsubishi to the city.

Smart was more than a mentor and colleague to Renner; he was also a friend. He was known to be just as friendly with other mayors as well. For some time, he went to lunch with former mayor of Bloomington Judy Markowitz once a month, who defeated him in 1997. Renner commented on his ability to call on Smart for help.

“I talked to him, I said, ‘Hey Jesse, what would you do if you had this happening?’” Renner said. “It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve been mayor of a metro city, it’s almost like there’s a mayor’s club. You get it.”

Smart set a precedent for the mayors of Bloomington that they could support each other despite their differences. In the 2017 mayoral cycle, former mayor Rich Buchanan held a fundraiser for Renner and Smart and former mayor Stockton attended to support him for reelection.

Out of all his accomplishments and the progress he made during his expansive time as mayor, Renner believes that what the city will miss most is Smart’s work ethic and good spirit.

“Whether you agreed or disagreed with Jesse on anything, he was not somebody who would sit on the sidelines,” Renner said. “He would push, and he had no problem rolling up his sleeves and working as hard as he possibly could to do the things that he wanted.”

Smart’s visitation will be at the Calvert and Metzler Memorial Home in Bloomington, Illinois on September 5.