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Rep. Bill Crawford

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Rep. Bill Crawford

“The only thing that has happened on the Blueprint to End Homelessness is that some people are getting salaries to remind the community of the need.” — Bill Crawford

When Bill Crawford starts talking, people put down their forks. Or stop whispering. Or swivel in their chairs to get a better look.

Whether the setting is the informal Saturday morning breakfast meeting of the activist group Concerned Clergy, a tense Statehouse committee hearing or a boardroom packed with corporate leaders, state Rep. William Crawford commands attention, usually after he has distributed around the room a small forest’s worth of literature outlining juvenile incarceration rates, tax policy or reports on the status of the African-American male.

Crawford’s unique position in the community is that he gets that same kind of respect in both the streets of Indianapolis and the Statehouse, where he is the chair of the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee. The first African-American to lead the committee that hears all fiscal bills, Crawford pulls off the most difficult of activist tasks, simultaneously staying true to the cause while gaining and maintaining serious political clout. “I have never seen anyone with his ability to have such strong convictions and still be a conciliator,” former House Speaker John Gregg once said.

Indeed, the 30-year House veteran holding the purse strings of the state budget is also the state representative best known for leading the principled fight for affordable housing and against discriminatory business practices and abuses in the criminal justice system. “Bill is always championing the cause of the underdog,” says the Rev. Leroy Dinkins, vice president of Concerned Clergy, noting Crawford’s legislative work increasing health benefits for the poor and establishing a low income housing trust fund. “And as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, he can make sure to steer the dollars where it will help serve the poor.”

Crawford also has an activist’s talent for steering an unwelcome spotlight toward his fellow lawmakers when he sees them not pursuing justice. Last year, he raised eyebrows by bluntly calling out Mayor Bart Peterson on affordable housing (“The only thing that has happened on the Blueprint to End Homelessness is that some people are getting salaries to remind the community of the need.”) and Juvenile Court Judge James Payne on Marion County’s high juvenile incarceration rate (“Our local policy is just dead wrong.”).

“He will stand up to the governor and the mayor or anybody,” Dinkins says. “Where there is an injustice, you will find Bill Crawford fighting against it.”

And, given his carefully nurtured political clout, Bill Crawford is often able to win that fight.

— Fran Quigley

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