Oct. 14 2015 11:30 AM

City of Lansing endorsements: For Dievendorf, Hussain and Washington

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United in 2010 that certain political organizations did not have to disclose donors, progressives expected the worse. They were right. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law found that Super PACs and other outside groups doubled their “dark money” spending to $486 million on U.S. Senate races in 2014 compared to four years earlier. The study found that in 10 competitive midterm races, dark money accounted for 47 percent of total spending — more than the candidates, at 41 percent, themselves spent.

The ruling’s effects are hardly limited to national and statewide races. In this year’s City Council’s races, two candidates have been targeted by a local dark-money outfit called Capitol Region Progress — its name certainly ironic given that its efforts have introduced a level of name-calling to local politics that adds little to the discourse and understandably engenders ill will by those targeted.

In the case of Adam Hussain, the challenger in the Third Ward in south Lansing, a mailer from this group darkened his image to make him appear more like a terrorist than the middle school teacher he is. If donors had had to put their names on this odious piece, it’s hard to imagine it would have been created in the first place. Nor should they be proud of the silly and unfounded accusation that Hussain is a puppet of his mother, Councilwoman Jody Washington. Nor does attacking him for sending his daughter to an Okemos school add anything to the campaign. Hussain’s wife teaches in Okemos. He teaches in the Waverly district. Any parent can understand the logistical challenge getting their daughter to school in Lansing would be for them.

What’s most disappointing is Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero appears to be connected to Capitol Region Progress. He did not respond to direct questions about his role, probably because he didn’t want to lie outright. His non-answer fuels the belief that he has encouraged his financial backers to fund the group. Certainly, its enemies are Bernero’s enemies. Two years ago, it targeted then Councilman Brian Jeffries’ unsuccessful reelection campaign. Last year, it went after Ingham County Commissioner Deb Nolan after Bernero blew up over a minor slight. And this year, its intended victims are Hussain and First Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington, only second in Bernero’s low estimation to Councilwoman Carol Wood.

Fortunately, these mailers seem not to be working — in fact, they may be having the opposite effect. Washington and Hussain seem likely to win.

City Pulse supports both. Washington, a first termer, has grown in the job, in the view of east siders, whom she represents. She has learned to listen and even to change her mind. The east side is doing well and not despite Washington but because of her and her support for development. If reelected, she should reach out more to Bernero, with whom she said she has had just two face-to-face meetings in four years. But the mayor needs to meet her halfway in the name of progress for the Capitol region.

In the Third Ward, we support Hussain, who passionately argues southwest Lansing — with no fewer than 110 empty storefronts — needs more attention. Hussain is not against downtown development, where much of the Bernero administration’s focus has been. Nor is he against Bernero, for whom he worked on his gubernatorial race and two of his mayoral campaign (and can show you a photo of Bernero holding the Okemos-schooled daughter wrapped in a Bernero campaign T shirt). He just thinks Third Ward incumbent A’Lynne Boles is not doing enough for the ward. And were Bernero not wedded to supporting Boles for backing his pay raise, we expect the mayor would agree with Hussain. Boles has also proved herself a prevaricator when it comes not just to her public record but to her personal life; recently, she claimed ignorance of three lawsuits, even though her wages were being garnished as recently as 2013 over one of them.

In the at-large race, we support Emily Dievendorf and encourage voters to “plunk” for her — meaning vote for none of the other three candidates for the two at-large seats to be decided this year. Doing so will increase her chance of being elected, given that Councilwoman Wood is a shoe-in to be reelected to one spot. A first-time candidate, Dievendorf has proven herself knowledgeable and sensible on issues. Moreover, she has led the way among candidates on blowing the whistle on Capitol Region Progress by asking all of the candidates to take a stand against it. Not surprisingly, Bernero candidates Boles, Shelley Davis Mielock in the First Ward and Patricia Spitzley in the at-large race have not signed it — reason enough for City Pulse not to support them.

While we find ourselves at odds with Bernero over his conduct in this campaign, we do agree with him on a policy issue on the ballot, which is the proposal to amend the City Charter to limit city employment contracts to one year and limit severance payments to officials who lose their jobs. This may make some positions, such as general manager of the Lansing Board of Water & Light, a little harder to fill down the road. But overall we’re far more likely to end up with dedicated executives willing to be measured just on performance — like our new one, Dick Pfeffley — than on political friendships.

Endorsements in the East Lansing City Council race will appear next week.

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