Oct. 29 2015 09:54 AM

Chamber attacks Council candidate over development record

(This story has been corrected to insert a quotation from former East Lansing Mayor Liz Schweitzer. Because of an editing error in which her quote was left out, she was quoted as making statements she did not make.)

THURSDAY, Oct. 29 — The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce has roiled East Lansing residents with a mailer attacking City Council candidate Erik Altmann just a week before voters cast their ballots.

The mailer attacks Altmann’s votes and statements as an East Lansing planning commissioner and highlights a growing divide in the college town over development incentives. Incumbents Susan Wood and Nathan Triplett have voted to approve various developer incentives on projects in the community, often carrying a 3-2 vote.

If Altmann wins one of the three seats on Tuesday — which fellow candidate Mark Meadows said polling shows could happen — it would shift the voting block on the Council from 3-2 in favor of development incentives to a 3-2 vote against their regular use. Altmann favors the use of incentives only when the city is getting as much in return as it is passing out. Supporters called his approach the fiscally responsible method.

Meadows, a former Council member and state representative, used his email list Thursday morning to hammer the mailer, despite having been endorsed by the chamber.

“Why would the Chamber be worried?” wrote Meadows. “The answer is that Mr. Altmann asks tough questions
and more importantly, he has been a prodigious campaigner. The race has been almost continuously polled and the polls over the last 30 days have been remarkably consistent: Mr. Altmann may win a seat.

He added: If Mr. Altmann is elected, the consideration of TIF could be significantly different and what appears to be a cozy relationship between the Council and landlords and developers will likely end. Developers and landlords are constituents of the Chamber and the Chamber should be advocating for their interests, but not by distorting the record of Mr. Altmann.”

TIF stands for tax increment financing, which is essentially incentives for development.

The mailer as well as two others the chamber sent to support other candidates drew criticism from former Councilwoman Liz Schweitzer.

“As a former East Lansing mayor, I am incredulous that the Lansing regional chamber of commerce has sent out - all in one day — three huge and expensive postcards regarding the EL city council race. It is an outrageous expenditure to influence the election. In my 48 years as an East Lansing resident, I have never seen such an unmasked attempt by a special interest group to promote their special interests. I hope you can address this online, if not in print."

Chamber President and CEO Tim Daman did not immediately return phone calls from City Pulse, but told the Lansing State Journal that the campaign was “a bit aggressive,” and indicated it was important to stop an “anti-
growth” majority from taking control of the Council.

Here is Meadows’ statement:

“I was proud to have received the Chamber's endorsement in this race. I know many of its members and I enjoy working with them. I am not going to criticize the Chamber's membership, but I am completely opposed to the negative ad that the Chamber has mailed. In the negative ad, the Chamber decries the use of "dark money"! The ad itself is an example of such "dark money" and the use of corporate funds in campaigns. The Chamber ad also violates the basic tenet of the endorsement process; namely that in order to make sure that candidates are completely forthright in their answers, the answers are confidential. The ad cites to one of Mr.
Altmann's answers as a basis for one of its claims. While the ad was intended to damage Mr. Altmann's chances to be elected, what it really does is damage the Chamber's credibility. I cannot imagine why any candidate would ever participate in their endorsement process again. You can even conclude that the Chamber wanted to punish Mr. Altmann because he tells the truth. In addition, the ad is also extremely disingenuous because the Chamber knows that one of its endorsed candidates shares Mr. Altmann's (and that of two current City Council Members') opposition to the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for the Taco Bell redevelopment project so prominently featured in the negative ad launched against Mr. Altmann. That endorsed candidate is me.”

EastLansingInfo.org has a detailed deconstruction of the mailing with links to various public documents

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