FRIDAY, OCT. 30 — East Lansing City Council candidate Erik Altmann said today that the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee has done the city a “real favor with this smear campaign” against him.
“They have made the issues very clear to voters,” Altmann said. “The question is whether East Lansing is for sale.”
Altmann, one of six candidates vying for three seats on Tuesday, was the subject of a mailer the chamber sent to East Lansing voters this week. If he is elected, he would likely be part of a bloc of three votes on the five-member Council that would affect support for development incentives.
Altmann said he is not opposed to development, but he wants the city to be more cautious with tax incentives.
He cited the parking ramp at the downtown Marriott as an example.
He said the Marriott received a 30-year tax abatement for it, which was renewed for another 30 years. “We’re never going to recover the cost of building that structure.
“That’s the problem with these long-term tax abatements — it’s just not clear the city is ever going to see an upside from them.”
Altmann said the mailer misrepresented his positions. For example, it says that he voted against the development plan to replace the old Taco Bell on Grand River Avenue. He said he did so to support the recommendation of city planners to require the developers to broaden the mixed-use development so it would attract more than student tenants. He said the Council agreed with him and the planning staff by ordering a new plan be developed. The Council “followed my lead,” he said.
The mailer accused him of being against blight elimination by opposing a City Council plan “to expedite blight elimination at the Big Bank Building near Grand River Avenue and Abbot.
Altmann said what he opposed was a City Charter amendment to lower from 60 percent to a simple majority the number of voters who must approve selling city property. The amendment passed.
Altmann called the charge “quite the distortion.” He said the sale of public property and the elimination of blight are “two separate issues.”
Referring to selling property, he said, “I didn’t trust the City Council to do that wisely.”
The chamber mailer says he opposed bringing Jackson National Life Insurance Co. to downtown, where it brought hundreds of student jobs.
Altmann said he opposed the tax break, not the jobs. He pointed out that the president of the chamber board of directors , John Brown, is a vice president of JNL.
“The chamber wants to support candidates who will keep the tax breaks flowing, and they know I am interested in running the city like a good business.”
The mailer also accuses Altmann of taking so-called “dark money” in his campaign. That’s a term associated with political action committees, which do not have to disclose donors.
“I have no idea what that’s about,” Altmann said. “I’ve been disclosing my campaign contributions voluntarily and publicly on my websites since early September. Ninety percent is from East Lansing residents. No money is from PACs.”
The chamber mailer featured a quote from Altmann: “Sometimes you need to say NO to get what you want. And that’s what we should do.”
Altmann said the remark was in the context of whether to allow another bar in East Lansing.
“I don’t think we need any more bars in East Lansing,” he said.
Efforts to reach chamber officials for comment were unsuccessful.