If there was a winner of the first big joint appearance by Lansing’s two leading candidates for mayor, it was underdog Judi Brown Clarke.
Not that Andy Schor didn’t present himself well before the large business audience assembled by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Kellogg Center last week.
But Brown Clarke matched him. And since she is far less known in those circles, she scored more points for being as good.
Good meant sounding thoughtful on difficult issues. Good also meant not going on the offensive, an important factor after nearly 12 years of incumbent Virg Bernero’s bulldog approach. Many people, especially cautious business people, want a mayor who will lower the temperature.
How well either will do at attacking the city’s challenges, though, didn’t emerge at this event. The candidates answered open-ended questions by WILS-AM morning host Dave Ackerly, who didn’t press for specifics. It was all very civilized but not very enlightening. The headline could be “Candidates say nothing but say it well.”
Which is understandable to some extent before this crowd. Business people are not looking for bomb throwers. So, the candidates may have taken the safe road.
Or is it that neither one has one exciting, challenging idea to offer? That’s possible, too.
They both came off as low-risk, consensus types on issue after issue.
For example, there’s the city’s biggest long-term issue, which is keeping out of bankruptcy over pension and healthcare legacy costs.
“We need to talk about the importance of addressing this issue head on and we need a plan,” said Schor, a state representative who plugged his appointment to the governor’s statewide task force on pension and healthcare. “We need to put this on the front burner.”
“It is one of the priorities” the City Council is working on, said At-Large member Brown Clarke, citing a $150,000 report expected soon on the topic.
Not exactly visionaries with a plan, either of them.
And, of course, “everything is on the table” when it comes to solving the problem. Including selling the Lansing Board of Water & Light? Well, let’s not get carried away.
Schor cited a poll that said 90 percent of Lansing opposes it, “so it’s not something I want to do.” Granted, he didn’t say he wouldn’t support it, and he declared himself “not worried about popularity.” But neither did he show much open-mindedness toward the idea.
Brown Clarke, on the other hand, didn’t qualify her “table” answer. The sale of the BWL is on it, period. Score one for the underdog for frankness, if not political correctness.
The biggest hot-button issue with voters is the deplorable condition of our roads and infrastructure. (Just today, City Pulse reported that the pavilion in Moores Park has been shut down as unsafe.) The reality is the city can’t begin to solve that problem without the state, which doesn’t have a solution either.
How to make a dent in a $250 million city streets problem? Schor wants to go neighborhood by neighborhood to find out “what’s the important streets that need to be fixed.” (Answer: Mine.)
Brown Clarke scored another point by bringing up the need for a street bonds issue, as Bernero has proposed for the November ballot. “We’ve got political will,” she asserted. “So now it’s a matter of going to our citizens to determine if we can get those dollars.” Schor was thoughtful in adding that “citizens have to be convinced” that the money would be spent on roads. But he stopped short of saying, “hell yes” on the bond issue. Maybe he think it’s a given that he supports it. Maybe it’s somewhere on his website. Where it needs to be front and present before an audience of business people. They needed to hear from Schor to stop complaining and start paying if you want this crippling problem fixed.
The debate missed some key issues, the foremost of which is marijuana. Pot for potholes is a legit idea on which the candidates need to be heard. The City Council is getting dangerously close to passing an ordinance that, if Bernero doesn’t veto it, will cripple the burgeoning medical marijuana business, costing jobs and property rentals, particularly on the south end, which is desperate for any kind of commerce.
More important, if we cave to reefer madness on medical marijuana, what’s going to happen when the real cash cow comes along: recreational? The chances are good that legalization will be on the ballot next year with an initiative that would tax recreational pot 16 percent. That’s going to result in hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue, with municipalities getting a 15 percent cut from what’s sold in their jurisdictions (and their counties getting another 15 percent).
That would fix a lot of roads and other problems that one or the other of these two candidates will be facing starting Jan. 1. They’d be wise to start convincing voters now that our city should embrace the new economy, not continue to shun it.
Council nixes proposal to shift management of remaining golf course
The Lansing City Council has shot down the Bernero Administration’s proposal to shift the city’s remaining golf course from the parks department to the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority.
“We’re not saying it can’t happen next year,” said Council Vice President Carol Wood, who presided over Monday’s meeting, when the Council voted 5-2 to keep Groesbeck Golf Course in the parks department. President Patricia Spitzley was out of town. Wood said the Council wants more time to vet the plan.
Councilwomen Judi Brown Clarke, a candidate for mayor, and Tina Houghton cast the votes to change the management. Brown Clarke she wanted to try a new approach to managing the course, which consumes 25 percent of the park millage every year.
“It was about creating equity and parity with the other parks by eventually freeing up that park millage money,” she said.
The administration proposal to shift the management to LEPFA came with no conversations with Council members. It also was not vetted by the Park Board, which is an advisory board overseeing the parks department, including spending.
Hampering the plan was the checkered history of LEPFA in managing the City Market, said Wood and others on the Council. The agency had promised to make the market self sufficient, Wood said, but instead is seeking an $80,000 subsidy for the underutilized facility.
“Right now it has three or four vendors,” said Wood. “The biggest is a bar. I believe we are subsidizing a bar.”
Kathie Dunbar, an At-Large Councilwoman who usually supports Mayor Virg Bernero, said she wanted to see a “business case” for the Groesbeck plan.
“I want to see the business case for moving it, with expenses and revenues (in numbers, not words) and how it will affect the park millage,” she said by text.
The only other change to the budget was a $30,000 shift from the fire department, which planned to use the money to purchase software, to two other budget items.
Instead, $15,000 would go into neighborhood grants and beautification programs, and $15,000 would be made available for small business facade improvement grants.
Bernero has until Thursday to decide whether to veto the changes. If he does, the Council would have to garner six votes to override that veto.