July 20 2017 09:25 AM

Despite lead, Houghton faces hurdles; Yorko not going quietly

An incumbent could be in trouble in one of Lansing’s two City Council ward races, and an incumbent is making trouble in the other one.

In the 2nd Ward, indicators are that two-term Councilwoman Tina Houghton has serious competition as she faces the Aug. 8 primary Analysis election, which is the first of two rounds she has to win to keep her seat.

Publically available polling is incomplete in the 2nd Ward race. Only one poll, conducted by Denno Research and paid for by the dark-money group Michigan Citizens for a Better Tomorrow, has been released. It polled only for three candidates: Houghton, Jim DeLine, the former internal auditor for the Council, and Jeremy Garza, a licensed plumber with deep union support. The poll left out college student Jaron Green and neighborhood activist Julee Rodocker.

The Denno polling, with a small sample of 98 people, found that Garza would beat Houghton by double digits. His key support came from senior citizens, who vote in bigger numbers than younger age groups.

But the key finding was that 64 percent of the 2nd Ward voters polled weren’t committed to a candidate yet.

But another poll with a sample of 200 voters, which is not public, shows Houghton leading by 10 points but followed by Rodocker, then Garza. The poll, which includes all five candidates, shows Houghton under 50 percent, despite — or perhaps — because of her two terms.

That undecided vote in the Denno poll is a troubling sign for Houghton, said political consultant Joe DiSano. He is working for 4th Ward candidate Jim Mc- Clurken but no one in the 2nd.

“Those voters know her, or should know her,” he said. “That many undecideds means they haven’t bought into her brand.”

That brand, DiSano said, is one of being an “ally” of Mayor Virg Bernero and “aloof” when it comes to constituents. The tight relationship with Bernero could spell trouble for Houghton as well, Di- Sano noted, based on another question the Denno poll asked voters. That question asking if the city is on the right track found the city evenly divided into nearly thirds — 35 percent think the city is on the right track, 35 percent on the wrong track, and 30 percent did not know.

“As an incumbent, she’s part of the establishment,” DiSano noted. “That could be used against her.”

Another sign of a potential weakness?

Yard signs. While they don’t necessarily translate into votes, DiSano said, they do translate into visibility of where the candidate or their volunteers have been. And

in that game, Rodocker and Garza are definitely on the move, with Houghton behind.

“I believe she will come in second,” said DiSano.

From a broad view, the 2nd and 4th Ward races appear similar. Each ward has just over 20,000 registered voters. City Clerk Chris Swope said he expects turn out to be 13 percent to 16 percent citywide in the election, with as much as 60 percent of the votes cast coming from absentee voters. That’s important, since the majority of absentee voters are older voters with a more regular history of voting.

In 2009, the last time there was a contested primary in the 2nd Ward, 2,175 votes were cast in the primary. Houghton, then the challenger to incumbent Sandy Allen, came in second in the race then bested Allen for the seat in November.

In the 4th Ward, the last contested primary was in 2013. In that race, 2,551 votes were cast. That race featured incumbent Jessica Yorko being challenged by Chong Anna Canfora, with Yorko prevailing in the November general. Yorko trounced Canfora in that primary, 50 percent to just under 39 percent.

In the 4th Ward race, Yorko isn’t running, but she is not sitting it out either.

She has taken to sniping at McClurken on Facebook. Her latest post says he “is running on a platform of 1) bringing back Polaroid pictures 2) increasing utility rates, pollution and climate change 3) not paying city property taxes and defaulting on nearly $500k in loans while living in the biggest house in Lansing 4) disparaging American car makers and trying to convince our local auto workers of why they should never drive or buy American cars.” In April, she referred to him as a “pissy rich guy.”

Asked to explain her comment about Polaroid, which introduced a camera in the 1950s that produced its own photos, she would only say, “I have nothing against Polaroids.”

Yorko supports Brian T. Jackson, a local attorney and former assistant city attorney, against McClurken, who opposed her support for an electrical substation to be built in the Scott Center Park at Malcolm X Street and Washington Avenue.

But political consultant Thomas Morgan, of Morgan Communications, dismissed Yorko as having “little to no influence” over the 4th Ward.

Morgan, who is working for Garza in the 2nd Ward but no one in the 4th, has run successful Council campaigns for his mother-in-law, Jody Washington, and Washington’s son Adam Hussain.

Seven candidates are vying to replace Yorko, who withdrew for health reasons. The candidates in that race include Jackson, McClurken, vice chairman of the

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