Aug. 10 2017 10:19 AM
Lansing mayor's race

Schor’s huge victory leaves Brown Clarke with little room to win — and much to lose

(Editor’s note: City Pulse and ACD.net will host a debate between state Rep. Andy Schor and Councilwoman Judi Brown Clarke at the Lansing Brewing Co. at 6 p.m. Sept. 28.)

Judi Brown Clarke is facing a life-defining choice. At the losing end of a lop sided primary outcome, that choice could dictate whether she has a political future in Lansing or if she becomes relegated to history as an also ran.

The choice? Fight on, getting nasty and going “nuclear,” as some political experts said, or back off, continuing to raise her profile with voters in an effort to lay the groundwork for a future run for another office.

As expected, state Rep. Andy Schor came in first in a field of five candidates. But his win was unexpectedly large. With all precincts reporting, Schor won over 68 percent of the vote. Brown Clarke, an at-large Councilwoman, finished a distant second at 23.3 percent. (See complete results on this page.) Schor’s victory is the biggest mayoral primary spread since former Mayor David David Hollister beat Eugene Buckley by a 59-point margin in 2001 in a field of four candidates.

“The results are in — and they’re pretty good,” Schor said, drawing a laugh from the crowd at his election night party at the Nuthouse in downtown Lansing.

“But this is a primary,” he said. “We have three months. We keep the foot to the gas. We keep sharing our vision,” he added. “People are excited for the new Lansing.”

Brown Clarke, marking the night at home, didn’t make a formal statement. But in an interview, she said it was a victory to come in second.

“His name is larger, he’s doing strong,” she said about Schor. “For me, it’s about looking at the analytics. Where is he resonating? You have to do the demographics by age and race within the wards and precincts. Right now I can’t wait to get to the data.”

“It’s a win in my world,” she added. “The top two that proceed on, you’ve won the ability to go on. That’s a win in my book.

“Now that we’re down to two, it gives people a chance to look at our skills and styles and see the differences between what we bring to the table.”

Brown Clarke would need to defy recent history to overcome Schor. Since 1993, election data from City Clerk Chris Swope shows that no candidate for mayor who finished second in the primary has gone on to win the general.

“She could run for countywide office,” said Mark Grebner, a local election guru who who serves as a county commissioner from East Lansing.

“She has a bright future in politics,” said state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-Meridian Township.

But that future could hang on her choices in the coming weeks. With a deficit like hers, she can either go completely negative, the political equivalent of a nuclear war, or she can slow down.

“I think she can do either,” said Thomas Morgan, who ran successful campaigns for two Council candidates. “But I think it would be best for her to take a few more vacations, than the other.”

Indeed, Grebner noted if she wants county office, or even to fill Schor’s seat in the Legislature, she’s “going to need friends in the Mayor’s Office.”

With the vote gap in place, Brown Clarke is also going to face a more significant issue: funding.

“No one is going to want to throw good money after bad,” said Morgan.

Indeed, in February, Brown Clarke said she expected to raise and spend $150,000 in her bid for the top political office in the city. She raised only $60,000 and has just under $10,000 on hand. Without money, she has no way to get her message out, particularly when facing Schor’s campaign chest of over $133,000, which is only bound to grow as special interests smell victory.

Schor essentially vacuumed up the major campaign dollars in the primary, racking up endorsements from unions and the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce alike.

Although Brown Clarke hopes to be both the first woman and African American to win the Mayor’s Office, Grebner said she can’t count on identiy politics to do so.

“Lansing isn’t like Flint anymore,” said Grebner. “You know you can tell which candidate was going to win, the black or the white one, based on who went to the polls in the Flint. That’s just not the case here.”

Look for Brown Clarke to push forward in this election with a message challenging, but perhaps softly, Schor on his no-stand issues like regulating medical marijuana. While she has introduced some proposed regulations that have been included in the draft of the regulation ordinance the Council will consider next week, Schor has steadfastly declined to comment on any version of draft regulations the city has considered.

“I want to look at what is in place come January,” if he is elected, he said.

In fact, many of his answers are about studying various questions — from how to deal with the longterm debt problem, to whether to sell the Board of Water and Light (though here he has leaned toward the far more popular anti-selling side), to how to fund the city’s crumbling roads and sidewalks. One specific: He will hire someone in the Mayor’s Office to formally take on constituent concerns.

For her part, Brown Clarke, a Silver Medalist at the 1984 Olympics, has been focusing on one of her core strengths: science-related employment. As diversity director for the BEACON Center at MSU, she has access to the scientists who are creating the technology of tomorrow. She understands the impact the FRIB at MSU is going to have, and she promises she can harness the findings there into high-tech, high-paying jobs.

Which direction the General election takes and Brown Clarke’s political future rest on the decisions she makes in the coming days. An attack on Schor might be her only path to beating him — but more likely it would be her undoing for higher office.

Regardless of the outcome on Nov. 8, Brown Clarke said she will continue in public life.

“Absolutely. I love being in the position of building, growing and supporting my community. I see my ability and skills to try and help assist growing this region. I’ve got the bug.”