Despite being “uncomfortable” with an image on a political mailer for his campaign, 4th Ward City Council candidate Jim McClurken approved it for release, triggering political criticism, the resignation of a political adviser and at least one high profile endorser rescinding her endorsement.
The fallout from the controversy is adding to McClurken’s uphill effort to defeat Brian Jackson to replace Jessica Yorko on the Council. McClurken garnered 952 votes, just over 26 percent of the total vote, in a five-way primary in August. Brian Jackson came in first with 1,591 votes, or nearly 44 percent.
The controversy has cost him the public support of Joan Bauer, a former City Councilwoman and state legislator. It also earned him criticism from Liz Boyd, who was Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s communications director.
The issue dogging his campaign is an image of six young men and women of different ethnicities. “Lansing’s criminals want Jim McClurken to lose” is plastered across the image.
“The image troubles me because to me it was pure stereotyping and fear mongering and together we would normally call that race baiting in a campaign,” said Emily Dievendorf, who was at one time identified as the campaign’s manager, but was referred to as an adviser in interviews.
She resigned from the campaign on Friday, citing concerns about the mailer. “In this case because the photo was of youth and the text talked about Lansing’s criminals, it implied Lansing’s youth and in this case our youth within the city that fit a certain stereotype of less affluent youth, primarily youth of color, were primarily responsible for Lansing’s crime. And that’s just not true.”
McClurken said he was happy with the text of the mailer, which stresses community collaboration to address the city’s crime issues, but is “deeply uncomfortable” with the image that was ultimately selected.
The latest FBI statistics for the combination of violent crime and property crime in Lansing showed a decrease of nearly 1.5 percent in 2015 compared to 2014.
Violent crime increased 4.3 percent. The actual increase was 55 crimes, increasing from 1,272 to 1,327. Those crimes include robbery, assault, rape and murder. On the other hand, property crime — such as burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson — dropped 3.5 percent in the same period, with 126 fewer crimes, dropping from 3,576 to 3,450. Combined, such crimes dropped from 4,848 to 4,777, or 71 crimes.
McClurken said political consultant Joe DiSano pushed to have an image on the mailer to “grab people’s attention.”
“I wanted a different image,” but he said he was pressed for time because of professional obligations and “didn’t follow it as carefully as I should have and authorized it without thinking. And once I have thought it through? I was deeply uncomfortable.”
McClurken rejected a previous image presented by DiSano, both men said in interviews. DiSano said the mailer was meant for as many as 2,500 absentee ballot voters in the 4th Ward. McClurken said he suspended some of the mailing as soon as concerns were raised.
DiSano is defending the image. “It’s a multiracial picture showing young people who are representative of possibly being criminal. I literally do not see what people are upset about. It is a picture of black, white and Hispanic people,” he said. “No particular race or gender is targeted here.”
But DiSano’s take is not how others are seeing it.
Boyd said she found the mailer image “offensive” and discussed her concerns with McClurken. She still intends to vote for him.
Bauer confirmed Monday night that she has asked McClurken to stop using her image or name to promote his candidacy.
“I did find it offensive,” said Bauer. It is not just Bauer, Boyd and Dievendorf condemning the mailer.
Peter Spadafore, a Lansing School Board member and candidate for an at large City Council seat, called the mailer “offensive” as well. While he had refrained from endorsing in the 4th Ward race, he has since placed a yard sign for McClurken’s opponent, Brian Jackson, in his yard.
“I would not let a silly image detract from the facts that are at play here,” he said of the mailer and the controversy. “The facts that some of the pearl clutchers don’t want to recognize the problem, that really kind of helps create the problem if you don’t want to acknowledge there is a problem.”
He said Lansing’s “political elite” would have found issue with any image he had used.
"Certainly I could have used a different image,” he said. “What this is, any image we would have used, people would have been upset about because it is designed to be provocative.”
He said criticism was coming from people who “live in a bubble” but the mailer was targeted toward residents who are “happy their door isn’t kicked in. That’s not something I expect the politicos to understand.”