The chips are “all in” in the Texas hold- ‘em game that is this year’s race for Fourth Ward, Second Ward and At-Large seats on the Lansing City Council.
In the Second Ward we have 72-year-old incumbent Sandy Allen who is being challenged by three people, and in the Fourth Ward there’s a hurricane of candidates including a walking and biking activist, a LGBT activist, a local football coach legend and a former state House candidate.
In the At-Large race, Brian Jeffries and Kathie Dunbar will seek reelection but will face a local newspaper publisher, a parks board member, a guy who doesn’t like the “obstinate” members of Council, a man who ran for Council in 1993 and … perhaps the biggest surprise of the Tuesday’s filing deadline: a former Councilman from the First Ward whose last name rhymes with “sea men.”
Today marks just the beginning of the race. After the Aug. 4 primary, the candidates will be whittled to two each in the wards and four in the At-Large race.
Rina Risper, publisher of the New Citizens Press, got out early, filing her candidacy in January. She has said she will run on issues of community and health care. She won’t pick a “side,” but was at At-Large Councilwoman Carol Woods mayoral campaign kick-off in February.
Outsider Greg Frens filed Tuesday after declaring at Monday night’s Council meeting he would run to beat whichever Council member voted against a Mayor Virg Bernero-backed plan to sell the North Capitol parking ramp to Lansing Community College. He’s not sure whether he’ll run, saying he would decide this weekend, but he filed paperwork just in case.
Harold Leeman is back. He lost his First Ward seat to Eric Hewitt in the 2007 and a run for the Ingham County Board of Commissioners last year. Leeman, who served on Council between 1995 and 2007, filed Monday afternoon.
“Its been 15 months since I left; they dont know what theyre doing,” Leeman said.
Shelton “the meat man” Phillips (he sells meat and seafood door-to-door) filed Monday, too. He ran for Council in 1993, he said, to face his fears.
Phillips said that he wants to be a voice of the people and improve activities for youth. He promised not jump into a City Hall camp.
Michigan State University worker Tina Houghton also filed late Tuesday. She’s a member of the city Parks Board and spends her free time working helping out with youth athletics. Parks Director Murdock Jemerson said Houghton has been on the board since 2007 and that her term expiers in 2011.
Dunbar won her seat in 2005 by just 25 votes over Bob Johnson, who was eventually appointed head of the Planning and Neighborhood Development Department. Since then, shes been a supporter of Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. Her successes include a human rights ordinance, but she got criticized last winter for a proposed snow-removal ordinance that some Decker said would financially impact seniors and the disabled.
Jeffries was first elected to Council in 2002. Hes been active in neighborhoods but clashes with the administration. For example, in early 2006 Bernero called him a nasty word for trying to stall the appointment of Bob Trezise as head of the city’s Economic Development Corp.
Sandy Allen is facing three challengers and thinks the interest in her seat is good because it shows there are “more and more people who want to get involved in the process.”
Allen is a believer in Redman the Bernero administration’s economic development philosophy that building up the city’s core will ripple to the rest of the city. But her challengers dispute that.
At Monday nights Council meeting, Jimmie Curran, Sr. said dur- Lewless ing public comment that Lansing’s south side has been forgotten. He apologized to Allen, and said he would run. Curran filed Tuesday morning.
Bryan Decker, a state worker, asserts that Allen under-represents the Second Ward, citing ongoing problems with a CATA bus turnaround on Edgewood Boulevard.
"Anyone can run, but I think I can do the people good," he says.
After losing to Allen in 2007, restaurateur and real estate investor Jonathan Solis is running again, pledging more aggressiveness this time. He wants to secure a community center for the south side, fill empty storefronts and stop what he sees as the neglect of the ward.
Local attorney and 2006 state House candidate Chris Lewless declared his candidacy early this year and is reluctant to align himself with any City Hall faction.
But he’s making some members of Council leery. One Council member, typically aligned with Bernero, expressed doubt in his strength as a candidate and said that other candidates could beat him. Another Council member, seen as anti-Bernero, said much the same. State worker and LGBT community activist Cindy Redman filed Tuesday. She sees herself as having similar politics as the mayor but doesn’t put herself in a camp. What she wants is to make Council more cohesive.
"Theyre pretty dysfunctional right now," she said. Tom Truscott, whom one source described as a "Lansing legend," filed as well. The Moores River Drive resident has been inducted into a local sports hall of fame for his work as a football coach at Potterville and Sexton high schools. He hopes to improve Lansing by making it more comfortable, which he acknowledges is hard to do with a fighting Council. Thats where his coaching experience comes in. “When selfishness ends, greatness begins. Its amazing what people can do when they stop caring about who gets the credit,” said Truscott, father of Lansing PR man John Truscott.
Jessica Yorko, a west side resident and walking and biking activist, filed Tuesday to run for the Fourth Ward. Yorko, who works at the Northwest Initiative, has worked with Dunbar on a few issues, mostly related to making Lansing more walk-and-bike friendly. Despite the connections, Yorko says she doesnt want to be perceived as a member of any team. Kaltenbach has signed on to be her campaign treasurer.
“Im on team Lansing," she says, but adds that her vision of the place she wants to call home "connects pretty closely" with the Bernero’s.
Late Tuesday, Dennis Burdick, a Verlinden Avenue resident, filed. Not much is known about Burdick except that in 2002 he ran as a precinct delegate in the Fourth Ward.
What’s it all mean?
Todd Cook of the political consulting firm Main Street Strategies thinks that Sandy Allen is ripe to be picked off this year.
"Shes gone back and forth between the factions on City Council," he said, which would likely mean Allen would not get support from either camp.
In the At-Large races, Cook says Jeffries and Dunbar have to be seen as the frontrunners. Jeffries for his experience in tough races and Dunbar because she has proved she belongs on Council.
As for Leeman, Cook said that in local races, passion and hard work "go a long way," and Leeman — whom he says was "outworked" in his last two races — will have to put his nose to the grindstone.
As for the Fourth Ward, there could be a few surprises. Calling the residents of the ward "politically astute," Cook says Truscott could make a run based on his community involvement and roots in the city. Likewise, Redman could tap into the LGBT community to rack up some votes.
In the end, he predicts, it will come down to Lewless and Yorko.
Lewless showcased his ability to hustle by getting 1,651 in the 2006 House primary, which he lost to eventual winner Joan Bauer, who got 2,725 votes in the primary. Yorko is a likeable community organizer, and that makes her a tough opponent, he said.
Only one thing is really certain: "Its going to be a long, hot summer," he said with a laugh.
Correction: A sentence in an earlier version of this story was corrected to "For example,
in early 2006 Bernero called him a nasty word for trying to stall
the appointment of Bob Trezise as head of the city’s Economic