March 16 2011 12:00 AM

A survey of First Ward residents as four City Council candidates’ names are floated in this year’s race


Medical marijuana dispensaries and the “Mary Jane Mile.” Redeveloping REO Town. What to do with Groesbeck Golf Course?

These are just a few of the issues brewing in Lansing’s First Ward, which broadly makes up the northeast quadrant of the city, from the Grand River to the west to about U.S. 127 to the east.

And 2011 is an election year, with two At-Large City Council seats and the First and Third Ward seats up for grabs. It’s early — candidates have until May 10 to file — but already four names are being floated as First Ward contenders.

Councilman Eric Hewitt confirmed he is seeking re-election. Joe Manzella, manager of regional programs at the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) Inc. and the only First Ward contender under 40, is passing out “Joe Manzella for Lansing City Council, 1st Ward” business cards. And City Council veteran Harold Leeman — who lost reelection by 17 votes to Hewitt in 2007 in what Leeman calls “a fluke” and a “quite dirty” campaign — confirmed he’s running again.

The only candidate not 100 percent committed to the race is former state Rep. Lynne Martinez, D-Lansing, but she says she is debating between a First Ward and an at-large campaign.

Perhaps more relevant at this point is what First Ward residents think of the job Hewitt has done since 2007 and what they hope to see in a new candidate. Of 14 people surveyed, six wanted to see a new First Ward Council member, two were satisfied with the job Hewitt is doing and six had no opinion either way.

Madeleine Linn, who lives on the east side, was picking up her neighbor’s mail as a favor Monday afternoon when approached about the upcoming City Council race. She cringed at the mention of Hewitt.

“I think he’s a jerk,” Linn said, who moved to Foster Avenue about 12 years ago from the Moores River Drive area.

“Capital J-E-R-K,” she spelled it out. “He doesn’t answer his phone. He doesn’t like me, and I don’t like him.”

Linn, a self-described Democrat, wants to see a Council member who will not just be a talking head.

“I want to see something more than saying ‘we will do this’ or ‘we will do that.’ I want to see something about jobs,” she said. “We are a manufacturing town. Not everyone can go to college. We need these technical people.

“We need someone who is a doer. Someone who is going to kick up some dust and keep moving,” she said.

Linn also had concerns about rent-to-own housing in her neighborhood and the effect it would have on neighborhood property values. She added that she “wouldn’t mind a couple two or three” medical marijuana dispensaries along Michigan Avenue, but “how many shops do we need?” she asked.

“(Dispensaries) are not a neighborhood place. I’d like to see some activity like when I was growing up,” she said.

On Sunday afternoon, the Greater Lansing Medical Marijuana Business Association — a collection of about 20 to 30 dispensary owners — held its third meeting at Gone Wired Caf, 2021 E. Michigan Ave. The group is working to draft an ordinance to regulate dispensaries in the city that it can present to the City Council. It is also keenly aware that it’s an election year.

“I know the medical marijuana community will be voting against Eric Hewitt,” said Ryan Basore, the group’s treasurer and co-founder of Capital City Caregivers, 2208 E. Michigan. “His tone from the start has been that this has been a ruse for drug dealers to hide behind a medical law. We’re looking for some change.”

The group’s chairwoman, Robin Schneider, who owns Capitol City Compassion Club, 2010 E. Michigan, said, “I’m on that like a laser beam,” referring to the First Ward race.

Brant Johnson, secretary of the group, said the medical marijuana community is serious about getting its voice heard at a city level. “If we can’t have input (on an ordinance), we’ll put people on City Council who will.”

But not all First Ward residents or business owners harp on Hewitt.

Lorenzo Roberts, 47, who moved into the neighborhood just west of Groesbeck Golf Course three months ago, says he has no complaints of First Ward living.

“We moved from the south side of town. It seems to be a pretty good neighborhood,” he said.

Roberts said he had “no complaints” when asked about Hewitt. “Lansing is pretty cool. I have no problems with him.”

However, Nikki Poprawa, a 30-year-old teacher who is going back to school for her master’s in special education, lives on Indiana Avenue, less than a block away from Roberts. She has a 3-year-old son.

“This is not a neighborhood I want him to grow up in,” Poprawa said, adding that she didn’t vote for Hewitt in 2007. “He (Hewitt) doesn’t have the same beliefs I have.”

Poprawa is a renter and said she notices a “lot of foreclosed homes” in her neighborhood, “drug problems a couple blocks over and cars racing up and down the street a lot.”

“If that’s a Council member’s job (to keep that from happening), then he’s not doing that,” she said.

In the southwest corner of the First Ward in REO Town, Mary Eckart says Hewitt doesn’t make himself known to his constituents.

“I have been disappointed. I haven’t even noticed he’s our ward person,” she said.

Eckart, a 12-year Fountain Place Apartments resident, said she is excited Manzella is running for Hewitt’s spot on Council. Manzella is a REO Town resident also. “I like the idea that someone real active in the community is active in running for a Council seat.”

Eckart is interested to see how REO Town develops as the Board of Water and Light opens the new cogeneration plant there and plans advance to reconfigure Washington Avenue.

“I know the First Ward is bigger than REO Town,” she said. “But there’s a lot riding on what goes on here.”