March 30 2011 12:00 AM

Like father, like daughter? Young Bernero testing political waters



The name "Bernero" may be showing up again on another ballot near you. This time the first name accompanying the well-known surname won’t be "Virg." It would be Kelly.

Kelly Bernero, the Lansing mayor’s oldest daughter, is making the political rounds, gauging support for a possible 2012 run for the state House for the seat held by term-limited Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing.

The 23-year-old showed up at a recent Ingham County Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel Jr. fundraiser and later introduced herself to a local church group. Dad has made some calls on her behalf, too, asking local leaders to keep their "powder dry" on endorsements until his daughter makes up her mind on a run.

Will she do it? At this point, observers say she’s leaning toward it. If she does, a source close to the situation tells me it will because she wants to run, not because her father put her up to it.

Efforts to reach her for comment were unsuccessful.

The East Lansing High School graduate has the political bug. She’s campaigned with her father since her youth, knowing a good deal more about the city’s neighborhoods and precincts than your average resident. She’s knocked on doors for her dad. She has spoken as a surrogate for him at functions and has willingly followed the same type of political track her father jumped on after he graduated from Adrian College.

By all reports, she’s politically passionate and knows how to ring for dollars, having done so for her dad’s gubernatorial campaign. In high school, she was a congressional page, having been sponsored by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing. She majored in political science at the University of Michigan.

Yet, she’s her own person, choosing to miss much of father’s gubernatorial primary campaign to attend the University of Cape Town for a spell last spring. She returned in time for the General.

Currently, she’s an advocacy intern at Great Lakes Capital Fund and a membership representative for the Society of Environmentally Responsible Facilities.

The current 68th House District will look different after the Republican legislature gets done carving up new districts later this year, but the odds are the city of Lansing will be largely covered by one state House district and the Berneros will be in it.

Is this a case of the Lansing mayor "empire building?" That’s a concern some have shared with me. It also may be a case of a politically savvy young adult striking when her last name is fairly popular.

A Public Policy Polling survey found Bernero with a two-percentage point lead on Gov. Rick Snyder if a gubernatorial rematch election were held this month. If history is any indication, Snyder’s popularity numbers are sure to shrink within the next 18 months, which could help her in a Democratic primary.

If she were to run at age 24 next year, she wouldn’t be the youngest state representative. She’d be three years older than when now-Sen. Joe Hune won his first election in nearby Fowlerville back in 2002. She wouldn’t even be the youngest female. Rep. Andrea LaFontaine in Macomb County was elected last year at age 23.

Bernero would have her work cut out for her in a Democratic primary, however. Ingham County Commissioner Andy Schor is all in and has oodles of contacts across the county and the city. He’s holding a fundraiser at the end of next month. He’s tentatively planning a second one in June at the home of state Insurance Commissioner Ken Ross and real estate agent Brian Huggler.

Lansing City Council President A’Lynne Robinson and Lansing City Councilman Derrick Quinney are possibilities for a ’12 run, too. But their first concern needs to be nailing down re-election this year in the Third Ward and an at-large seat, respectively.

If the two are interested, neither can be raising money for it until next year. In theory, that could hurt their chances. On the other hand, they’ll be knocking doors in Lansing this year, which should help with name ID.

Robinson lives in the 67th House District, represented by term-limited Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, but she may be drawn into the current 68th through redistricting so her name needs to be in the mix, too.

Former WILS-AM morning radio personality Walt Sorg is talking to people too.

There may be more. Six Democratic candidates tried to succeed then-Rep. Michael Murphy in 2006. And one in the ’06 race was the offspring of a former Lansing mayor. Had he not shared a similar profile with an aggressive Chris Lewless, Jerry Hollister might have won.

It’s all something young Bernero will have to think about as she makes up her mind.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at melinn@