The news coming from Tuesday’s Lansing City Council filing deadline wasn’t who filed for office, but who didn’t.
Councilman Eric Hewitt, the first-term
member from the 1st Ward, opted against filing for re-election, creating
a wide-open, six-person race that features a former councilman, a
former state representative and several aggressive newcomers. The top
two will face each other in November.
Hewitt, a senior financial policy analyst
for the Department of Human Services, told City Pulse that "I’m looking
at taking this opportunity to focus on personal and professional
opportunities for advancement."
While some around City Hall took this as
code for "I don’t want to get clobbered in a re-election effort," I’m
told Hewitt is eyeing a promotion within DHS that could take him out of
the city. To avoid a potential future conflict, he opted against seeking
a second term.
Hewitt was a strident supporter of
Councilwoman Carol Wood, the chief critic of Lansing Virg Bernero, and
his absence could leave Wood without a rock-solid supporter outside of
Councilman Brian Jeffries.
The leading candidates in the 1st Ward
could not be categorized as people susceptible to lining up with Wood on
a regular basis. The frontrunner in the 1st Ward would appear to be
former state Rep. Lynne Martinez, whose long history in the city and
with the county commission gives her oodles of contracts to tap.
Former Council President Harold Leeman is
getting back into the race after losing his seat four years ago to
Hewitt by a handful of votes. The question won’t be Leeman’s name ID.
Nearly everybody in the ward knows Harold.
The question will be whether he’ll get
out and work in a race where some of the newcomers, like 25-year-old Joe
Manzella, the manager at the nonprofit Lansing Area Economic
Partnership, and Jody Washington, the vice president of the Eastside
Neighborhood Association, could out-hustle him. Leeman admitted to
dogging it on door knocking when he lost to Hewitt.
One of the six candidates, 35-year-old
Philip Damico, is a Sparrow Hospital laboratory technician for 11 years
who has served in leadership positions within his local union. Given a
choice between being classified as a Bernero or Wood supporter, Damico
said he that it would a tough choice but he’d pick Wood.
"I’d like to see what Carol would do," he said.
The final candidate, Sarah Surface-Evans,
is an anthropology professor at Michigan State University. She
describes herself as a non-politician who’s a "passionate advocate" for
the city of Lansing and "all of its potential."
Meanwhile, Wood will face a re-election
challenge of her own. Both Wood and Councilman Derrick Quinney are
running for re-election in the at-large races. For Wood, it would be her
fourth term. It would be Quinney’s second.
Both will have to run in a primary since five candidates
have filed for the two slots. (The top four will face each other in
November.) Rory Neuner, the network manager for the Safe Routes to
School project, has been out there the longest and is seen has having
the biggest headstart of the three challengers. Neuner already has
talked with Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar and is presumed to have the
support of Bernero in her bid to win one of the seats.
Tom Stewart is a relative newcomer to
Lansing. He is the CEO of a startup business consulting firm called
Common Wealth Enterprises and chairman of Downtown Lansing Inc.’s
Organization Committee. The Bath native has worked around Lansing for
the last six or seven years.
The final candidate, John Krohn, is a
musician who on the City Pulse radio show last week chronicled alleged
harassment by a Lansing police officer.
There will be no drama in the 3rd Ward in
the primary but plenty in the general. Incumbent A’Lynne Robinson will
be running for re-election against Jason Wilkes, an active member of the
Averill Woods Neighborhood Association.
Robinson was seen when she came into
office more than three years as a Wood ally and voted that way for her
first several months on the job. But since becoming the City Council’s
president, Robinson has broken away from the Wood alliance and been more
independent in her voting.
Wilkes is now seen as the Wood ally. A
lifelong resident of the Lansing area, Wilkes works for a Tier 1
supplier in town and is active in the UAW. A graduate of Grand Ledge
High School, Wilkes is now a team leader for the Averill neighborhood
association who has arranged community events for the area.
With his connections in the community,
Wilkes is seen as a formidable candidate who will give Robinson a solid
run. Incumbency isn’t necessarily a huge advantage either. Remember
Robinson knocked off incumbent Bill Matt in 2007 to get her post in the
With only around 15,000 people expected
to participate in the general and maybe half that for the primary, these
races are close by nature.
And, as of Tuesday, the starting gun has been fired. These races are on.
(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)