July 27 2011 12:00 AM

A strong field of five 1st Ward candidates will be narrowed to two

Regardless of how the Tuesday primary and Nov. 8 general
Lansing City Council elections pan out, come Jan. 1, a new face on the
dais will sit at the 1st Ward seat.

Since the aftermath of the Council’s vote
in October on the downtown Market Place project, the 1st Ward Council
race filled up with a strong field of both newcomers and political
veterans. The field is: Philip Damico, Harold Leeman, Joe Manzella,
Lynne Martinez and Jody Washington.

Eric Hewitt, who was elected to the 1st Ward post in 2007
by 17 votes, decided against running for re-election in May to pursue
“personal and professional opportunities for advancement.” Hewitt is a
senior financial policy analyst for the state Department of Human

Hewitt’s departure marks an opportunity for Mayor Virg
Bernero to gain a supportive vote on Council. Hewitt has been critical
of Bernero’s ideas of “regionalism,” namely the proposed Waverly Road
sidewalk project that’s mostly in Lansing Township. Hewitt also opposed
the administration’s plans to propose selling about 12 acres of the
former Red Cedar Golf Course for redevelopment. Hewitt told City Pulse
in May that Bernero is trying to sell Lansing voters — who would
ultimately approve or deny selling the 12 acres — on a “vision” for the
golf course. “It’s the fantasy of a deranged, narcissistic maniac,”
Hewitt said of Bernero’s plan.

Todd Cook, political strategist with Lansing-based Main
Street Strategies, believes Washington and Martinez will emerge as
winners Tuesday based on hard work and name recognition.

“Jody has by all accounts been very aggressive at doors
and face-to-face,” Cook said. “Lynne has been out there maybe not as
much but has the advantage of past history.”

Martinez, 63, served more than 15 years as an Ingham County commissioner and a state representative.

While former City Councilman Harold Leeman, 53, served 12
years as the 1st Ward representative before losing to Hewitt in 2007,
Cook said there’s a “point of diminishing returns of having your name on
the ballot” so many times. Leeman ran unsuccessfully for an At-Large
seat in 2009, taking fourth in the General Election. However, Leeman was
the only 1st Ward candidate to receive a campaign contribution from
Bernero, who donated $100 in May. Another notable contributor was Neogen
Chairman and CEO Jim Herbert, a staunch opponent of medical marijuana
dispensaries on Michigan Avenue, who gave $100. Leeman has said that
dispensaries on Michigan Avenue have had both positive and negative
effects. He is more critical of the way the political process worked in
the days leading up to the Council’s vote on dispensary regulations.
“You had all sides working together and at the last minute the public
relations firm of Kelly Rossman and others did a number on the whole
process,” Leeman said on “City Pulse on the Air.”

Cook said he hasn’t seen Manzella, who is 25 and in his
first campaign for elected office, “do the kind of work you have to do
in this kind of race — the shoe-leather stuff.” 

By that, he means aggressively knocking on doors, and said
the same goes for Leeman: “I don’t think Harold’s campaign has
surprised anyone. Anecdotally, I haven’t seen Harold” knocking on doors.

Washington, 55, landed a valuable endorsement from the
Greater Lansing Labor Council — which represents more than 40 labor
unions — and led the 1st Ward field in campaign contributions, though
nearly two-thirds of it was her own money. She raised $4,800, nearly
$3,000 of which she donated to the campaign. She did pick up support
from At-Large Council members Brian Jeffries ($150) and Derrick Quinney
($100), and also Ingham County Commissioner Debbie DeLeon ($50).
Washington was the only 1st Ward candidate to receive contributions from
Jeffries and DeLeon, while Leeman also received $25 from Quinney.

Manzella was a close second to Washington in fundraising
and started collecting in early December. Some of Manzella’s largest
contributions came from the business community: Chris Potterpin, an
asset manager with the Great Lakes Capital Fund, gave $490; Kevin
Schoen, CEO of ACD.net, gave $400; Ryan Vartoogian, president of
downtown Lansing-based Spartan Internet Consulting, gave $300; Greater
Lansing Business Monthly publisher Chris Holman and developer Sam Eyde
each gave $100.

Manzella, a manager of regional programs
at the Lansing Economic Area Partnership and REO Town resident,
committed to the race in October following the City Council’s vote to
reject tax incentives for developer Pat Gillespie’s downtown Market
Place project. The Council’s tie vote denied Gillespie the incentives
because the developer had not reached any form of labor agreement with
local unions. Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosmarie Aquilina eventually
ruled that the Council could not legally block incentives for that

Martinez, who raised a little more than
$3,000, depended largely on small donations from 52 contributors. The
largest amount came from Ingham County Deputy Drain Commissioner Paul
Pratt, who gave $300.

Philip Damico, a 36-year-old laboratory technician at
Sparrow Hospital, called himself a “servant of the people” and is the
only 1st Ward candidate who did not support the millage increase. He
also didn’t vote in the special election in May in which the millage
increase was rejected. Damico has said city department heads, or “top
brass,” should “lead by example” and take pay cuts before asking voters
to increase the millage rate. (Last year, city employees took a 10
percent pay cut through furlough days as part of the fiscal year budget
that expired June 30 and those continue this fiscal year.) Damico filed
for a financial reporting waiver in May because he didn’t plan on
raising more than $1,000.

Even though former 1st Ward candidate Sarah Surface-Evans dropped out of the race in June to pursue a new job opportunity, her name will still appear on ballots Tuesday because she did not withdraw from the race before the May 13 deadline.

City Clerk Chris Swope estimates voter turnout will be between 8 percent and 10 percent, or between 6,500 and 8,300 people. As of Friday, nearly 2,600 absentee ballots had been returned. Since 2007, the last non-mayoral Council election year, the number of registered voters in the city has dropped by nearly 6 percent, from 87,000 to 82,375. For more information on how to submit an absentee ballot and where to vote, visit www.lansingmi.gov/clerk