At about hour three of the Lansing City Council’s banging-head-against-the-wall deliberations over its 2012 president, community observer Mary Reynolds assumed the seat at the head of the table where the eight Lansing City Councilmembers should have been and announced:
“They better hurry. I´m missing ‘Hawaii Five-O.’”
Someone else grumbled about cats that needed feeding. Another person was checking the score of the LSU/Alabama national championship football game.
Those watching the leadership sausage get made weren’t alone. The City Council members, haggard from hours of gridlock and in-and-out group meetings, were getting antsy.
It’s at about that time when A’Lynne Robinson, president for the last two years, of the “Kathie Dunbar” faction proposed a compromise to Councilwoman Carol Wood, the head of the “Carol Wood” faction, that would end a stalemate that had already resulted in a combined 13 tied votes and some bad headlines.
She proposed serving an unprecedented third-straight term as president in exchange for her support of Wood as vice president. The plan was that Robinson, Wood, Brian Jeffries, Derrick Quinney and Jody Washington would all vote in a five-person block for that leadership team.
Robinson had told me shortly before 11 p.m. that “yes” there was a deal and “yes” she was ready to vote.
The problem? The rest of the Dunbar alliance — Jessica Yorko and Tina Houghton — found the deal unacceptable. For one, they weren’t involved in the crafting of the idea. Second, nobody had ever been president of the City Council for an unprecedented three years and, besides, the Dunbar Three believed it was Dunbar’s time.
They also weren’t enamored with the idea of conferring power on Wood, the headache of political ally Mayor Virg Bernero. They also didn’t want Wood, the former mayoral candidate and full-time-but-part-time Councilwoman in charge of staffing decisions, fearing they would make the Council staff her staff.
Dunbar, seeing she had lost her fourth vote, reached out to Jeffries and Quinney to cut what she felt was the best deal she could make: agree to Jeffries for ‘12 in exchange for a promise that they would vote for her in ‘13. In the process, Dunbar needed to count on Jeffries not doing to her what former Council President Harold Leeman did to Jeffries in 2007: renege on his support of an alleged Council president agreement.
It’s always a risk to promise a future vote, but after Monday night’s Council meeting, Jeffries told me he would honor the deal with Dunbar, and Quinney told me he was “sticking to his word.”
Wood looked wide-eyed at Jeffries as Dunbar announced the deal at 11:30 p.m.
Robinson appeared blindsided. The walk to hand Jeffries the gavel was a slow one. Dunbar was forced to bury a lot of pride. She had served as the Council vice president — usually the steppingstone to being president — for the last two years and felt she had earned the presidency.
She just didn’t have the five votes to get it this year. But Dunbar’s former tight friendship with Quinney had burned down last year in a fight over a Pat Gillespie development project.
Neither Wood nor Councilwoman Jody Washington felt Dunbar’s sometimes crude routines as a part-time comic, particularly her “blowjob” comment at a gay pride rally, was unbecoming of a president. And Jeffries was tired of getting hosed by Bernero as a perceived minority member. He wanted the job.
The arrangement gives Jeffries control over the ‘12 Council agenda and an opportunity to work with Bernero closely in the run-up to both city officials’ re-election in 2013. In exchange, Jeffries agreed to give Dunbar some say in committee assignments and control over the staffing.
Obviously, the road to compromise wasn´t pretty, as is often the case. The drama dragged out over the weekend when the Dunbar faction’s proposed caucus arrangement got the thumbs down from Wood & Friends.
But while the worst Council president fight in years reminded some observers of schoolyard children and all the rest, the encouraging sign was that an agreement was made.
Jeffries and Quinney have already met with Bernero, the city’s mercurial mayor who allegedly is behind everything. Quinney and Washington are adamant about the Council not having “caucuses” and regular four-four split votes. They want to be independent votes on Council.
Dunbar and Jeffries exchanged a hug in the City Council chambers. After the final vote, they agreed to meet to hammer out committee assignments.
We could all wish upon a star that Bernero and Wood would meet and work together for a change, but that’s probably asking a little too much.
Let’s just be happy we got a City Council president.