Lansing City Councilwoman Jessica Yorko, who represents the 4th Ward, was the sole vote against a key aspect of the Bernero administration’s casino proposal on March 19. She said she was heeding both her constituents’ wishes and her gut. She answered questions about it two days later on City Pulse’s radio show, which airs weekly at 7 p.m. Wednesday on 88.9-FM The Impact. The following has been edited and condensed. Berl Schwartz and Andy Balaskovitz interviewed her.
What are the objections of the people in the 4th Ward?
We heard a lot about both the pros and cons from everybody. But the kinds of things that ultimately led me to the vote I made were people in the 4th Ward saying, “Of course we want jobs, of course we want to see more children have college paid for — but this isn’t the way we want to do it.”
One of the first things I got quite a bit of contact about was that casinos have a loophole in Michigan’s smoke-free laws, and Ingham County was the first county in Michigan to attempt to adopt a smoke-free policy. When I talked to (City Attorney Brig Smith), his sense was that that would be a deal killer.
Another thing that resonated with me was that it’s not a guarantee that a casino is going to be successful. I found several casinos that have gone bankrupt this year in different parts of the country, and that some are so far into debt they’re closing or being partially built because their revenue isn’t what was projected. That kind of thing happens. I just feel like it’s a little bit different when it’s a casino.
One thing people liked about this casino is that the architectural drawings look very nice, but how would that work? You’ve got the City Market, and the river, and Accident Fund, and Lugnuts—to me, it didn’t seem like it fit with the other things that are there now. It’s just that gut feeling. A lot of people were telling me they had that gut feeling as well. I agreed with other people whose gut feelings said, “This isn’t the right location and maybe this isn’t right for Lansing at all.”
Do you have a gut feeling about what would be the right
No, I don’t.
Again, you were in the minority on Council: What is it that other members were hearing then? Is the 4th Ward so different? Of course, half the members represent the entire city, but they clearly got a different message.
I talked to Tina (Houghton) that day, on Monday, I talked to A’Lynne (Robinson)—even right up to the vote A’Lynne hadn’t made up her mind. Tina, when we talked earlier in the day, she was also unsure. I had reached out to Kathie (Dunbar) to have a conversation to see what she was thinking and we didn’t connect, I didn’t talk with her. But, I was surprised it wasn’t more split than it came out. I was surprised.
Have you heard from the mayor?
I actually talked with Virg for a couple of hours. He was wanting to know how I was going to vote. I said, “I don’t know yet, I have to sleep on it, I may not know until it’s time to take the vote tomorrow. I wish I could tell you with more certainty, but I don’t feel certain.” And I said, “No matter how I vote, I want you to know I’m not voting against you.”
I saw a message you put on Facebook on Tuesday morning that said you thought it should have gone out to a vote of the people. Why?
There’s a fine line between saying you want cover and you really want to know what the voters want. My boyfriend said, “You just need to vote and don’t cop out and put it on the ballot. People elected you. Just be a leader and just vote.”
Easy for him to say! Doesn’t he know there’s money at stake here? You’re paid such enormous wages for this job.
(Laughing) Exactly. And I said, it’s not so much that, it’s that I really think people need more time to process the information, do their own investigation, and know how they’re going to vote when they step into the voting booth, and know what they’re going to want. Because a lot of voters I think didn’t know what they wanted.
Do you think it would have passed if the public weighed in on it?
I really have no idea if it would have passed if the public would have weighed in. I was surprised at some of my constituents saying, “Yes, let it move forward,” and surprised at some of the reasons people said, “No, we can’t have this anywhere in Lansing.”
Some of them said, “We would like it, just in another location.” A lot of people referenced wanting to see it at one of the vacant General Motors sites, or somewhere that could really use a boost in activity, as opposed to downtown, which already has a lot of activity now.