Singh, Schmidt race to photo finish in 69th

For essentially four weeks of my life this spring, I authored the 170-page “MIRS’ 2012 Michigan Election Guide and Almanac,” a breakdown of all statewide political races in the state.

Early mornings, nights, weekends, I wrote candidate profiles and analyzed all 110 state House races taking place in the August primary and November general election. Not all 110 seats have competitive primaries. In fact, about only 40 do.

What I quickly discovered was that one of the state’s most competitive races is in the East Lansing/Meridian Township-based 69th House District featuring former East Lansing Mayor Sam Singh and Lansing Community College Adjunct Professor Susan Schmidt.

Initially, the conventional wisdom in Lansing was that this would be a walk for Singh. Elected to the East Lansing City Council in 1995 at age 24, Singh is the known commodity who folks in Lansing knew as the president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and that lucky SOB who took off a year of his life to travel around the world and blog about it.

He’s been active in the Democratic Party and has since racked up tons of endorsements — the UAW, SEIU, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and more than a dozen other groups — which doesn’t include the support of all the former and current elected officials.

One endorsement he hasn’t gotten, though, is that of the current office holder, term-limited Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, even though Meadows and Singh ran as a slate for City Council in 1995 with Doug Jester.

Meadows is showing loyalty to Schmidt, who’s been his chief of staff for years. On the campaign trail, she’s been making him proud. Before heading out to the doors on a 100-degree day, Schmidt said she’s on her second round of door knocks and has heard varying degrees of prognostication on her chances.

“You can win in a walk. … It’s going to be a tight race. … You’ve got your work cut out for you.”

“You sort it out,” Schmidt quipped to me.

What is a sure thing is the 55-year-old former East Lansing School Board president is working her tail off and has put herself in a position to win. It’s not that there’s much policy difference between the two. 

This is a race where the difference is one of experience. Singh has worked in the nonprofit, private and public sector. He’s been a member of a legislative body (the East Lansing City Council) and is passionate about making sure Michigan invests in its future through “reinvesting” in K-12 schools, universities and communities so the state can compete in the 21st Century.

Schmidt notes that she has the experience of working within the legislative system and knowing how the state House works. At the doors, she stresses that she wants to make sure legislators truly appreciate the impact that legislation has on everyday people, something that can get lost in policy and budget discussions. She is a parent and a former educator, who has a different set of life experiences than the recently engaged Singh.

She taught at Reo Elementary in Lansing from 1996 to 2007, specializing in learning disabilities and dyslexia. She served on the East Lansing School Board from 1999 to 2003, serving as president in 2001-02. Schmidt has also held an adjunct faculty position at LCC since 2009 in the Department of Transitional Learning.

She’s talking to the Michigan Education Association this week about a possible endorsement, which would be a notable win for the MEA member since some in the organization hope the MEA stays neutral in the race.

Meanwhile, Singh is working the doors hard, too, crossing paths with Schmidt once. His campaign team is seeing her out and about, as well. He’s on his second time around the 69th, having started walking the district in late March.

If he was the perceived front-runner going in, he hasn’t acted like it. Singh has said from the beginning of his campaign that he takes nothing for granted and is passionate about putting Michigan in a position to succeed economically.

His family immigrated to Michigan from India in the 1960s. He was active in student government at Michigan State University before being elected to the City Council, where he served 10 years.

At that time, he also led the Michigan Nonprofit Association. These days, he continues to work with nonprofits, including the New Economy Initiative.

The competitive nature of the race is now moving to the TV airwaves. Singh on Tuesday released his second TV ad. Schmidt announced Monday that she was up on local cable with an ad of her own.

Stay close to your TVs on Aug. 7. This could be a photo finish.