Aug. 3 2012 12:00 AM

In redrawn county Commission districts, young and old Democrats looking to fill vacancies, unseat incumbents in primary


This story was updated Aug. 3.

The latest Census figures mean the Ingham County Board of Commissioners will look different next year with redrawn district boundaries and two fewer members, from 16 to 14.

While some districts now include voters in more than one jurisdiction, City Clerk Chris Swope said the redrawn boundaries are unlikely to influence the political makeup of the board.

“The county Board of Commissioners has been for a long time very heavily controlled by Democrats,” Swope, a former Democratic commissioner, said. “I don’t see that changing.”

Media reports from last May show that Republicans are upset over at least one district — the 7th, in south Lansing — being reconfigured to support Democrats. Former chairwoman of the Ingham County Republican Party, Linda Lee Tarver, told WILX-TV at the time that she considers it “gerimandering.”

On Tuesday, seven of 14 districts feature competitive primaries — six Democratic and one Republican. Compare that to 2010, when only one Democrat faced a competitive primary. Here are the candidates:

3rd District: South Lansing

This race took an interesting turn Sunday night after tips that Democratic candidate Joe McDonald, outreach coordinator for Mayor Virg Bernero, was allegedly telling senior residents on the south side that his opponent, 28-year-old Sarah Anthony, had dropped out of the race and they might as well vote for him.

Anthony, director of finance for the Michigan College Access Network, said it’s untrue that she had quit the race. Anthony also said she had heard from an “elderly woman in the Old Everett” area that McDonald had confronted her about telling people in the area to vote for Anthony.

McDonald denied both allegations: “This is patently untrue and strains credulity. My opponent has been actively campaigning throughout this election cycle as have I. I’m pleased that voters are overwhelmingly supporting my positive campaign," he said in an email regarding the claims that he was telling voters Anthony dropped out of the race.

As to the second, McDonald said: "This a complete fabrication by a desperate opponent. One can only guess what her next ridiculous claim will be."

McDonald, who is 46 and has been at Bernero’s side as an aide and chief of staff while the mayor was a state senator and representative, respectively, is in his first run for elected office. He says public safety is his top priority if elected in November.

Anthony was formerly a legislative assistant to state Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, and graduated from Everett High School. She wasn’t initially interested in running because she thought she’d have to run against Commissioner Dale Copedge with the way new district boundaries were drawn. When that wasn’t the case (Copedge is running for Bauer’s seat) — and after encouragement from neighbors and the African American faith-based community — Anthony jumped in the race.

Tuesday’s winner will face Republican Leslie Little in November’s election.

4th District: North Lansing and downtown

Democrat Catherine Mooney, 24, the youngest candidate for commissioner this year, is looking to unseat Debbie DeLeon, who was elected 12 years ago.

Mooney is the office manager at the Center for New Enterprise Opportunity, a Lansing startup business incubator launched recently by a group of young entrepreneurs. She has also worked for the Ingham County/Michigan State University Adolescent Diversion Project helping juvenile delinquents and for state Rep. Joan Bauer. She says her ability to get people to work together and avoiding the “ego of politics” sets her apart from her opponent. Her priorities include focusing “a little more heavily” on collaborations with the city; holding absentee landlords more accountable; and regional plans for public safety.

DeLeon, 58, chairs the board’s County Services Committee. She recently had a formal ethics complaint filed against her dismissed for an allegedly improper role in Road Commission personnel issues.

DeLeon is a retired state employee serving her sixth term on the Board of Commissioners, two of which as chairwoman. She cites her role in the board’s holding contractors accountable for following prevailing wage policies and in initiating hiring local-first policies as distinguishing qualities from her opponent. She also founded a local Youth County Commission.

The winner goes on to face Republican Vickie Nicklas in the general.

6th District: Holt, south Lansing

The only Republican primary takes place here between Randy Maiville and Renee Sumerix. The two are running to replace four-term commissioner Steve Dougan, who is running for Delhi Township treasurer because he thinks the Commission’s new district boundaries are unfair. 

Maiville, 48, is an engineer who served from 2003 to 2011 as Onondaga Township supervisor. He says his awareness of county issues — as supervisor and a township trustee — distinguishes him from Sumerix. Maiville’s main priority if elected in November is restoring funding for the Sheriff’s Department and to “facilitate the rebuilding process” of the Road Commission. Maiville did not support out-county millages in 2010 for road patrols and said he would wait for property taxes to rebound as a source for new funding rather than taxing voters.

Sumerix, 43, is an operation management consultant and a housekeeper. She also serves on the executive committee of the Ingham County Republican Party. She took third in the 2010, three-way 15th District primary to Commissioner Vince Dragonetti and Barry Damon.

Sumerix describes herself as fiscally conservative but “more independent” when it comes to balancing “big business versus big government.” If elected in November, she hopes to serve on the county Economic Development Board to help “make the entire area more open for business.”

The winner will go on to face former Board of Road Commissioners Chairman Jim Dravenstatt-Moceri in the general.

9th District: East Lansing, Meridian Township

Word is labor groups put up three candidates to challenge incumbents who they say have been less than friendly with votes on dissolving the Ingham County Road Commission and not reacting stronger to the city’s not rehiring seasonal workers for mowing.

The first is in the 9th District, where city of Lansing forester Irene Cahill takes on incumbent Carol Koenig.

Cahill, 56, ran for the Livingston County Commission when she lived there in 2002. She’s an active union organizer and a self-proclaimed “environmental activist,” serving on the board of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

Being a steward with the Teamsters Local 580, Cahill said organized labor “did encourage me to run,” but that “I’m not just a one-issue candidate. I’m multi-faceted.”

Koenig, 48, is an attorney serving her second term on the board. She points to the opening of a regional 911 center, the board’s aiding in educational opportunities for at-risk youth and its surface water monitoring programs as success. She said the board could improve its operations by “being more open, inclusive and cohesive and less swayed by special interests.”

The winner will face Republican Derek Drushel in the general election.

10th District: East side and southeast Lansing

Tim Russ is unapologetic about bleeding organized labor. The 39-year-old Sexton High School teacher is in his first race for elected office, but has been involved with union activism and politics “for many years.”

He said he was asked by friends in the labor movement to challenge incumbent Brian McGrain, who is part of the Democratic caucus that supposedly voted unfavorably on union interests. However, Russ said, “That’s not an issue for my campaign.” He vows to make sure the organized labor voice is “not ignored” if elected in November. “I don’t think it’s towing the line, it’s being consistent with my longstanding character.”

He believes the board should give preference to local contractors on county projects, “even if it means a small increase in cost.”

McGrain, 35, is in his second term. He serves on a variety of committees and commissions and on the board of the Ingham County Land Bank. He works full time as the associate director and chief operating officer of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, a nonprofit focused on neighborhood revitalization.

He called the claims about not supporting labor “incredibly false. I’ve always been a friend of labor. I think it’s crazy what they did.” He said the county is facing diminishing tax revenue, which makes things “very tense” at the bargaining table.

12th District: Southern Meridian Township

Which leads us to the third district in which organized labor recruited candidates to unseat an incumbent. Here, it’s 81-year-old James Ramey, a retired GM employee who is running “primarily” because he was asked to by the local UAW political action committee. This is Ramey’s first time seeking an elected position. He pointed to the Road Commission and seasonal workers issues as his main motivations for running.

Nolan, 63, is serving her fourth term on the board. She serves on the Finance Committee and also chairs the Human Services Committee. She called organized labor’s efforts a “misunderstanding” and when asked if she’d have handled the process any differently, she replied: “Absolutely not.”

The winner goes on to face Republican Alan Wolfe.

14th District: Cities of Mason and Leslie and Onondaga and Vevay townships

Tim Fischer, 36, is the deputy policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council and a fifth-generation beekeeper in Mason seeking his first elected office. Fischer says he’s worked on budgets “in a variety of positions” and is “intimately familiar” with how public policy is presented and passed. He has worked with commissioners in the past primarily on transportation issues.

The area, represented by Republican Don Vickers, is politically independent, Fischer said. “I don’t think it’s so much a Republican or Democrat thing but a Lansing and the rest of the county thing,” he added, saying he wants to bring a new voice for rural issues to the board, particularly out-county road patrols.

Fischer is being challenged by Kelli Green. She could not be reached for comment for this story. The winner of Tuesday’s primary goes on to face Vickers, who is seeking a second consecutive term and third overall.