City Pulse wishes to thank the members of our first-ever Candidate Interview Committee. Their thoughtful questions contributed to a better understanding of the issues this election season. They were Karl Biassi, Joan Bauer, Gretchen Cochran, Lorenzo Lopez, William Morris, Linda Pung and Walt Sorg.
OK, yeah, he is not perfect. His personal flaws are well known and he’s not always right on the issues (like Niowave and St. Petersburg. Really, you’re worried about diplomatic relations with Russia but not with the Walnut Neighborhood Organization or the 10th Floor?). He still hasn’t delivered on his campaign promise from when he first ran to make public information easier to get from the city. He fed the impression of being self-serving when he ran for governor three years ago after having just promised that if re-elected mayor, he’d stick around.
But as he puts it himself: “I’m rough around the edges, I’m gritty.”
And as he adds: “That’s what a good mayor has to be today.”
A good one he is. He has brought sound fiscal management to the city despite facing deficit after deficit. Crime is down. Jobs are up: Accident Fund, Jackson National Life, Blue Cross Blue Shield, GM and more supply the evidence. Downtown looks far better today than four and eight years ago. REO Town is making a dramatic comeback. He kept Davenport University not just in the city but downtown. He finds ways to unify diverse interests: Look at his coup this year in bringing together the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and the UAW to back him and his slate of City Council candidates.
Now the economy is looking up. For the first time in office, he may well have a surplus. That bodes well for tackling the big problems on Cedar Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The Red Cedar Golf Course/Frandor development will bring a big boost to the east end of town. Hopefully, he’ll make progress on the old dream of a cultural arts center. At a Preservation Lansing event at Eastern High School, he talked openly about how perhaps it could be converted for that purpose. He dreams big — but given the results he has achieved, they are not daydreams.
On Tuesday, we encourage voters to support Virg Bernero for a third term.
Lansing City Council
More important than voting for Bernero, whose re-election is a lock, is voting against At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries, who could be defeated. We don’t agree with Bernero’s assessment that he is a “terrible Councilman.” We applaud Jeffries for holding up a tax break for Niowave until it did something about that ridiculous pole barn. And we don’t have a problem with what his critics think is a lawyer’s overemphasis on detail. We need someone who points out that a developer is violating an executive order by owing back taxes to the city.
If those were representative of Jeffries’ performance, we’d support him. But what we have seen instead is opposition to common sense. Trying to make corporations such as Jackson National Life and developers like Pat Gillespie jump over higher hurdles than other communities with a bid transparency ordinance is inviting them to expand and build in other communities. Jeffries’ critics accuse him of being in the pocket of the building trades, and his actions certainly don’t argue against that. The economy is improving — but people are still desperate for jobs here. This is not the time to be driving away development.
Jeffries also opposed the badly needed public safety millage twice (and tries to have it both ways by telling voters that once the Council approved it, he endorsed it). He opposed a $500,000 grant to improve Francis Park and build a badly needed sidewalk in the Moores Park neighborhood.
Jeffries argues that for the most part he supports the administration — but too often on the big issues, particularly development, he has sided with Councilwoman Carol Wood, whose mantra remains, “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”
Therefore, in the races for two At-Large seats, we support incumbent Kathie Dunbar and newcomer Judi Brown Clarke.
Dunbar, who is seeking her third term, has been a stalwart Bernero supporter (who professes to disagree with him privately at times — but how would we know?). That’s no small matter, given the mayor has only three votes on which he can rely on the eight-member Council. Without Dunbar, the mayor’s ability to veto — critical this year to the budget — will be lost. She has her critics, who find her flamboyance and potty mouth hard to take. But we say, WTF? She does her part-time job well.
Clarke, who works for the National Science Foundation at MSU, has appeared out of nowhere on the political scene. She is smart (and well educated, with a Ph.D.), determined (she won a Silver Medal in the 1984 Olympics) and sophisticated, having had a broad professional career. Her sense of humor will be welcome — as a recent empty nester, when she saw it was just going to be her at home with her husband, District Judge Hugh Clarke, she thought it was time to run for office. She promises to combine teamwork and civility with a low tolerance for wasting time — a good combination on a Council that takes too long to make decisions. While she has somewhat distanced herself from Bernero in the campaign, we expect she will be openminded to the administration.
In the Fourth Ward, we strongly support Jessica Yorko for reelection. She has stood with the mayor on most fronts (but opposed him on the casino). She has led the city to make its streets safer and friendlier for cyclists. Whatever attendance issues Yorko may have had the first year, her record in subsequent years has been on par with other members. At 34, Yorko is one of our community’s best young leaders and deserves a second term.
We strongly oppose her opponent, Chong-Anna Canfora, who should not be rewarded for a negative and misleading campaign. She has tried to portray her opponent’s record as detrimental to public safety because she voted to cut police officers. In fact, Lansing had a larger-thanaverage force at a time when the city badly needed to cut the budget. When asked, Canfora could not say what she would have cut instead. She has used scare tactics when it comes to public safety — despite FBI statistics showing crime on the decrease. Moreover, given her strong Labor Council backing, we expect she would not only cost the mayor a dependable vote but would join forces with Wood, Jeffries and others in making development more difficult.
In the Second Ward, we back Tina Houghton for reelection to a second term. Though perhaps the quietest at meetings (in the interest of not letting things drag on), she demonstrates a solid understanding of issues both citywide and in her ward.
With a better economy developing, she is the right person to lead efforts to turn around the South Cedar Street corridor.
If voters support incumbents Dunbar, Houghton and Yorko and replace Jeffries with Clarke, more balance will be restored to the Council, giving the administration a better shot at accomplishing its goals in the next four years.
Lansing voters can send up a pro-pot smoke signal to the state by voting next week for a largely symbolic City Charter amendment. It would keep the city from ever introducing an ordinance that would criminalize the use and possession of less than an ounce of pot by adults. The city doesn’t criminalize it now. In fact, officials say Lansing police, employing state law, only bust for possession when pot is found in connection with another crime. So, maybe if this amendment passes, police would lay off even those busts, making it safe to rob a bank without worrying about doing extra time for pot. But it will tell the state that Lansing believes it should dial back its pot laws. Really folks, it’s time to legalize it and start collecting taxes on it. But this little amendment will have to do for now.
Elsewhere City Clerk Chris Swope, who is running unopposed, continues to work hard and operate his office efficiently. He deserves the reelection to a third term that he is about to receive.
In East Lansing, we support incumbent Kathleen Boyle to complete the term to which she was appointed two years ago and Susan Woods and Ruth Baier for the other two open seats. Boyle, an attorney, and Baier, an economist with the Michigan Education Association, have an impressive array of endorsements from the Sierra Club, the UAW and the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. Woods, who founded and still runs the East Lansing Film Festival, promises to lend the arts a greater voice.
“Eyesore of the Week,” our look at some of the seedier properties in Lansing, will return next week. If you have a suggestion, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call Andy Balaskovitz at 999-5064.