The first truly public face-off between mayoral incumbent Virg Bernero and challenger At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood was held Wednesday night at the Foster Community Center on Lansing’s east side.
And it was, in my opinion, extremely satisfying.
Both candidates have their downsides in public speaking — Bernero with his back-to-back clich�s and Wood with her rather nebulous campaign platform — but both were on point Wednesday night, with kudos to some good, specific questions from east side residents. (Unfortunately, by the time the forum got around to the mayoral candidates, it was running into hour three and there were only a handful of people left watching.)
Bernero won a coin toss (officiated by Parks Board president Rick Kibbey) to speak first, saying that over the past four years he has been “somewhat successful,” noting that there are “cranes in the air” (a phrase he particularly likes), and touted that Lansing was ranked high in the state for its gross domestic product and as having the third best housing market in the country (if you watch the Good Morning America segment about it, the real estate expert says that Lansing is a place where “it’s easy to get a job” ).
Wood opened by traveling back in time, saying that it was people just like those who are part of the Foster Community Center that elected her because she worked alongside them on neighborhood issues. She rolled out her campaign platform, which is, “Part of the vision I have is your vision,” and said that she wants to strengthen the city’s corridors and retain small businesses.
Question No. 1 asked for the respective candidates’ top three greatest accomplishments. Bernero has said, and said again Wednesday, that regionalizing Potter Park Zoo, getting the Ottawa Power Station developed and starting a south side community center were his big three. Wood was proud of changing the housing code (the implementation of the “tag” system), a diversity spending ordinance and a universal development agreement.
No. 2 asked for the candidates’ vision for the Michigan Avenue corridor. Bernero said he wants it to be a “miracle mile” and a “bustling corridor” and Wood said, again, “my vision is your vision.”
Bernero drew first blood on the question No. 4, which dealt with the sale of the N. Capital Parking ramp to Lansing Community College, deriding a Council vote that killed the sale, of which Wood was a “no” vote. She didn’t fight back, choosing to state that the sale would have been bad because the city would lose downtown parking, and thought that a better deal with LCC could have been worked out.
More blood was drawn on the next question, which dealt with the candidates’ vision for the city’s riverfront-age. Wood went first, saying that she would pursue grants from the state for improvement. Bernero took that as an opportunity to say that his “opponent” voted on two separate occasions against state grants for improving the river (one was for a pathway for Frances Park — don’t recall another one). Wood did not respond to Bernero’s zing.
“What to do with Oliver Towers?” came up, with Wood saying she thinks its important that building be appraised and, if “viable,” be used for housing — but she didn’t say what kind. Bernero admitted that he was not an expert on the issue, but would rely on the advice of Human Services Director Joan Jackson Johnson (she was actually the mayor’s stand-in at a Tuesday night forum held by the Clifford Park neighborhood from which the mayor was absent because of a “family obligation”— though the meeting was held by the Clifford Park neighbors, a significant number of homeless activists were there and had sent out a press release saying that they were going to ask the mayor, again, to be allowed to inspect the building).
On the final question — “Why should residents of the east side vote for you?” — Wood delivered a blow saying “I listen to you as a community, I’m not job hopping, I’m not looking for another position … .”
Bernero said that he had a chance to work on the east side while former First Ward Councilman Harold Leeman was around (“The last great First Ward Councilman,” which was a shot at Eric Hewitt, who was in the audience) and complimented the neighborhood’s grassroots efforts, pledging to work with them.
In summation, Bernero said he wasn’t finished with the job he started four years ago, and for maybe the sixth time said he would take the city “from good to great,” and Wood, for also probably the sixth time said, “my vision is your vision.”
The two candidates will meet again in Friday night at 6 p.m. at Sexton High School for the Westside Neighborhood Association forum.
(Note: these forums also include candidates for Lansing City Council, LCC board of trustees and the Lansing School Board.)