Whos on second?

By Neal McNamara

Some say Second Ward Councilwoman Sandy Allen may face a fight in Council race against newcomer Tina Houghton.

Tina Houghton is a member of the Lansing Parks Board, she’s a part of newly formed Beck Park neighborhood group — so new that it doesn’t have officers or membership in the Lansing Neighborhood Council — and was a member of the South Side Citizen Action Team, which explored constructing a community center in south Lansing. She works at Michigan State University in a department that hooks students up with volunteer programs and is a mother and youth sports coach.

And, some say, she might have a chance of unseating Second Ward Councilwoman Sandy Allen in this year’s Council race. Allen is vulnerable because she’s an incumbent, some say, and well placed sources say Houghton is Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s candidate.

“If you’re looking for the most likely place for an upset, it would be the Second Ward,” political consultant Todd Cook of Main Street Strategies said. “Sandy’s disposition is to be in the mushy middle on a lot of different issues. On one hand, some people appreciate that. But what it’s done is made it so she’s in a situation where her political allies are not in a position to go to the mat or go to the wall for her. She is seen as someone that waffles.”

One city official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that some of the issues Allen has fought for through her last term has put her at odds with some Second Ward residents.

Allen “took such a hard stance on Northrup Street and the issues on Northrup that she alienated a lot of the folks that support a walkable, bikeable community, and some of the parents of children,” the official said. The Northrup Street issue involved Allen’s defense of a group of residents who didn’t want bike lanes or sidewalks installed along their street. “And there’s some vulnerability among that demographic.”

Houghton, who did not respond to several requests for an interview, is not the only candidate running for the Second Ward seat. Jonathan Solis, who ran for an at-large seat in 2005, is in the race, and so are newcomers Bryan Decker and Jimmie Currin Sr.

Second Ward resident Marcel Mayberry, who had considered a run for Council this year, has heard a buzz about Houghton (that the mayor is backing her) but nothing about the other candidates. Mayberry thinks that the south side is looking for a change in its representation and that Allen’s age (she’s 72) could put her at a disadvantage.

“Sandy has the best name identification,” Mayberry said. “But with Sandy being a little older she has a great disadvantage walking around and trying to really reach out. She’s a wonderful lady. But I think, as a whole, we need more progressive thinking on Council.”

One local government official, who spoke anonymously because of where he works, said that Bernero has had mixed feelings about Allen and that some members of Council had expressed dissatisfaction with her. He also said she’s “not as quick as she used to be.”

Allen has “been wishy-washy on votes and there’s concern about that,” the official said. “”If Tina is willing to knock on doors and raise money, she’s viable.”

Allen was first elected to Council in 1993 when she unseated incumbent Alfreda Schmidt. In 1997, Schmidt tried unsuccessfully to win her seat back. Allen says she hasn’t faced a serious challenge since then, but thinks that any incumbent is vulnerable.

stand on my experience and my independence and my truthfulness,” she
said. “I love the job, I love the work. I think most people who know me
recognize that.”

Allen has stood against the mayor at least twice
during her most recent term. In winter 2008, at the beginning of a
Council meeting, Allen stood up in her seat and shouted at Bernero for
what she saw as his bullying one of her constituents. And then there
was Northrup Street, a protracted fight between the city, which wanted
to add bike lanes, sidewalks, curbs and gutters to the street, and some
vocal residents who just wanted the street repaved. Allen stood on the
side of the residents, although sidewalks were eventually installed on
the street last summer. She says her votes on Council reflect
the wants of her constituents, not her predilections. She doesn’t see
herself as part of any faction on Council, and with Bernero, she says,
you’re either with him 100 percent, or not at all.

“I’m not with anyone
(in city government) 100 percent,” she said. “But I’ve certainly supported his issues.”

realizes there are some knocks on her for her age, but she says she’ll
be campaigning door to door just the same as she always has.

“Honey, I
can climb mountains,” she said. “I like campaigning. It gives you the
opportunity to really talk to individuals. I can get really keyed up
about campaigning, and I will cover the same ground as in years past."

Bill Matt, who was appointed to the Third Ward Council seat in 2007 by
Bernero, but eventually lost an election bid to Councilwoman A’Lynne
Robinson, feels that south Lansing residents are thirsty for new
representation and that Allen’s seat is vulnerable. While her fight for
Northrup Street stirred up a lot of publicity and some support, he
said, younger, progressive people on the south side were upset by it.

“Currently, any incumbent is vulnerable. There’s a lot of cynicism
about government. Any incumbent is carrying baggage, whether
it’s Virg (Bernero) or Carol (Wood) or Sandy — they all have their
detractors. People are just generally in a foul mood against