Primary mates

By Neal McNamara

Some see ‘no news’ in primary results — except that we’re in for a ‘real’ election.

One local political consultant described it as a big taxpayer-funded poll, the results of which were more or less expected: Incumbent Mayor Virg Bernero “won” and will advance to the general election against the other winner, At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood. Local attorney and school board member Charles Ford came in third many points behind them. Local musician Ben Hassenger scrounged fewer than 3 percent of the vote.

On the other hand, primary turnout was low: only 9,617 of 83,370 voters weighed in.

The difference between Wood, who earned under 38 percent of the vote, and Bernero, who came in just under 44 percent, is close and indicates potential for a real race for mayor.

“There no news in (the primary results),” said Mark Grebner, head of Practical Political Consulting in East Lansing. “Everybody came in where they were supposed to. Could Virg have done better? It’s hard to tell if he did well or badly.”

Wood sees the results as a mandate from the public — or at least 11 percent of Lansing’s registered voters — for change, since Bernero didn’t receive a plurality.

“Fifty-six percent of people voted against the way the current administration is set up,” she said of the results. “There are people out there who want to see change.”

However, the other big “change” agent — Ford, who received 15 percent of the vote— endorsed Bernero on Tuesday.

Bernero said he is “delighted” with the primary results. Being six points in front of Wood going into the general election, he said, is a good position considering the low primary turnout.

For Bernero, last Tuesday’s primary was his poorest since he ran unsuccessfully in 2003 for mayor. In that primary, he drew 38 percent of 12,182 votes, and the overall number of registered voters in the city was about
1,000 less than it is today.

In the 2003 election, Bernero closed the
gap on incumbent Tony Benavides to just one percentage point, pulling
49 percent of the vote. In 2005, about 13,000 voted for mayor in the
primary, with Bernero clipping 45 percent of those voters to Benavides’
26 percent.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, head of the PR firm The
Rossman Group, theorized that a lot of Bernero’s support is from
business owners who live outside the city — and some from out of state
who have seen the mayor on cable news. Wood, on the other hand, draws a
lot of support from neighborhoods. Wood will have to draw on that
neighborhood support to close the gap on Bernero by going “block by
block” to get her message out — she may not be able to compete with
Bernero by spreading her message through television or radio ads because
she doesn’t have the money. Bernero had outraised Wood $87,105 to
$26,441 as of July 24, according to campaign finance reports.

she can build allies through the neighborhoods,” Rossman-McKinney said.
“What Virg will need to do is build on his base of support: remind and
reinforce that he really is the best candidate to move Lansing

Grebner predicts that the race will be very close.
However, he cautioned that Wood would need to put together a “real”
campaign to have a shot at defeating Bernero.

Wood “needs to
put a campaign together to ask 25,000 people to vote for her,” he said.

On Tuesday, though, Wood’s effort took a blow when Ford announced he is
backing Bernero.

Rossman-McKinney said that even with Ford’s
endorsement, there’s no guarantee his votes will go to Bernero.

however, seems confident that those who voted for him will vote for Bernero.

definitely will be influenced by who I pick for in the general
election. I think that’s obvious. I think it’s obvious to assume my
votes are definitely needed. I’m a very strong candidate,” he said.

Wood, he said, “My relationship is not strong with her.”

Hard data from
Tuesday’s primary shows that Wood won 17 precincts and Bernero won 26.
Bernero did well in the downtown and the Moores River Drive areas,
while Wood carried precincts that include Old Town and the Genesee
neighborhood north west of downtown, where she lives. Wood also did
well in north Lansing, taking all but three of the eight precincts
above Oakland Avenue. Meanwhile, Bernero routed Wood in the Second
Ward, taking eight of the 11 precincts there.

Ingham County
commissioner Andy Schor, D-South Lansing, said he saw a lot of
electioneering in his neighborhood.

“Both the top two candidates did
well, they got the message out,”
Schor said. “They drew a sizeable part of electorate. Both have
legitimate messages going into the general election. But we haven’t
seen everything we’re going to see.”