Virg surges to win

By Kyle Melinn

Wood defeated in a landslide

Say what you will about Virg Bernero. He’s bombastic. He’s quick-tempered. He rocks the boat too much.

Lansing voters said Tuesday they love him for it.

Bernero clobbered his chief critic on the Lansing City Council, Carol Wood, in the long-awaited showdown between the two, 63 to 37 percent in a landslide that was called in Bernero’s favor before 9:20 p.m.

Dubbed by national media as the "Angriest Mayor in America" for his tirades against Wall Street "fat cats" stepping on the American dream and the autoworker, Bernero promised more of the same in his second four-year term.

"I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to tone it down," said Bernero at a packed Nuthouse Bar and Grill on Michigan Avenue in downtown Lansing. "I just don’t make noise, I’m making a difference."

While the red-meat speech to supporters sounded at times like a primer for bigger and better things for the rising politician, Bernero quickly made it clear to reporters that that was "absolutely not" the case. His commitment is to making Lansing a great Midwestern capital city, period, he said.

"My point is that I didn’t just pound my chest, I pounded the pavement," he said.

Bernero noted that he formed an national association of mayors from manufacturing cities that is working with Auto Recovery Czar Ed Montgomery to get action out of Washington.

On the local front, Bernero said the city would not wave a white flag in surrender over any city neighborhood or the leveled General Motors property. His administration will work harder to bring more progress to Lansing, he said.

Bernero never mentioned Wood in his speech. He did note that his administration was able to move Lansing forward "despite the naysayers and the obstructionists." He added that Lansing voters today said "yes to progress over parochi alism."

The victory was buttressed by a piece of good news for Bernero out of the Second Ward, where his favored candidate, Tina Houghton, stunned four-term incumbent Sandy Allen, 55 to 45 percent, to give him four reliable supporters on the eight-member City Council.

Jessica Yorko, as expected, won in the Fourth Ward and Kathie Dunbar cruised to a second term in her at-large bid with 31 percent of the vote. They join City Council President Derrick Quinney as the four. But some City Hall observers are questioning if Brian Jeffries, who also won re-election to the City Council with 33 percent of the vote, and Third Ward Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson, will spend their next two years as automatic obstacles for Bernero.

It should be noted that only First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt and Allen made an appearance at Wood’s party at Sir Pizza in Old Town, although Jeffries did say on “City Pulse on the Air” last month he supported Wood for mayor.

Houghton hugged her yellow-shirted supporters at Bernero’s victory party shortly after learning she would be on City Council in 2010. She said she heard from southeast Lansing residents that they were ready for a change in their City Council representation.

Despite only receiving 26 percent of the vote in the August primary to Allen’s 57 percent, Houghton said she and her core group of supporters — parents of kids who participated with her children in youth sports — canvassed every house in the district three times.

"I was told if I wanted to win I had to knock on doors, and that’s what I did," she said.

The frank-talking Allen said at Wood’s party at Sir Pizza that she figured going into the night that she would win either way. She would either win a fifth term on Council or "win my life back."

As for Bernero’s testy relations with Wood, who will remain on City Council, the mayor said he’s willing to "bury the hatchet" and hopes Wood is, too.

"It’s a new year with new challenges and a new opportunity. I believe in resolutions and believe that we can always strive to get better so I will start with a clean slate with each Council person," he said.

For Wood, the loss was particularly painful. When she lost her first City Council race against Michael Murphy in 1997, she felt she lost over "issues, not lies" and that’s not the case this go around.

Wood’s concession speech switched between teary and thankful toward her supporters, and at some points aggressive, directing barbs at her opponent.

"I’ve said all along, it’s not been my campaign, it’s been your campaign," Wood said. "I will be a continuous voice of consciousness for this community. I’m not going anywhere, and you’re not going anywhere.

"We gave him a damn good run for his money," she said. "When his campaign turned to lies and mudslinging, and the fact that he ran from debates, we knew we had him on the ropes.

"We have stood up to a bully in our community," said Wood, before closing with, "Let’s give ’em hell and finish out this party!" Meanwhile, the closest race was for two of the three trustee seats at Lansing Community College.

Board chairwoman Deborah Canja won re-relection, but with 94 percent of the precincts reporting, incumbent Robert Proctor, Thomas Morgan and Larry Meyer were battling for the other two positions. Proctor, Morgan and Lawrence Hidalgo ran as a slate with strong union support, while Meyer, a former president of the Lansing City Council backed by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, ran together with Canja. Proctor, Meyer and Morgan were within 1 percent of one another.

LCC’s voting district includes Ingham County and parts of Eaton, Clinton and Livingston counties.