Inaugural ball

By Neal McNamara

Attendees of the first 2010 Inaugural Day of Caring who arrived around 3 p.m. were probably quite distracted by the bulge of media surrounding Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero in the lobby of the Washington Armory building on South Washington Avenue. Bernero had a mass of cameras, microphones and questions being pointed in the direction of his face because of his interest in running for the Democratic nomination for governor and the news earlier Tuesday that front-runner Lt. Gov. John Cherry will not run.

But Tuesday’s event was not about Bernero’s potential bid for governor, but about his second-term inauguration, plus that of two newly elected Council members, the Fourth Ward’s Jessica Yorko and the Second Ward’s Tina Houghton as well as At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar and City Clerk Chris Swope, who are both entering their second terms. At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries, who was elected to a third term, was not at the ceremony. Swope swore him in Monday.

The event, organized by Greater Lansing Business Monthly Publisher Chris Holman and Motion Marketing Media President Tiffany Dowling, was a mix of hundreds of local bigshots — including U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, Lansing Community College President Brent Knight, Lansing Schools Superintendent T.C. Wallace and state Rep. Joan Bauer — and residents. The event was billed as a “community works” event, and there were a number of local nonprofits on hand giving out information, including the Allen Neighborhood Center, Care Free Medical and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Holman emceed the inauguration, and the Rev. Robert Nicholson of Grace Tabernacle gave an invocation. The first to be sworn in was Houghton, followed by Yorko, Dunbar and Swope.
Bernero was sworn in by 54A District Judge Frank DeLuca (who also swore in Yorko and Houghton, while Judge Amy Krause of the same court did the honors for Dunbar and Swope). The mayor delivered a reserved acceptance speech, thanking his cabinet and quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” which King wrote in his book “Strength to Love.”)

“When we all grow in the same direction, we can accomplish anything,” Bernero told the crowd. He also remarked that he might not repeat his performance from his last term —when several large economic development projects were born — because of the economy.
However, he promised, “I will not let you down.”

After Bernero 10-minute address, Swope and the Council members gave brief remarks. Dunbar, who may be voted vice president of the City Council at the body’s first 2010 meeting on Thursday, remarked that she still regards herself as she did the first time she was sworn in as the “hippie” City Council member, which she illustrated by pointing out that she was wearing open-toed sandals despite the snow. The Council, with the addition of Houghton and Yorko, will for the first time have a female majority.

Houghton, who spent the two months since the election embroiled in a controversy over her property tax delinquency — a matter settled in her favor Dec. 30 in Circuit Court —said that her first order of business would be to learn the rules and procedures of Council. She didn’t have any specific legislative initiatives in mind, but she said that she’d like to work closely with Lansing and other nearby school districts. She said she wants to draw new residents to Lansing by focusing on strengthening schools, neighborhoods and businesses.

“I’m going to listen a lot and talk less,” she said.

Yorko, sitting with her 6-year-old son, Nicholas, said that she, too, would like to first focus on getting to know her Council colleagues. She said she had an idea in mind, but did not want to disclose it because she had not discussed it with the rest of the Council.

“My first priority is to settle in and get to know everyone,” she said.

After the speeches, a receiving line to greet and talk to Bernero formed spontaneously. Bernero’s line was long, but it was not match for the line formed for the free buffet, which was serving food like General Tso’s Chicken, pizza, and meatballs from a diverse group of Lansing restaurants.