Alexander makes his last stand

By Kyle Melinn

When we last left Bob Alexander, the 65-yearold East Lansing politico wanted an appointment to the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, months after deciding not to make a third congressional run.

Marc Thomas had moved out of the 8th District and the Democrats commissioners were huddling to pick a temporary replacement out of a stack of applicants.

The short story is Alexander didn’t get it. The Democratic caucus split among Alexander, Penelope Tsernoglou and Shelby Bupp. On the seventh ballot, Bupp came out the winner.

Another go at public office. Another setback for perennial candidate Bob Alexander.

Alexander wasn’t deterred. When the county set the Feb. 23 special election primary date to officially fill the seat (roughly encompassing anything in East Lansing west of Abbott Road), Alexander announced his candidacy. If you know Bob, you’re probably not surprised.

You may be surprised to learn this: This is it for Bob. If Alexander isn’t elected, he won’t seek another public office. No more state House. No more City Council or county commission or Congress. He’s tired of being the Chicago Cubs of East Lansing politics, the loveable loser.

"This would be it," he told me. "I’ve said this in public, too. It’s not to slam the people who are running against me."

Seriously, can you blame him? This guy has been on the ballot twice as a congressional candidate in the past three years. He received 63 percent of the local vote in 2008 (but 40 percent in the race overall). The guy is seemingly everywhere campaigning. It’s gotten to the point where if I don’t see Alexander passing around petitions at an East Lansing festival, I begin to worry.

Everybody knows Bob. If you don’t, you’re either not in the 8th District or you’re not a registered voter. If he can’t manage about 600 votes in a special election, it’s fair to say elected politics isn’t Bob’s thing.

After the Democratic Election forum bigwigs in Washington stiff-armed Alexander’s wildly underfunded effort against Republican Congressman Mike Rogers in 2008, Alexander flew to the nation’s capital to prove them wrong.

He could win, he told them, and brought all sorts of charts and graphs to prove his point. All he needed was their money.

They didn’t give it to him. So Alexander pulled the plug on his short-lived 2010 bid against Rogers.

Now, he’s back, knocking on doors in a political race where he doesn’t need a million dollars to win, just a lot of shoe leather. Alexander spent last Saturday on the doorsteps of about 100 residents voting absentee.

Along the way, he ran into evidence of his three challengers. Local attorney and CPA Lee Reimann had signs out. He saw a flier from independent insurance agent Peter Dewan. Bupp isn’t running out of concerns that she may be moving out of the district soon.

He ran into Tsernoglou for the second or third time this campaign season. They exchanged friendly waves. They’re both running for the same seat, but are still friends.

Wow, what a difference from Congress, where Alexander was always a robo-call or nasty mailer away from having his campaign completely run off the tracks.

"It’s not Washington, D.C., politics," said Reimann, who’s been with Willingham & Cote since 2003. "We may come from different points of view, but I can’t imagine a negative campaign."

Here’s a thumb-nail sketch of the other three candidates:

— Tsernoglou, 30, is a public defense attorney for indigent adults and juveniles. She’s the sales manager at Practical Political Consulting, but her claim to fame around town is her willingness to donate her personal time helping elect Democratic candidates. This is her first time running her own campaign.

— Dewan, 50, is an independent insurance agent. His previous government experience includes serving on the staff of former secretary of state Richard Austin, State Rep. Mike Griffin and former Gov. Jim Blanchard, for whom he also worked in Congress. The first-time candidate served a combined 12 years on the East Lansing Zoning Board and Planning Commission, his last year as chairman.

— Reimann, 47, earned her law degree at Cooley. She’s worked for Frank Reynolds before opening her own law firm in Okemos. She’s been with Willingham & Cote since 2003, where she does estate planning and corporate work. Interestingly, she was recruited to run by Tsernoglou’s boss at Practical Political Consulting, Ingham County Commissioner Mark Grebner.

— Alexander, 65, is a government and business consultant who formerly worked within the state’s Human Services Department. He is active in Democratic Party politics and has a long background in political activity, such as the Recruit Al Gore effort in 2007. He ran for East Lansing City Council in 1995, and the state House prior to that. He ran for Congress in 2006 and 2008.

Rooney raising cash In 7th District

Super conservative Tim Walberg may not have a clear shot at capturing the Republican nomination in the 7th Congressional District this year, after all.

Iraq veteran Brian Rooney, of the same family that owns football’s Pittsburgh Steelers, announced last week he raised $215,000 in the fourth quarter of 2009, which is almost exactly the same amount of money Walberg raised in his first full quarter of fundraising last year.

Rooney, recruited by the National Republican Campaign Committee to take out freshman Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, is already combatting claims from Walberg that he’s a carpetbagger, to which Rooney has responded, "Michigan’s economy is not suffering because people are moving into the state. It’s suffering because people are moving out."

Schauer beat Walberg in 2008 to earn a seat in Congress. The 7th Congressional District, made up of Eaton County and points south, has had four different men represent it in Congress each of the last four terms.

Election forum

Candidates to fill a partial term on the Ingham County
Board of Commissioners will take part in a one-hour forum sponsored by
the League of Women Voters of the Lansing Area at 7 p.m. Wednesday,
Feb. 3, in Room 211 of the Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbott Road,
East Lansing.

(Kyle Melinn is news editor of the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekly.