It's Virg v. Who? in 2013

By Kyle Melinn

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero reaffirmed to me last week he’s running for a third term next year, hoping to become the fifth chief executive in the city’s history to serve more than 10 years.

It’s not only completely doable, but entirely probable. He crushed Councilwoman Carol Wood by 25 percentage points in 2009, winning all but one of the city’s precincts in the process. Since then, Bernero has avoided any colossal blunders that would otherwise trip up an incumbent with voters.

Bernero did go back on his word in 2010, making his ill-fated gubernatorial run only days after winning his second term. But that venture can be written off as taking one for the team. He gave Democrats a true Democratic candidate after Lt. Gov. John Cherry quit the race.

He got his clock cleaned, no question about it. But his national presence as the defender of organized labor and working people at a time when everyone else was running for the hills should more than offset his shockingly sudden change of heart.

Bernero and the Lansing City Council still don’t get along. He’s waffled between having five and three friends on the city’s legislative body, but somehow he finds a way to get a lot of what he wants.

If we’ve learned anything from the hot-tempered Virg, though, he’s got his share of opponents. One, if not more, of them will make a run at him. Some are easy to pick, and some will probably materialize out of the clear blue sky.

There are always the top-tier candidates, those sitting on Council who periodically give Virg a tough time. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a dark-horse candidate come out of the city employee ranks again.

Morale, I’m told, is in the dumps. Employees are tired of taking on more tasks for less compensation while watching the quality of the services they provided slip. Another candidate like Dale Abronowitz, a city employee who ran for mayor in 2005, should be expected.

Either way, it’s not too early to pick out his most likely high-profile challengers and handicap their chances of success.

1. Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson — The most likely candidate for a number of reasons, not the least of which being her recent second-place finish in the 68th District House race primary last August.

Could she have beaten Andy Schor had it been a one-on-one race? Hard to say. It certainly would have made the race more interesting. On the campaign trail, Robinson makes a nice first impression and can make the time to run.

She’s allegedly back on the anti-Bernero side of Council, setting herself up for another term as Council president if the Kathie Dunbar deal falls apart. She’s also reportedly “everywhere,” showing up at various events. It raises the question of whether a jump is eminent.

2. Wood — If nobody else steps up, she’s the most likely. Wood has a built-in contingent of supporters who will go to bat for her come hell or high water. Of course, the issues that doomed her candidacy in 2009 will be there in 2013. But if the level of discontent against the incumbent mayor is strong, nobody can stoke that fire better than Wood.

She was the top vote-getter (again) in her 2011 at-large re-election campaign, withstanding another barrage of attacks from business interests and the pro-Bernero folks.

3. Brian Jeffries — If he did it, he’d probably stand the best chance of winning. It’s always been the fire-in-the-belly question with Jeffries, who has a great gig at Michigan State University and doesn’t necessarily need the full-time job of mayor or the aggravation the position brings.

He runs strong citywide, earning the most votes in his at-large 2009 race. The issue here, obviously, is one of timing. Jeffries would have to choose between running for a third full term or making the mayoral leap. There’s more certainty in one than the other.

4. James Gill — The former president of Lansing’s NAACP (2003-2008), Gill ran for sheriff in 2004 as a Republican. Running for mayor would be a completely different race for the Lansing police detective. His candidacy would give the African American community someone to rally around if Robinson doesn’t run.

Now here are a couple people being mentioned as strong candidates if they ran — but won’t:

Joan Bauer — The term-limited state representative has City Council experience from her pre-legislative days and huge support in the city of Lansing, but her interests are the state Senate when Sen. Gretchen Whitmer’s term expires at the end of 2014.

Chris Swope — A likely heir-apparent when Bernero decides he’s had enough, the popular city clerk will bide his time. If something else better comes along in the meantime, though ... .

Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He’s at