Keep it clean

By Andy Balaskovitz

Sodomy, a clean campaign pledge and negative politics mark uneasy start to 4th Ward City Council race

Lansing City Councilwoman Jessica Yorko called on her election challengers last weekend to sign a “clean campaign pledge” to keep the race to represent Lansing’s 4th Ward civil.

The call is directed specifically to the campaign of Chong-Anna Canfora, who has declined, calling it a “political stunt.”

Yorko’s request comes after she took exception to some social media posts by local political strategist Joe DiSano, an occasional campaign volunteer for Canfora, and Canfora’s husband, Luke Canfora.

“Stand against Chong-Anna Canfora and you will be humbled old country way,” reads an April 16 Twitter post by DiSano. He’s quoting WWF wrestler The Iron Sheik about sodomizing another wrestler in the ring to, you know, show him who’s boss. (In her campaign literature, Yorko links to the Urban Dictionary definition of “old country way,” backing up the phrase.) With incredible foresight — or as a challenge — DiSano added: “i hope someone screen caps this and passes it around. Bring that shit on.” Which is exactly what happened.

It’s hard to say whether you take a WWF wrestler seriously, but Yorko says it’s setting a bad tone for an election that hasn’t even reached its May 14 candidate filing deadline.

“That’s not how this is supposed to work,” Yorko said in an interview. “The process is not supposed to be dictated by fear. It’s supposed to exchange ideas and have a respectable struggle and look at issues. For me, raising this issue is about voter enfranchisement. If my opponent was willing to sign the pledge, it sends a message to the voters of Lansing they can expect honesty, civility and relevance. People don’t care about all that other stuff.”

Canfora dismissed Yorko’s call as “petty political games.”

“No, I don’t sign pledges issued by politicians,” Canfora said. “Here’s what I will do: I’m committed to running a campaign that’s focused on the issues. I encourage everyone to keep the tone civil and respectful.”

Those issues include “declining home values, keeping children and neighborhoods safe and good jobs. Issues people actually care about and want to talk about.”

She accused Yorko of avoiding talking about her record while on the Council. Yorko is seeking a second term. When asked if she could be more specific, Canfora said: “We’re going to have the opportunity to compare and contrast our records. I don’t necessarily want to get into that now. I will not participate in these games.”

Canfora described DiSano as a volunteer spokesman on “a couple of occasions.” “Any statements made by my husband’s friend were silly and immature, and made by a WWF wrestler,” she said.

As for Yorko’s press release: “The mature thing would have been to contact me first instead of going to the media,” Canfora said.

DiSano named Yorko’s attendance record at Council and committee meetings an issue he believes she’s trying to avoid. In her first year on Council, Yorko missed 38 of her first 75 committee meetings. This paper in 2010 speculated that those absences, along with a vote against tying a downtown development to a project labor agreement, would make her a political target by organized labor. In 2012, Yorko missed seven Committee of the Whole meetings, which was fewer than colleagues Tina Houghton (nine) and Kathie Dunbar (10), according to information provided by City Council staff. Yorko had the most full Council meeting absences in 2012, also with seven, followed by Dunbar (six) and Derrick Quinney (five).

Canfora will likely have strong labor support — her husband works for the AFL-CIO — while Yorko has the backing of Mayor Virg Bernero.

“If you’re presented with a clean campaign pledge by someone like Jessica Yorko, there has to be a pledge to show up to Council meetings on time and in a consistent manner,” DiSano said.

York said in response: “My attendance records for Council meetings is on par with that of my colleagues.”

This is familiar territory for DiSano. Last year, he led a campaign on behalf of Ken Ross against now-Circuit Judge Jim Jamo. In it, Ross accused Jamo of engineering a “secret settlement of a $5 million lawsuit filed by students physically and sexually abused at school.” The victims sought $5 million in the case involving sexual abuse during a hazing incident in the Coopersville School District, which Jamo represented as an attorney. The settlement was for $150,000. The Grand Rapids Press filed suit against the school district after it was denied a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the settlement amount. Jamo defended himself, saying the school district and the plaintiffs asked to keep the settlement sealed due to the sensitive nature of the case.

DiSano also publicly accused the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce of a “classic racist campaign” against incumbent Councilman Derrick Quinney in 2011, saying the chamber darkened a photo of Quinney in campaign literature and also engaged in negative tactics. Chamber President and CEO Tim Daman at the time called the tactics “appalling.” DiSano called on Yorko Monday to denounce the chamber for that campaign.

The 4th Ward includes northwest Lansing, downtown west of the Grand River and southwest Lansing through the Moores Park area.

A third candidate in the race, local attorney Bert Carrier, said he has “no problem” signing Yorko’s pledge. He said he informed her last year that he’d be running and “I promised I wouldn’t do any negative campaigning. I honestly don’t think this whole entire push on her part is directed at me.”