The race is on
|By Sam Inglot|
With the filing deadline for city elections closed, campaign season officially beginsThe filing deadline to run for city elected offices officially closed at 4 p.m. Tuesday. From the looks of things, it’s likely Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero will coast to reelection.
For the city’s highest elected office, Bernero faces four opponents — three with little to no name recognition and a former City Councilman who’s zero for his last four local campaigns. Barring a handful of campaign and fundraising miracles from his opposition, it’s almost guaranteed that Bernero will get his third term in office.
This year’s election also includes City Council races in the 4th and 2nd wards as well as two at-large seats. City Clerk Chris Swope, 45, is running unopposed for his third term. The primary is Aug. 6 followed by the General Election on Nov. 5.
Looking to the 4th Ward race, some fireworks have already popped between incumbent Jessica Yorko and challenger Chong-Anna Canfora, who’s been out campaigning for months. Late last month, Yorko called on her opponents to sign a clean campaign pledge after Canfora’s husband posted “There will be blood” on a social media website, while local political strategist Joe DiSano on Twitter made references to sodomy for those who don’t support Canfora. Canfora brushed off Yorko’s campaign pledge as “politics.”
Canfora is also the candidate most likely to be backed by organized labor, which could be a problem for Yorko. The freshman Councilwoman didn’t make any friends with organized labor in 2010 when she and three other Council members approved Pat Gillespie’s City Market project without a Project Labor Agreement attached to it.
As far as endorsements go, two key groups— the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Lansing Labor Council — have yet to interview candidates they plan on backing. Bernero is supporting incumbent Council members Yorko, Tina Houghton and Kathie Dunbar. He also wants to see at-large candidate Judi Brown Clarke defeat incumbent Brian Jeffries, whom Bernero has fought politically for years.
At his reelection campaign announcement last week, Bernero, 49, cited $1 billion of new investment and job creation in the city during his two terms as mayor as a staple of why he should get another shot.
Four other candidates are challenging Bernero’s reelection bid. When asked about his competition last week, Bernero said, “Don’t know them.”
That was before former Councilman Harold Leeman Jr., whom Bernero endorsed for Council, filed at the last minute to run for his fifth public office in six years. He was elected to the city’s 1st Ward in 1995 and served until 2007, when he lost his reelection bid to former Council member Eric Hewitt by 17 votes. After that, it has been nothing but losses for Leeman: He ran and lost in the General Election as an at-large candidate in 2009; he ran in the 1st Ward in 2011 and didn’t make it out of the primary; then he shifted to the state side of things in 2012 running for the 68th House District, but didn’t make it out of the primary. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The rest of the competitors lining up against Bernero aren’t exactly household names.
The oldest candidate in the field is 93-year-old Donald Krepps. A World War II veteran and retiree, Krepps has lived in Lansing since 1941. Krepps says he wants to fight corruption in the Lansing Police Department — he believes the department knowingly lets crimes happen — and get more people working in the city.
John Boise, 51, is making his second run for mayor — and this time he’s got his paperwork in on time. Boise ran as a write-in candidate in 2003 after he missed the filing deadline. Boise is a tree trimmer and owns his own handyman business.
“God’s put it on my heart to run,” he said. “I have no political background. I’ve been a worker my whole life, but I think we need a person in office that’s a worker.”
The youngest candidate for mayor is 36-year-old Gene Gutierrez-Rodriguez. Gutierrez-Rodriguez is an independent contractor for Ingham County’s child services division. He’s never run for political office before, but says he has some “big picture” ideas for the city, like improving education and homeowners’ energy independence.
City Council At-Large incumbents Brian Jeffries and Kathie Dunbar will both seek reelection and will face four challengers for their positions. The top four vote-getters in the August primary will square off in the November General Election.
Jeffries, 58, is looking for a fourth term on the Council. He’s also served as an Ingham County commissioner and a Lansing Community College trustee. His reelection slogan is, “Every voice matters and every neighborhood counts.”
During his time on Council, Jeffries said he’s “demonstrated an independent and thoughtful approach” to issues facing the city.
Dunbar, director of the South Lansing Community Development Association, could not be reached for comment.
Clarke, 51, is the diversity director for the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action at Michigan State University. She’s also an Olympic Silver Medalist. She said she has experience working with budgets through her work at MSU and the Michigan Department of Human Services and would be a “good steward of the people’s dollars.” At his reelection announcement, Bernero said he supports Clarke to replace Jeffries. This is her first time running for political office.
Ted O’Dell, 46, ran for state representative last November but didn’t make it through the crowded primary field. Now he’s setting his sights on city government. A registered lobbyist and the owner of a government consulting business, O’Dell has been a township supervisor in London Township and a city manager in Beaverton, Mich. He was critical of Dunbar and her Council attendance record.
“How can you have a voice for the citizens you represent when you don’t show up?” he asked.
At the age of 24, Jonathon Smith is the youngest contender seeking an elected office. Short on words, Smith said he plans on improving “zoning and economic growth.” He does janitorial work at Sparrow Hospital.
The last person who filed Tuesday afternoon is 44-year-old Keith Smith. He works as a janitor at Peckham Industries. He’s never ran for public office before, but said he wants to help attract and retain businesses in Lansing by lowering the tax rate.
Two candidates are running for the 2nd Ward Council seat, which covers the city east of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and south of Mount Hope Avenue. Because there are only two of them, the candidates will forgo the Aug. 6 primary and square off in November. The primary is only for races in which the number of candidates is more than twice the number of open positions.
Incumbent 2nd Ward City Councilwoman Tina Houghton, 46, is in the hunt for her second term. She works as a student services coordinator at MSU. She could not be reached for comment, but has received support from Bernero.
Houghton competes with Charles Hoffmeyer, 30, an information systems specialist with the Michigan State Police.
Hoffmeyer, who’s never run for office before, said he’s seen little help in his neighborhood between South Cedar Street and South Pennsylvania Avenue when it comes to cleaning up the roads and promoting public safety. He said he’s written letters to City Council about his concerns, but has never heard back, which helped push him to run.
Three candidates are challenging 34-year-old Yorko, who is seeking a second term. The 4th Ward covers the northwest corner of the city, stretching through downtown and just south of Mount Hope.
Yorko, who works as the environmental justice coordinator for Ingham County, said she’s been a “champion of issues in the 4th Ward.” She said she’s actively fought for walkable and bikeable communities, strong neighborhood-watch groups and attracting new investment to the city. She’s also got the support of Bernero.
Yorko’s challengers are local attorney Bert Carrier Jr., Canfora and Larry Hutchinson, who could not be reached for comment.
Carrier, 38, lives and owns a law practice in downtown Lansing. He said he wants to improve development downtown by limiting the city’s regulatory role. He also wants to phase out the city’s income tax.
“I think that it’s an unconventional idea,” he said of the income tax phase out. “One of my big concerns is that we’re chasing away people we want to attract to the city of Lansing.”
Canfora, 37, has been actively campaigning over the past few months. She’s already wrapped up endorsements from Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wrigglesworth, Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III and has strong ties to labor. She works for Progress Michigan, a liberal political group, and is the vice president of the Moores Park Neighborhood Organization. She’s focused on public safety and improving neighborhoods.
“I really think that we need a strong voice for neighborhoods at Council,” she said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we have that.”