July 27 2016 01:20 PM

Former board chairman versus political first-timer

Most incumbent Ingham County commissioners are expected to win reelection, but there are two competitive races this year, one of them challenging former board Chairman Brian McGrain.

Left: McGrain Right: Pena

In District 10, which is the east side of Lansing plus parts of Lansing Township and East Lansing, incumbent McGrain faces off against from Robert O. Pena, — a longtime politician versus a community sponsored, first-time candidate. Both are Democrats.

“I’m running for the same reason I did in the first place. I’ve always been interested in public service,” McGrain said. “My background has been in the public administration, and to my residents, I wanted to bring that to the table; it takes a while to get used to the inner workings of county government.”

McGrain, a commissioner since January 2009, has ample experience running a district. He is associate director and chief operating officer of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM), which specializes in providing resources and training to organizations looking to give aid to communities.

He said the biggest issue during his term has been working to “live within [the county's] means.”

“Since I've been in office we've been in a position where our revenues have been decreasing. Certainly we had the real estate slump that we had at the end of the 2000s,” McGrain said. “We've just been in a position where we've been facing some tough budget years. I keep joking that I can't wait till we're in a position where our revenues are increasing faster than our expenses because I think there are some things that we all like to do.”

Some of those things, he said, are restoring park positions scaled back due to budget cuts, implementing more “innovative programming” to help with child neglect and juvenile delinquency situations, and maintaining a “progressive” and “cutting edge” healthcare system.

Pena said he would like to see those things too. A self-described “fiscal conservative,” the newcomer said he brings with him pertinent life experience, but also a closer-to-home touch that other candidates don’t have.

“I’m not a career politician, I am a concerned citizen and I did this at the request of my neighborhood and friends,” Pena said. “I’ve been a civil engineer for 32 years. We had to put together the projects by a deadline, and the project had a certain dollar amount. So I’m very cognizant of budget.”

Democrat Pena said one of the biggest issues in government today is transparency.

“We’re stewards of the public trust, everybody pays taxes, that money is put in a big fund. I don’t think the public has a good understanding of the distribution of the money,” Pena said. “I’m in the community, I’m visible, people can come to me.”

Pena regularly volunteers “every night of the week, Saturdays and Sundays too” at places like Habitat for Humanity and the Greater Lansing Food Bank. If elected, he will prioritize education, road and infrastructure repair and community health.

“On Aug. 3, I’m going to be busy, I already know that,” Pena said about the day after the primary election. “I’ve been doing a lot of stuff behind the scenes, and I will continue to do that. So Aug. 3, no matter what, I’m going to be busy.”