Jan. 25 2017 12:29 AM

Three challengers aim to unseat Lansing Council members


Two weeks ago, James McClurken became the first official candidate for Lansing City Council. He announced he’s challenging Fourth Ward Councilmember Jessica Yorko, who has not yet filed paperwork to run for re-election but said she expects to seek another term.

On Friday, Jim DeLine, the former auditor for City Council, filed to run against Tina Houghton in the Second Ward. She hasn’t announced her intentions yet.

And on Tuesday, Lansing School Board member Peter Spadafore filed to seek one of two at-large seats up for grabs this election. Those seats are currently occupied by Kathie Dunbar and Judi Brown Clarke. Dunbar has not made any announcement regarding her political future, whereas Brown Clarke said she is still deciding whether to challenge Mayor Virg Bernero for the mayor’s office or to seek re-election to a second term on Council.

“Either way, I’ll be on the ballot,” she said. The Council’s weeks-long battle to elect its leadership team was “the last straw,” for Spadafore, who is entering his sixth year of a seven-year term on the school board.

The Waverly Community Schools graduate, educated at Michigan State University’s James Madison College, helped the school board navigate a controversy involving a school board member being charged with embezzling from an elementary school and the Lansing Pathway Promise. He was also critical to the $120 million bond, approved by voters in May 2016, designed to restructure the district and how it delivers education.

He was also chairman of the body when it struck a deal to sell Lansing Eastern High School to Sparrow Hospital. That’s a move that met with fierce resistance at first. That happened in January last year. The healthcare giant has said it intends to try to keep the historic facade, but the building will be otherwise gutted as part of further extensions. Spadafore said he is sensitive to the balancing act between development and historic preservation.

“Preservation is very, very important to me, but I also need folks to realize, sometimes, there has to be progress, or there has to be a situation where it's not possible, especially with taxpayer dollars,” he said. “The school district, for instance, we spent a very long time — since I was elected and then decades before that analyzing the Eastern High School question — all the data came in, all the information was presented to us and we were able to determine it was not fiscally responsible to use taxpayer dollars to preserve that site.”

To address that, he said, the school found a buyer “that was interested in talking about that and keeping an eye on it.” He wants to bring that same perspective to Council, a perspective he presented as being data driven.

For instance, on the contentious question of selling the Lansing Board of Water & Light, Spadafore said he’s opposed right now but is open to data that make a different case. He also acknowledged that while tax incentives are important as tools, they should be “scrutinized more,” particularly insofar as they impact other government areas, like schools, and their funding.

He promises a leadership that will bring people together, not leadership marked by the factionalism of the past — between Council members or between Council and the mayor’s office. That starts with his campaign itself.

“I'm not going to target anyone,” he said. “This is about how I would be a good addition to the Lansing City Council. I think that what happens too often in City Council races and in our mayoral race is that there's enemies and allies. And I think we're all in it to make the city better, to do for the city what we can. So no, I won't be targeting anyone specifically. I think that they can stand on their records, and I will stand on what I've achieved and let the voters decide who's going to be best for City Council.”