Chris Swope will run again for Lansing city clerk this year. Reality caught up with him on his nascent bid for mayor. Andy Schor is too far ahead.
It’s a cautionary tale for Judi Brown Clarke, the Council woman who is running against Schor.
He’s a front-runner even a Silver Medalist will have a very hard time catching.
Not that Swope didn’t want to try. He went from not running to running to not running. “I went full cycle — I’m not, I am, I’m not.”
On the late February Monday when incumbent Virg Bernero dropped out, Swope wasn’t running. He was “shocked and surprised” by Bernero’s announcement. And he didn’t see how he could run or be mayor and also help his partner expand their Old Town home and garden business to Grand Rapids.
But by the next morning, he was looking at it. And very quickly he was telling people he was in.
“It’s my shot at it,” he thought. If Schor gets elected, then he’d be running against an incumbent in four years — even a longer shot.
Things continued that way for a week or two. Swope is nothing if not deliberative, so he kept looking. And he kept finding dead ends.
“Things were in motion I didn’t know were in motion,” he told me Tuesday over the phone as he drove to Mount Pleasant for clerk training. “Some institutional support was locked that I thought wasn’t. While people weren’t necessarily saying where they were, they were already down a path of another candidate.”
While Swope was surveying the scene, Schor was announcing one endorsement after another: most of the countywide elected officials, all the county commissioners, unions, community leaders. Swope had conversations with the big ones still out, the chamber and the UAW. He won’t say what they said, but it couldn’t have been encouraging.
As he explored, word got around he had Bernero’s support and that he’d promised to keep Bernero’s people in City Hall if he got elected.
“I did not make any promises — a number of them I have great respect for who do their jobs wonderfully, but it certainly isn’t universal — and I don’t know if I’d say I had his endorsement, but he was supportive of me running and encouraged me to take a close look at it.”
Swope, the first openly gay elected official around here, couldn’t even count on support from that quarter. Friends told him they were already for Schor or that at best they would try to help both of them.
“I’ve been there before, when Ryan Sebolt and Wyatt Ludman ran for my old county commission seat, two gay guys, both qualified, both young and energetic.” He backed Sebolt, whom he’d known longer, “but I wish Wyatt had run for an office I could have supported him for.”
Realitied out of the mayor’s race, he’s not wasting his energy on what might have been or dreading four more years as clerk, where he’s a shoo-in. He’s run unopposed the last two times and may again.
And he’s looking forward to reelection. “That was a big part of my decision. I love being clerk. I love my staff. There’s nothing about my job I don’t like except maybe a City Council meeting that goes longer than I think it should.”
He’s knee deep in complying with a big statewide requirement to implement new voter equipment by 2018. It will happen in Lansing in time for the August primary. Semi-wonk that he is, Swope’s excited about it.
And he’s excited there will be a new mayor. It’s no knock against Virg. “Virg and I came in at the same time. I’ve never seen a change in the corner office. It’s an exciting prospect, and I’m glad I’ll be there to help make that transition.”
He’s also looking forward to a new mayor because of the potential for a “change in tone” with the Council. “I hope they work better together. It’s no one’s fault, just a whole combination of personalities and individual histories.”
Whoever the mayor is, he’d like to see better customer service from the city, which is one of the things he would have run on. Little stuff, like not telling people who call on Monday because their trash or recycling pickup got missed on Friday that they waited too long to complain.
Swope is only 49. It’s not his year to move up. But as he says, “I see other things I would like to do in the future.”
As a journalist, I was hoping he’d run. It would have made the mayor’s race a better story. And I could have written:
“Stop me if you heard this: A Jew, a gay man and an African-American woman run for mayor … .”