May 7 2010 12:00 AM

The difference between Mayor Virg and candidate Virg

What’s the difference between Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, and Michigan gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero? Well, when it comes to making his stance on issues public, spokesmen for both sides of Bernero’s political life say, not much.

On Tuesday, both the mayor’s office and the gubernatorial campaign issued the same press release, which was written on city letterhead by Bernero’s deputy chief of staff, a city employee.

Randy Hannan, the deputy chief of staff, said that the press release — which announced that Bernero had written a letter to President Barack Obama to waive federal requirements for road repair projects — originated from the mayor’s office. The gubernatorial campaign, he said, was simply amplifying the mayor’s efforts.

Jamaine Dickens, the gubernatorial spokesman, said Bernero is “one person with one idea.” Dickens said he sent out the release, too, because he has a larger email address database than Hannan.

Strictly speaking, there are no state campaign law violations here. But does this muddy the difference between mayor Bernero and campaigner Bernero?

“People are very clear he’s the mayor of Lansing and also a candidate for governor,” Hannan said. “There is no stark line of separation between issues germane to the city and issues germane to his role as candidate for governor. He is the mayor, and he is running for governor. There is plenty of overlap.”

Bernero issued his press release on the same day the Michigan Road Team — a coalition of more than 80 groups interested in seeing roads repaired — converged on the Capitol to ask that legislators fill an $84 million gap so road projects that attract federal funds could be completed. One member of the Michigan Road Team, the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association PAC, gave Bernero’s mayoral campaign a $1,200 donation on Feb. 23.

When asked if there’s any connection, Hannan said he wasn’t aware of the contribution. The only connection between the Road Team and Bernero’s efforts on Tuesday, Hannan said, was that the mayor was offering an alternative solution to the $84 million fix. Hannan said that the letter to Obama had been in the works for some time.

When asked about Bernero’s dual press releases, spokespersons for the gubernatorial campaigns of state Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith, D-Salem Township, and House Speaker Andy Dillon said there are very careful to separate the “day job” business from the gubernatorial business. There are campaign finance laws that regulate state employees using their time to campaign.

“If it’s a legislative concern, it comes on legislative letterhead,” said Lonnie Scott, Smith’s gubernatorial spokesman. “If it’s a gubernatorial concern, it comes on gubernatorial letterhead.”

“We work very hard to keep Speaker Dillon’s legislative world and campaign world separate,” said Dillon gubernatorial spokesman T.J. Bucholz. “I would never send a press release from our side on state letterhead.”

But Hannan says other candidates sometimes blur the lines. He pointed to Attorney General Mike Cox, who, as a gubernatorial candidate, asked all the other candidates to disclose their tax returns. Cox’s campaign Web site hosts a link to his attorney general website where Cox’s tax returns are available for download. A press release from Cox’s gubernatorial campaign boasts of Cox the attorney general’s transparency.

“It’s a distinction without a difference,” Hannan said.

In other Bernero news, the gubernatorial candidate filed his petitions to officially run for governor Thursday. Five hundred volunteers collected 30,000 signatures (you only need 15,000, according to state regulations), according to a campaign press release.

In appearances, Bernero for the second time this year at Central Michigan University on May 12 for a gubernatorial forum sponsored by the Detroit Free Press, Michigan Radio and the League of Conservation Voters. On May 1, Bernero made an appearance at the Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville for that area’s Democratic Spring Gala.

Two Bernero-related videos were released in the last week: one damning his Michigan Bank idea from the state Republican party (a video that is decidedly South Park-ian in its production quality), and the other a short documentary by the SEIU union of his time spent “walking in the shoes” of an SEIU union member.

In the SEIU video, Bernero can be seen cleaning floors, serving food, folding laundry and bowling with an elderly woman at the Redford Geriatric Village. Bernero spent half a day working alongside two employees of the facility, Yvonne Bryant and Lanece Sylvester. One intercut scene in the video between Bernero and Sylvester is quite interesting:

Lanece: He helped me, like, hang up clothes, fold and transport linen to the closet.
Bernero: I got to practice my washing, drying and folding skills.
Lanece: He followed directions pretty well. Telling him what to do was fun.

In campaign finance news, according to state campaign finance records, Bernero collected $44,250 in contributions from political action committees between Jan. 6 and March 23. Some of the campaigns were given directly to his gubernatorial campaign, others to his mayoral campaign. The contributions are as follows:

Jan. 6 – Realtors PAC - $300
Jan. 13 – Tetra Tech Separate Segregated Fund - $5,000
Jan. 15 – Plumbers and Pipefitters PAC - $1,200
Jan. 15 – Tetra Tech Separate Segregated Fund - $450
Jan. 15 – Miller Canfield PAC - $1,200
Jan. 18 – Government Consulting Services Inc. PAC - $600
Jan. 18 – Foster, Swift, Collins and Smith PAC - $1,000
Jan. 19 – Dykema Gossett PAC - $150
Jan. 19 – AT&T PAC - $1,200
Jan. 20 – Michigan Insurance Coalition - $300
Jan. 22 – Blue Cross and Blue Shield PAC - $2,400
Jan. 25 – IBEW COPE - $300
Jan. 25 – DTE Energy PAC - $1,200
Jan. 26 – Plunkett and Cooney PAC - $600
Feb. 12 – Michigan Laborers - $500
Feb. 18 – Clark Hill PAC - $1,000
Feb. 23 – Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association - $1,200
March 2 – Miller Canfield PAC - $5,000
March 2 – Miller Canfield PAC - $5,000
March 3 – Plunkett and Cooney PAC - $3,400
March 4 – IBEW COPE - $2,000
March 19 – Blue Cross and Blue Shield PAC - $10,000
March 23 – Tetra Tech Separate Segregated Fund - $250