Sept. 15 2010 12:00 AM

West side story: The Bernero campaign hits Kent County


Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero had just revved up a crowd of roughly 50 Democrats in Grand Rapids Friday when he was courted outside to take a few questions from the media.

Rick Albin, veteran political reporter for NBC affiliate WOOD-TV 8 in Grand Rapids, was first to bat, followed by a local radio reporter. I noticed Albin scrambling with some text messages on his phone next to me after he interviewed Bernero. Before it was my turn to approach the candidate, Albin shrewdly moved in to deliver some breaking news. He and Bernero huddled over his cell phone, reading an alert from what turned out to be the campaign of his opponent, Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder. Bernero, apparently, didn’t want to debate.

After reading the message, Bernero looked up, rolled his eyes, smiled a bit and shook his head.

“It’s just not true,” a mildly deflated Bernero said. “It is clear they are trying to keep their candidate in a bubble. The public deserves better.”

In what can unofficially be called the great debate debacle, Bernero switches from taking a hard line against the Snyder campaign to the grain-of-salt approach.


Bernero poses with Dorothy Newman at a campaign stop in Grand Rapids Friday. Newman moved to Grand Rapids from England in 1945 and missed voting in only one election since then, she said. Photo by Andy Balaskovitz.

“Looks like we’re going to have to hire a debate duck,” he said Friday after reading Albin’s text message.
In his speech a few minutes earlier, the debates were Bernero’s first topic.

“We got an ultimatum today (from Snyder) with the debates,” he told the crowd.

“They have to be in a closet with two people, no TVs and no Internet. I asked him, ‘Didn’t you used to run a computer company?’” Bernero joked.

Debates or not, this Kent County pocket of Democrats was eager to see Bernero. Friday’s crowd at the Kent County Democratic Party Headquarters on Northeast Fuller Street was modest in size but gave excitable and loud responses to Bernero’s rap.

“My opponent wants to put manufacturing to bed? In Michigan?” Bernero asked.

“No!” the crowd cheered.

“We’re going to roll out the red carpet instead of the red tape,” Bernero added. “The politics are the same: Pundits say we are down in the polls and don’t have the money. But we Democrats are used to that.”

Sitting quietly in her wheelchair as Bernero greeted Democrats after his speech, Dorothy Newman is no rookie when it comes to politics. She moved to the United States from England in 1945 and has missed voting in only one election since then. “Naturally they were all for Democrats,” she said wryly.

Newman has been active in women’s labor rights in Michigan since moving to Grand Rapids in 1945. The Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council recognized Newman in 1994 for being “active in labor unions” as well as the Democratic Party. She voted for Bernero in the primary and generally likes his style.

“He’s the son of an immigrant, has done well for himself and means what he says,” Newman said. “There’s so much double-talk nowadays.”

Always an optimist, she has not ruled out a Bernero defeat in conservative West Michigan.
“If we all get out and work, we can do it,” she smiled. Her tone shifts quickly, and she says seriously: “It is our duty to vote in elections.”

Joseph Marckini, president of the Cedar Springs Public Schools Board of Education, was standing nearby during Bernero’s speech. He voted for Bernero in the primary because of his ties to public education, specifically early childhood development and K-12 schools (Bernero’s wife, Teri, is principal at Wexford Elementary School in Lansing). Bernero also made a good first impression on Marckini a few months back.

“I’d rather have an individual (as governor) who is real and shows himself who he is, not someone who hides,” he said.

Cedar Springs is about 20 miles north of Grand Rapids, and Marckini believes support for Bernero grows accordingly with latitude.

“I think he has a lot of support north of Grand Rapids, if not more than in the city,” he said.