Factcheck: Mayoral candidates mislead voters at WLNS debate

Five false claims surface at latest mayoral debate in Lansing

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THURSDAY, Sept. 30 — Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and City Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar offered their visions for the future of the Capital City during a mayoral debate hosted last night by WLNS-TV. But neither of them were being entirely accurate throughout the 30-minute program.

Here’s a look at some of the most misleading claims that went unchecked by the moderator:

The claim:

Schor said Police Department staffing levels have climbed by 10 officers since 2018. 

The verdict: 

Technically true but misleading.

In 2018, the budget for the Police Department included enough cash for 202 sworn officers. The number of positions climbed to 203 in 2020 —  the last time the Police Department was fully staffed. Although the city is now budgeted for 211 officers, 20 of those positions are unfilled.

Last year, Lansing had 203 cops on payroll. As of July, there were only 191 officers on the job.

So, while Schor’s administration may have hired at least 10 officers to help combat a wave of retirements, resignations and firings in recent years, it’s still a net decrease in overall staffing.

The claim:

Schor said he "was told" the East Lansing Police Department has 10-12 vacancies.

The verdict:

False.

Schor may have been told that information, but it's still incorrect. The East Lansing Police Department is  budgeted for 49 sworn officers. Only one of those positions was vacant as of this week, according to Deputy Police Chief Steve Gonzales. 

The claim:

Schor said that the city of Lansing has been declared the “most affordable city” in America. 

The verdict:

Technically true but misleading.

The city of Lansing was ranked at the top of Livability.com’s “Top 100 Most Affordable Small to Mid-Sized Cities” listing in 2018. Lansing didn’t even make the top 100 on that same list in 2019.

And in 2020, the city was also excluded from Livability’s “Best Places to Live in America” list.

The rankings are purportedly based on income and real estate data, but the marketing website is also designed to “attract and retain residents and businesses.” Its subsidiary, Livability Media, also works with cities to “leverage the power” of the rankings to promote economic investment.

The claim:

Dunbar said that residents who want speeding enforcement in their local neighborhoods have been forced to gather petition signatures from their neighbors before the city will take action.

The verdict:

Partially true but misleading.

Schor announced “Operation Slowdown” last September, an effort to redirect police patrols and more aggressively target and ticket reckless drivers and speeders. Records show that initiative has led to more than 300 traffic stops and more than 250 citations for things like speeding, improper passing, running red lights and more. The Police Department also conducted about 1,700 traffic stops and issued 1,400 tickets in the five months that followed that announcement.

Operation Slowdown also included the launch of a reporting form to help residents redirect police resources where they belong and ask for more focused neighborhood patrols. Only residents that specifically want speed bumps installed on their block have been asked to collect signatures from at least 25% of the households in the proposed area, according to city officials.

The claim:

Dunbar said Schor has been privately dissuading Ingham County commissioners from awarding gun violence prevention grant funds to The Village Lansing, a local nonprofit organization that is managed, in part, by Michael Lynn Jr. — an activist who is also suing Schor for discrimination.

The verdict:

Unsubstantiated.

Despite a staff recommendation last month to approve up to $265,000 in commission tabled the resolution that would have finalized the deal last week. No public explanation has been given. Calls to Chairman Bryan Crenshaw were not returned.

Dunbar claimed the funding was derailed, in part, because Schor had privately met with commissioners to dissuade them from selecting The Village as the recipient of the grant cash.

Schor said that commissioners asked him about his relationship with Lynn and The Village, and he gave an “honest answer,” but did not attempt to persuade or dissuade them of anything.

“They are elected officials and will make up their own minds,” Schor explained to City Pulse this week. “I relayed that what I care about is what is best for the youth that would be impacted by the program, and that the commissioners should do what is best to reduce crime and help reform those that have gone down the wrong path in Lansing. That is my top concern.”

The claim:

Dunbar said the city is only spending $1.35 million to support basic human services.

The verdict:

False.

The city charter requires that 1.35% of the general fund budget — not $1.35 million — be spent on “basic human needs” through grant awards to various social services agencies. That translated to more than $1.7 million this year. Another $135,000 was earmarked for racial justice and social equity programs. Schor’s latest budget (which Dunbar approved) also included $240,000 for Advance Peace, $80,000 in Arts and Culture grants and several million dollars passed through from both state and federal grants. 

The claim: 

Dunbar said 10,000 affordable housing units have gone “offline” in the last few years in Lansing. She also said that South Lansing hasn’t seen any new affordable housing projects under Schor. 

The verdict:

False.

Dunbar couldn’t immedaitely provide any data to support her claim today. Rawley Van Fossen, executive director of the Capital Area Housing Partnership, also labeled the claim as “false.” If anything, the stock of affordable housing in Lansing has increased in recent years, he said.

The City Council also approved tax breaks for three affordable housing projects in Lansing in September — including plans to renovate Cedar Place Apartments in South Lansing, which includes units designed and restricted exclusively for low-income residents in the city.

The claim:

Dunbar said the Mayor’s Racial Justice and Equity Alliance is filled with Schor’s “cronies.”

The verdict:

Subjective, but still misleading.

Schor recruited about 40 local leaders — many of them Black — to help spearhead reforms geared to promote racial equity, diversity and inclusion in Lansing. It’s true that some of them have been appointed to boards and commissions by Schor. Some of them have also donated to his political campaigns. But not all of them are there just for being close friends with the mayor.

Regardless of the results of the initiative, that advisory board includes many respected residents who stand on their own professional merits. Among them: Paula Cunningham, state director for AARP Michigan, who was the first female president of Lansing Community College and the only Black woman to be president of a majority-owned bank like Capitol National Bank.

Other MRJEA members include Willard Walker, a consummate public servant and former chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail, developer Joel Ferguson, NAACP President Dale Copedge and Bishop David Maxwell.

The claim:

Dunbar said Human Resources Director Linda Sanchez-Gazella has no prior HR experience. 

The verdict:

False.

Before Sanchez-Gazella was appointed to lead the city’s Department of Human Resources in 2018, she served as chief of staff for former Mayor Tony Benavides, executive director of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program of Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties and as an outreach coordinator for the Lansing School District. Former Mayor David Hollister also told City Pulse that Sanchez-Gazella “covered all the bases” for his administration — including with HR work.

Schor also described her as a “fantastic public servant” in defending the attack from Dunbar. 

The claim:

Dunbar said she “doesn’t drink” when asked about her favorite bars in Lansing. 

The verdict:

False.

Dunbar drinks. This reporter watched her take a shot at her primary election party last month.

She clarified her stance on alcohol this morning: “They asked for a favorite bar and I went blank because I don’t really go to bars. I should have said I don’t go to bars to drink. And I rarely drink. Not wine, not beer, and I did that shit to be social because they wanted to buy it. I rarely buy a drink for myself unless it's froofroo. Alcohol tastes awful and I have the palate of a third grader.” 

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Bob Ginther

Sad state of affairs when both candidates aren't good for the City. I see lots of Dunbar signs, but most are by those who have vested interest in seeing her in power so they can get something. Schor has been a milk toast Mayor & Lansing has slid into the unknowns again. BWL used to be good. Oldsmobile did help the city. The streets are awful again. Taxes are out of sight. Money laundering & graft are here to stay & no one cares. We need a real leader. Somebody who will sacrifice him/her self to bring us back to greatness. Miss the Michigan Theater? Lansing Dry Goods? Sears / Montgomery Ward competition? Andre's Record Shop? We had it, but lost it due to "I don't care" attitudes. Wake up people! I've had lots of political signs stolen or destroyed in my front yard. Gave the police digital video evidence to identify & NOTHING HAPPENED. We deserve what we vote for. Find & encourage real leaders to bring us back.

Saturday, October 2

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