Leading a city as its mayor isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes courage, resolve and a knack for bringing people together around a shared vision for the community’s future. Sadly, our current mayor doesn’t appear to embody any of these qualities. Virtually invisible during much of the pandemic, Mayor Andy Schor’s first term has been marked by a troubled, tone deaf relationship with Lansing’s Black community and an egregious lack of honesty and transparency that breeds deep distrust of City Hall. That’s why we think it’s time for a change.
Either of Schor’s top tier challengers would bring more to the office. Kathie Dunbar, a progressive City Councilwoman who also serves as executive director of a community nonprofit on the city’s south side, has led the way on issues from human rights and safe, affordable housing to making Lansing a welcoming city for immigrants. No other candidate brings Dunbar’s blend of municipal and grassroots experience, combined with an unwavering commitment to building a stronger and more inclusive community. She would be the first woman to hold the office in the city’s history.
Dunbar’s Council colleague, Patricia Spitzley, is also a highly qualified candidate and would be the first Black woman to serve as mayor. As deputy redevelopment manager and director of government relations for RACER Trust, she has plenty of business acumen and understands what it takes to drive economic development. We’re concerned, though, that Spitzley leans toward the conservative side of the political spectrum and is too easily swayed from taking a stand on critical issues facing the city, as evidenced by her flip-flop on making Lansing a sanctuary city after catching heat from the Trump Administration.
We’ll probably be falsely labeled by her supporters as racist for declining to endorse her, but we don’t judge candidates by the color of their skin. That Spitzley initially stopped talking to City Pulse reporters when she disagreed with us is a bad omen for how she would handle media relations in the Mayor’s Office. That she has tried to leverage questionable sexual harassment claims against Kathie Dunbar for political advantage and failed to publicly condemn her supporters for viciously comparing Dunbar to Larry Nassar seals the deal. It is deeply unfortunate that an otherwise strong and potentially historic candidate has resorted to such disingenuous tactics to advance her campaign.
Of the remaining mayoral candidates, we’re impressed by Farhan Sheikh-Omar, a passionate young man with a clear understanding of the challenges facing Lansing and a deep commitment to healing a city that’s been deeply fractured by the stresses of the pandemic and the blinkered approach of the current administration. Had he filed to run for the City Council, we would strongly consider endorsing him for that position. Right now, he doesn’t have the experience or seasoning to take on the complexities of managing Michigan’s sixth largest city. We hope Sheikh-Omar will stay engaged in public service and run for Council in the next cycle.
Based on a strong track record that demonstrates her financial acumen, fearlessness in the face of criticism, commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and compassion for the city’s most vulnerable residents, we endorse Kathie Dunbar for mayor.
City Council at-large
Dunbar’s mayoral bid, which precludes her from running for reelection to the Council seat she’s held for 16 years, creates an opening in one of the two citywide positions up for grabs in this year’s election. In a crowded field of contenders, one candidate stands above the rest. Rachel Willis is vice president of the Lansing School Board and works for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. It’s no small task to lead a large, urban school district in a challenging economic environment. Her experience dealing with budgets, personnel and policy make her a compelling candidate for Council. We endorse Rachel Willis for City Council at-large.
The other citywide seat is held by Council President Peter Spadafore, whose day job is deputy executive director of a statewide nonprofit association. Based on his steady leadership during tumultuous times and his thoughtful approach to public policy, we think he’s earned another term. We endorse Peter Spadafore for City Council at-large.
City Council Second Ward
Incumbent Councilman Jeremy Garza is seeking his second term representing the city’s southeast quarter. He’s done little to distinguish himself over the past four years, except for consistently voting with the body’s conservative bloc, led by Carol Wood. As a union plumber, his principal interest seems to be serving as a spokesman for his compatriots in organized labor. To his credit, he’s known for being responsive to his constituents when they have neighborhood issues or problems with city government. Nonetheless, we think the Second Ward deserves more than a benchwarmer who is beholden to special interests. Garza’s primary challenger, Oprah Revish, is a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion who works at the nonprofit Salus Center, a resource center for the LGBTQIA community. Although we suggest she reconsider her unreasonable proposal to disband rather than reform the Lansing Police Department, we endorse Oprah Revish for the Second Ward Council seat.
Police/Fire/Roads Ballot Proposal
Lansing voters will also be asked to consider a ballot proposal to renew the city’s dedicated millage for police, fire and road improvements. Failing to reauthorize the millage could lead to damaging cuts in public safety services and whittle down the already limited resources available to the city for urgently needed road repairs. We urge a “yes” vote on the proposal.
Whomever you choose to support in the city’s Aug. 3 primary election, where a disappointingly small number of voters will decide the winners, your participation plays a major role in determining the quality of leadership in Lansing. Thanks in part to the great work of City Clerk Chris Swope, it’s never been easier to cast your ballot by absentee ballot or in person at the polls. Your vote counts. Use it.