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Tuesday, December 30,2008

Our version of a 'Top 10' list

by BERL SCHWARTZ

City Pulse’s landlord, who lives in Washington, stopped by last week to say "hello" while in town for the holidays.

I was working on a facet of our Top Ten Newsmaker issue. “Well, we know who’s No.1,” he said. I ventured that as an Inside-the- Beltwayer he was assuming Obama, but I explained that all our choices were local.

“Oh, Bernero?” “No, he’s not on the list,” I said. “The mayor could always be on the list.” Not that being mayor disqualifies Bernero, who certainly had a good year. Last year’s downtown development breakthroughs are on schedule. He scored points for himself and Lansing on national TV advocating a bailout of the Big Three.

And he didn’t physically assault a single member of City Council. A good year, but not a great year. So, who had a better one? Our choices follow on the next 10 pages.

They are subjective, and they could be called Lansing’s Top Ten Newsmakers Who Were Willing to be Interviewed. Several couldn’t or wouldn’t — or just didn’t — sit down with us. One who got away was Eli Broad, the billionaire MSU grad whose money is behind the art museum that will be built in East Lansing. We’ve been trying to talk to him for two years now. He may be generous, but he’s, well, rude: He doesn’t even turn down our requests. He just ignores them, even when they are initiated by important people at MSU. Another was Claude McCollum, freed from jail after being wrongly convicted of murdering a Lansing Community College victim. (He was freed in 2007, but his significance hauntingly continues.) His attorney, Hugh Clarke, turned us down on his behalf, saying his client was off limits to the media while his civil suit proceeds. I’m sure it gave Clarke pleasure to decline in light of our “anybody-but-Hugh” endorsement of his opponents in his latest judgeship race, but we respect his reason.

That caused us to go in the other direction and seek out Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings, whose re-election we opposed because of McCollum’s wrongful conviction.

Dunnings said he’d consider it — if we’d reveal who wrote the endorsement and whether that person had read the state’s report vindicating Dunnings. (Dunnings did eventually agree, but his timing caused us to reach out to other newsmakers.)

Well, here’s your answer: I wrote it, and I don’t care. Harry Truman had it right: The buck stops here.


Undoubtedly, others could have been on the list. U.S. Rep.-elect Mark Schauer had a great year, defeating Neanderthalish Tim Walberg in the 7th District.

Dianne Byrum did too, having led a successful campaign for medical marijuana as well as winning herself a seat on the MSU Board of Trustees.

Most people who made the list quickly granted interviews, but one expressed an understandable concern about getting too much credit. Indeed, all of the Top Ten Newsmakers represent many people who worked hard for their particular causes.

We had to make calls to high places before our reluctant nominee agreed to be interviewed, and even then the nominee tried to extract a promise that we’d run a staff photo. That’s someone I’d like to have as a boss. In another case, I had to resist pettiness when one nominee told me before the interview that the organization the nominee represents might not renew its advertising.

If any of our choices are controversial, I’m guessing it will be Andy, one of the members of the Mt. Hope Church invasion. No one can dispute the action made news. We broke the story on our Web site, where it attracted tens of thousands of visits and pages of comments, mostly negative and many of them homophobic.

Well, we have mixed feelings about the appropriateness of the group’s tactics, but we agree with the goal of trying to make the church’s young people aware that it is OK to be gay. Perhaps Andy and the others prevented a suicide.

The interviews, conducted by staffers Neal McNamara, Lawrence Cosentino and Angela Vasquez-Giroux and in two cases jointly by columnist Kyle Melinn and myself, are decidedly not transcriptions.

We’ve combined answers, left out parts we found less interesting, and even tightened the wording of questions. Hey, if The New York Times can do it — as Deborah Solomon does in her excellent Sunday Magazine Q&As — so can we, right? We trust she takes as much care as we did not to distort anything.

Let us know what you think of our choices by writing to letters@lansingcitypulse.com. And happy New Year!

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