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Thursday, June 4,2009

Lansing's indie mayoral candidate speaks

Mayoral hopeful Ben Hassenger gives the first speech of his campaign

by Neal McNamara
Standing against a background of eclectic blues, jazz and big band records at Uncle Sam’s Record Emporium Thursday, Lansing’s most eclectic mayoral candidate gave the first press conference of his campaign.

Ben Hassenger, 25, a political newcomer, gave a meandering speech Thursday afternoon to members of the press and a handful of supporters in the record store’s back room — a fitting setting for Hassenger, who lives in Old Town and performs in several local bands — that touched on energizing the creative community in Lansing, the failings of big-shot politicians and his personal connection to the city.

“What’s up?” Hassenger said to the crowd as he walked to a podium before his speech to Bruce Springsteen’s “Out in the Street.” Hassenger’s podium was decorated in his campaign poster, which is a take-off on the Barack Obama “Hope” poster, and he opted not wear a suit and tie, but cargo shorts, a T-shirt and running sneakers.

“As the capital, it’s our responsibility to be a beacon for the rest of the state,” he said.

“I’m not jaded or diluted about my possibilities of being mayor. If I become mayor, I will take care of everything. But I’m not diluted. I realize that there are some heavy hitters in front of me, but that’s not up to me to decide, that’s up to you to decide,” he said, pointing to the crowd.

Hassenger first decided to run for mayor last fall when he saw an “Anyone But Virg” yard sign (referring to Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero). He said that he turned to his friend and said, “I’m anyone.” Hassenger, who works as a cook, has never ran for a political office.

Hassenger didn’t talk about specific platforms for his campaign, but his major theme seemed to be tapping into Lansing’s creative community to create jobs, fix dilapidation and attract new residents.

During a post-speech interview, Hassenger was asked how he would relate to older voters. He told a story about how his grandmother at first balked at his choice to run for mayor, but said that he eventually convinced her that he is the right man for the job.

“Lansing runs in my blood," Hassenger said in the release previewing the Uncle Sam’s event. “It cradled me and raised me into a man when I just a boy, and I have an obligation to the city I love to knock off its training wheels other fathers have left on and help it stand on its own.”

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