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Wednesday, July 8,2009

Lawn wranglers

Mayoral candidate signs are popping up on lawns. Can their owners tell us what the real issues are?

by Ben Joubert, Neal McNamara, Liz Reyna, Jonathan Wells and Drew W
Last Thursday evening, a harried Venessa Tucker was preparing for a party she was planning for the next day for her daughter’s birthday. Plus, the day after that, there would be a July 4 celebration. She explained that she had surgery recently, and she’s usually busy taking care of several foster children and her handicapped sister.

It’s no wonder she doesn’t have much time for politics.


But when Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero came knocking on the door of her home on Miller Road in south Lansing recently to ask if he could plant a campaign sign in her lawn, she agreed. She was impressed that the incumbent would take time to come to her house and talk to her.


“I am very politically intolerant. I don’t know much about the mayor. But it impressed me that he came to knock on my door,” she said. “I don’t know if he’s done a good job or not.”


The mayor was alone when he came to her door, she said, dressed casually, wearing one of his campaign T-shirts. Tucker said she was worried that the mayor was walking around, alone, without security.

“But I guess he wasn’t wasting taxpayer money on security,” she said.


In attempt to identify a major issue or issues hovering around the Lansing mayoral campaign, we reached out to all corners of Lansing, visiting people with lawn campaign signs. We asked all the sign owners the question, “What’s the biggest issue for you in this year’s election?” Surprisingly, we got a couple of Vanessa Tuckers — those people who are not totally in touch with local politics, but can be wooed by a simple knock on the door, a good deed done by
a candidate, or a glimpse of them on a 24-hour cable news network. Whether those people will make the leap from candidate advertising real estate to voter is up in the air.


However, we did find some people who know what they want in a candidate, even if it’s as vague as “this candidate will bring change.”

With only weeks until the primary, and 4,125 absentee ballots already turned in, according to the Lansing City clerk (a total of 2,600 were turned in for the 2005 primary), it seems “issues” are at least as important as candidate personality.


On Lansing’s east side, Connie Christian proudly displays a Virg Bernero campaign sign because she likes what the mayor has done with development. It’s an issue that she is basing her vote on.


“Living over 10 years in Chicago before I moved, I used to weep every night because of the lack of venues and restaurants in Lansing,” she said. “But now the face has changed. Downtown looks better. The Hollister (building) got cleaned up.” Vince Villegas, who lives near Christian on Magnolia Avenue, is a staunch Bernero supporter (and appointee: He chairs the Lansing Housing Commission) who has campaigned for the mayor on Facebook. He likes Bernero because of his experience.

“The issues I'm interested in are who has the experience, who will attract and retain businesses and neighborhood safety,” he said.


But then there are people who aren’t so sure.


“I have no idea, I don't keep up with that kind of stuff. A woman came by and asked if she could put that outside and I said, ‘OK.’ Whatever, I guess,” said a woman, who wished to remain anonymous, on Lansing’s far northeast side of her Bernero sign.


A woman on the northeast side with a Carol Wood sign wasn’t sure about the thing stuck in her yard. But she is concerned about jobs.


“Oh, I don't know, my husband put that out. You would have to ask him. I've heard him say a couple things. Pro-union, that's one, and using local labor. I guess a bunch of people from Grand Rapids were paid to do a job in Lansing — so local Lansing workers to do Lansing jobs,” she said.


One woman, on Devonshire Avenue on the south side, wanted to remain anonymous, but her issue is that she wants a new mayor. She has a Carol Wood sign in her lawn, which recently replaced an “Anyone But Virg” sign. However, the woman is loyal to Wood, noting that she removed the “Anyone” sign out of respect Courtesy photo to the at-large Councilwoman.

“I like somebody that’s for the common guy,” she said. “I think (Bernero) needs to listen to the people.”


She also complained about the lack of business on the south side. She doesn’t care about downtown Lansing, and perceives the only viable businesses on the south side seem to be used car lots.


Inside BW’s Hair Fashions on Holmes Street is a life-size cutout of local attorney and Lansing Board of Education member Charles Ford. The proprietors say Ford will bring “change.”

“I think he's the best person for the job because he's homegrown from Lansing. He's going to get Lansing out of the economic mess that we're in,” said the store’s manager, who did not want to give his name.

“I think Charles Ford will give us a change,” owner Buel Williams said. “He'll actually do something, not like Bernero who just promised to."

Williams thinks that Ford has the right stuff to fix the problem with red-tagged houses and cut taxes.

Marlon Alston, a General Motors Corp. worker who lives near downtown, said he likes Bernero because he’s involved in the community, has been to his church and that he’s a people person. Alston also thinks he can rely on Bernero to deliver jobs.

“I like him, write that down,” Alston said.

But a neighbor of Alston, who described himself as a “fiscal conservative” and “one of five Republicans left in Lansing,” said, “Virg is too hot-headed — Carol does things by the book.”

“Any time a local mayor makes CNN news, he’s doing something right,” William Badgett, a GM employee, said.
Back on Miller Road, Venessa Tucker still had not named an issue that put her into the Virg column. But she said the mayor told her she could call him anytime if she needs anything. She plans to do so, because she wants to talk about issues related to the handicapped and the foster care system.

“He’s a man of good character and a man of good word,” she said. “You can just tell. It doesn’t take a scientist to know a man who cares about people.”



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