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Tuesday, August 4,2009

PRIMARY PRIMER

A guide to the 2009 primary for Lansing mayor and City Council

by Kyle Melinn

Virg Bernero Age: 45 Political Experience: Mayor, state senator, state representative, Ingham County commissioner

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Charles Ford Age: 54 Political Experience: Lansing School Board, former City Councilman


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Carol Wood Age: 59 Politcal Experience: 10 years Lansing City Council


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MAYORAL CANDIDATES READY FOR ROUND ONE


It's the showdown Lansing political junkies have waited for ... the first half of it anyway.


Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and Lansing City Council arch rival Carol Wood will have their names put before voters Aug. 4 in the mayoral primary. If they are the election's top two vote getters, they will advance to the November runoff. The winner will become Lansing's mayor for the next four years.

Nobody understands the situation more than attorney Charles Ford, the Lansing school board member who's hoping to place ahead of Wood and Bernero. He's trying to use the two's adversarial relationship against them. A former councilman and mayoral candidate in the 1990s, Ford said he's earned a reputation of being a uniter.


Also appearing on the ballot is Benjamin Hassenger, a local musician, who did not respond to City Pulse's request to participate in an on-air forum last week.

Despite Ford's best effort, the storyline of the primary continues to be the rocky relationship between Wood and Bernero. The two rarely talk. Bernero said he has an "open door” and Wood has never stepped through it. Wood said former Mayor David Hollister met with the Council every Monday and Bernero has only met with the Council once.


"The relationship is not that healthy," Bernero said. "It's a stalemate. … I'll continue to try to work with everybody. I will continue to try to work with Carol best I can. She has chosen to put up obstacles. It's not an issue of working with her. She wants to run the place, so it's appropriate she's running for mayor.


"But just saying no, just throwing up obstacles, is not a vision. It's not an agenda. It is not a counter plan.”


On the contrary, Wood said it is Bernero and his administration that have not been forthright with the Council on his proposals. For example, Bernero's team was inconsistent in its case to sell a downtown parking ramp to Lansing Community College.


Had the case been made better and Bernero opted to listen to the ideas of some on the eight-member body, the Council may not have rejected the plan.


"Part of communication and part of understanding each other is accepting differing ideas," Wood said. "It's accepting that maybe you don't have all the answers and that someone else, based on their experience, can bring a new light to a subject and listening to what that light is."


When asked directly if she feels like she's reached out to Bernero, Wood said simply, "I do."


Meanwhile, Ford is running an aggressive campaign on the platform that the back-and-forth “bickering” needs to stop. Whether it’s the Lansing City Market project or Frances Park or the budget, the mayor's office and the City Council need to work together better and he's the person to make that happen.


“It's time for a situation where we have people who trust each other — a Council and a mayor that can work together,” Ford declared. “I am that uniter.”


On the issues, the most striking difference among the three candidates is their views on Bernero's new police surveillance cameras, which he put in "tough" spots across the city. Bernero said the cameras work, they are effective and they are a deterrent. The city recently received a federal grant and he's using the money to put up more.


Wood, initially a staunch opponent to the cameras, wants to review the crime numbers in the areas the cameras are operating. For now, she does not support putting up more.


Ford wants the cameras down and replaced with a more complete network of police field stations and substations that will disperse officers more thoroughly throughout the city to deter crime.


One of Wood's consistent complaints with the Bernero administration is its lack of focus on encouraging economic development somewhere other than downtown. The city's main corridors — Saginaw, Martin Luther King, Grand River, Cedar, the roads suburbanites and other drive down to get into the city — need attention if Lansing hopes to attract new residents.


In order to have a vibrant city, government needs to insist on more home-credit programs like the one struck with the Accident Fund when it chose to remodel the former Board of Water and Light Power Station as its national headquarters, she said.


Asked directly if Bernero is focused enough on neighborhoods, Wood responded, "I don't think so."


Ford's focus is on the city's walkable neighborhoods — Butler/Saginaw, Pleasant Grove/Holmes. Grand River/Waverly — places where residents would like to walk for goods and services, but what they see isn't inviting.


"I like what's going on downtown to a certain degree, but I think it's to the detriment sometimes to the neighborhoods in not looking at what we can do to some of our neighborhood business districts, to bring them back," Ford said.


Bernero said his team is putting more money into city streets than in years past. He didn't create the country's foreclosure problem, but his administration is doing the best it can under the situation, he said.


As far as economic development, he points out that the city has a portfolio that note the properties it would like to see developers take a look at, but it can't force "a square peg into a round hole."


"There are people who are trying to form this idea that it's downtown versus the neighborhoods," Bernero said. "The reality is that I don't have any pixie dust that I spread over certain areas to get economic development. Business people make decisions. Developers make decisions where they'd like to develop."


All three candidates support the idea of working with neighboring townships and cities on joint ventures. Bernero noted that his administration successfully handed off Potter Park Zoo to the county and wondered aloud if assessing, or some other function could also be handled regionally by Ingham County.


Ford is promoting the idea of a regional board to examine the idea of combining services like police or recycling as a way to save money and eliminate duplication.


Before the city gets too aggressive with any particular plans, Wood said more trust needs to be developed among the local units of government. She noted that the city is faced resistance from Lansing Township on the sewer separation project and that a deal with Clinton and Eaton counties on joint support for the Lansing Regional Airport is still evasive.


"I think we have to start small," she said.


None of the three candidates supported the proposed countywide millage increase for the Sheriff’s Department so it can maintain rural road patrol services.


None of the three candidates vowed not to raise taxes if elected. Ford said he would adequately inform citizens about his proposals. Wood said it would be irresponsible to make a pledge without knowing what the economy will do in the next four years. Bernero said he hasn't raised taxes in his first four years and it would be an "absolute last resort" in his next four.


Also, none of the three candidates openly supported the idea that the city of Lansing take over the school system, but Ford came the closest by suggesting the city should be involved in what's going on with the schools and that Lansing should be a more "holistic" city.


"If that's in the best interest of the city, anything is possible," he said. For now, he supports employing an educational liaison to bridge the relationship.


Bernero said the relationship between the two separate entities is good, as proven by the city's successful placement of police officers in certain schools.


"I have my hands full with being mayor," he said. "There's so much to do with economic development and keeping jobs."


Wood said flat out that "City Hall should not operate the schools," but said the two entities could work together more. She suggested "wrap-around schools," where community service advocates rent space in slated-to-be-closed school buildings. Such an idea would keep the buildings open for students and the community alike.





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