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Wednesday, January 27,2010

Beating Rogers ' Kande do it?

by Kyle Melinn

Go ahead and call Kande Ngalamulume crazy. Others much closer to him certainly have.


Friends and family alike wonder why the 31-year-old East Lansing High and Michigan State University grad would willing give up a great job as a business analyst for Philadelphiabased Independence Blue Cross to return to Michigan’s 8th Congressional District to challenge five-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton.


For Ngalamulume, there’s nothing nutty about his decision, at all. He grew up believing in public service and personal sacrifice. His grandfather made sacrifices in their native Republic of Congo that allowed his father, Kalala Ngalmulume, to receive the Catholic school education that later brought him to MSU as a doctoral student.


Now, Kande said, it’s his turn. His decision to run for Congress in the 8th Congressional District has been well thought out. His Web page (www.kandeforcongress. com) is up. Five contributors have already donated a combined $300 to his ActBlue account, a fundraising Web site for progressive Democrats.


He’s still single. He has no children. Folks in the area may remember him as East Lansing High’s starting running back in the late 1990s. The sprinter also came within an eyelash of being the state champion in the 100-meter-dash. He was briefly on the MSU football team until he ran into differences with then-coach Nick Saban.


As a business executive, Ngalamulume has had success in the East working in investments. If ever there was a time in his life to dedicate the better part of a year to making a full-time congressional run, now is the time.


So that’s what he’s doing. Starting in a few weeks, Ngalamulume will be back in Lansing, essentially unemployed. His sole job will be unseating a congressman who hasn’t received less than 55 percent of the district’s vote since first winning the seat in 2000.


Still doesn’t sound crazy? Absolutely not, Ngalamulume said.


"This isn’t something I decided on a whim," Ngalamulume said. "I love my home state of Michigan. The 8th District is my home. Currently, we have someone representing us in Congress who is not in tune with the needs of the district. I felt like now is the time for someone like me."


Obviously, Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer was thrilled to get Ngalamulume’s call. The party was looking for someone to run in the 8th, and a highly motivated candidate just fell into his lap. He’s talked with two-time Democratic nominee Bob Alexander and 8th Congressional District Democratic Chairwoman Kathy Carney.


He’s also talked to people who suggested that he wait. Wait until Rogers’ district is redrawn (possibly out of existence) in 2012. Wait until the Democrats are expected to have a better year nationally. Wait for a time when he’s not running against a proven votegetter like Rogers.


Ngalamulume said he’s not waiting.


For one, he is floored when progressives tell him they have voted for Rogers because "he’s a nice guy," especially when they blankface on Rogers’ policies and his unusually high propensity to tow the conservative, Republican line in Washington.


Lansing and most of the 8th Congressional District is made up of a progressive constituency. The district voted for Barack Obama in 2008, after all.


Yet, the people are OK with a member of Congress who has voted against the president at virtually every turn? Who doesn’t represent the values of the district?


"But this is Mike Rogers we are talking about," I reminded him. "This is going to be a tough race. (As if I was telling him something new here)."


"It will be a tough race. I know that," he said. "Incumbents are hard to beat. But Michigan and the 8th Congressional District is in tough shape and I want to come back home and be part of the rebuilding effort."


"But isn’t this a big risk you’re taking?" I asked.


"Absolutely. I’m pretty much putting myself on the employment line with a lot of other people, but if you don’t take big risks, you won’t get big reward. I’m going to be telling the people that I have values that align with theirs and that when I represent them in Congress, I will be working every day to help turn things around."


"Rogers has been able to intimidate people from running against him, but I’m not intimidated," Ngalamulume said. "I’ve never backed away from a challenge."


Bernero ready to say ’All aboard’


Under what circumstances would Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero not run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination this year? The city’s second-term mayor recently was asked this question by the MIRS Newsletter, and his response left little doubt as to what direction he was headed.


"If I got hit by a freight train," he said.


Bernero is still in the process of rounding up money and support for an apparently inevitable campaign. He’s spent a lot of time meeting with movers and shakers in Detroit, having been spotted at the annual black-tie charity ball that kicks off the auto show.


He’s already earned the endorsement of some key figures in the Downriver and Warren areas and he made a favorable impression on a roundtable of influential labor leaders last week.


The knocks on enthusiastic Bernero:


A) He talks too much. B) He’s going to have a "Howard Dean" moment where he says or does something foolish that will get overplayed by the media, thereby sinking his viability.


"I would say that doesn’t accurately describe me at all," he told MIRS. "I lead with my heart, all the time."


Look for an official announcement to come in the next couple weeks.


Meanwhile, the Michigan Republican Party poked some fun at Bernero this week, calling his annual address to the citizens of Lansing the "State Or The City" address.


Technically, there is only one candidate in the Democratic race: Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith of Washtenaw County. However, House Speaker Andy Dillon, like Bernero, has formed an exploratory committee. The only other potential candidates, at this point, are University of Michigan Regent Denise Ilitch, former Genesee County Treasurer Dan Kildee and state Treasurer Bob Bowman.


(Kyle Melinn is the editor at the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekly. E-mail melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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