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Wednesday, November 3,2010

Political future still bright for Virg

by Kyle Melinn
Political future still bright for Virg

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero's 2010 gubernatorial bid officially ended Tuesday night, but those who've followed Bernero's political career say it's unlikely that his political career has suffered any long-term damage, let alone ended.

"Past is prologue," as Bernero likes to say.

And if that's the case with Bernero, he'll be back in the political arena soon, even though he ended up losing 59 percent to 39 percent to Republican Rick Snyder, with 76 percent of the vote counted.

In both of Bernero's prior losses in Ingham County, Bernero learned from his losses, came back and was victorious, observers say.

"Rick Snyder is a noun. Virg is an active verb. Virg verges," said Ingham County Commissioner Mark Grebner. "If you put him down in one place and you leave, you can be assured he won't be there when you come back. He'll be somewhere else."

In 1994, Bernero, a Democrat, lost his Ingham County Board of Commissioners' seat to Bob Johnson, whose claim to fame in Democratic circles was being the cameraman for local paleoconservative/local access TV personality John Mangopoulos, Grebner said.

Bernero worked his south Lansing district harder in 1996 and was victorious.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney of the Rossman Group PR firm remembers how gracious Bernero was when he lost his first Lansing mayoral bid in 2003 by 258 votes to then-mayor Tony Benavides. Considering the tenor of the campaign going in, the contrast in his concession was surprising.

"Virg has an awful lot of opportunities," Rossman-McKinney said. "And the Virg I know is no quitter. He doesn't give up. He regroups. I would hate to see him hang his head in shame in anyway."

But "the proof of the pudding is in the tasting," as Bernero also likes to say. What are his options? If he's going to have a political future, he'll need posts to grow into or jump to.

Rossman-McKinney said Bernero should continue to build on his successes in Lansing and continue to be a strong Democratic voice on national and state issues. He would be unwise not to continue to build on his name recognition.

All things considered, she said Bernero gave it "real strong shot." Considering the Republicans' successes at the polls, Bernero ran a better race than many expected, Rossman-McKinney said.

That said, she also thinks he's going to need to spend some time in the next year repairing some bridges with some in Lansing who feel burned that he jumped from his mayoral re-election to the gubernatorial race in a matter of weeks. Also, he needs to "mind his knitting" with the Lansing City Council, she said.

One of Bernero's biggest accomplishments as Lansing mayor is his ability to "roll out the red carpet instead of the red tape" for businesses.

Republican strategist John Truscott said a lot of people are looking forward to having the attention of Bernero back on being the mayor of Lansing because he has done a good job. He has set an accommodating pro-growth tone for the city that developers and people in business like.

Truscott has been working with developer Pat Gillespie on the downtown Market Place project that Gillespie has been forced to go to court over because of an impasse with the City Council. But beyond that project, Truscott said he's getting the sense that Bernero's full-time presence as an aggressive and active mayor has been missed these last 10 months.

"The tone that has been set by the Lansing City Council has not been a good one," Truscott said, presumably referring to the Council’s 4-4 vote that temporarily derailed the $23 million Market Place project downtown. "There are people who are shying away from coming here. Virg can turn that around by being engaged again."

As far as his future in politics, Truscott said the loss, even one as lopsided as this one, will sting for about six months. But the good thing about politics is "people have very short memories." Also, Bernero has to realize that even if he had done everything right 100 percent, he wasn't going to win this race in this year.

"On his resume he will always have that he was the Democratic nominee for governor. He got into the game. That will be there to his credit, Truscott said.

So what's next? Could his dreams of making Detroit "the hub of the wheel and not the hole in the donut" come to reality in four, maybe eight years with another run for governor?

There's not a lot of consensus here. Bill Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics said he doesn't believe Bernero will have a better opportunity to be the state's chief executive than he did this year.

"When you lose and lose this decisively, I don't think your party gives you another bite of the apple. He will have a hard time getting the nomination for governor again or the nomination for the U.S. Senate," Ballenger said.

Congress is a possibility down the road, but that, too, is a "crap shoot." He said. There are so many variables in place. What happens with reapportionment? What district will Lansing be in? What will the base numbers look like? Will a Democrat have a realistic opportunity to win or will the district already be drawn with a Democratic incumbent?

One thing is for sure. "Virg Bernero will not be content with being mayor for life," Ballenger said. "He wasn't content with being mayor for five years."

Grebner sees it a little differently in that Bernero at 46 is still, as far as politicians go, a young guy. He can go to law school, if he likes. He could be a judge down the road. He could seek a countywide elected office.

There's Congress, for sure, but Grebner doesn't rule out Bernero making another stab at the governor's seat.

"I don't think you should worry about Virg.

He's going to move faster than you think," Grebner said. "Virg will take care of himself. In fact, he probably already has got a plan."

— Kyle Melinn

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