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Friday, January 7,2011

Race and sidewalks

Clergy, Mayor Bernero want an apology from Bill Ballenger for his comments in the Waverly Road sidewalk flap

by Andy Balaskovitz
Friday, Jan. 7 — The Clergy Forum of Greater Lansing, a group of black pastors, called today for a boycott of political analyst Bill Ballenger’s services over his “elitist, sexist and racist statements made in City Pulse” regarding a proposed sidewalk along Waverly Road.

“We are calling for Bill Ballenger to publicly apologize to the community and for those who employ his services to cease and desist,” Melvin T. Jones, president of the Clergy Forum, said today at a press conference.

Lansing City Councilman Derrick Quinney attended the press conference and expressed his support for the Clergy Forum’s position.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero also issued a similar statement.

“His words reflect a gross intolerance and contempt for Lansing’s diversity and reveal his true motives in opposing a project that will make major safety improvements for citizens who walk in that area,” the mayor’s statement says. “I also believe Mr. Ballenger should relinquish his position on WKAR-TV’s ‘Off the Record’ show.”

Ballenger was quoted in Wednesday’s City Pulse as saying that the foot path that exists now — which a sidewalk would replace — serves “mostly power-walking women from Moores Park” and “foot traffic from Jolly Road that is mostly lower income, largely African American.” He also called the $1.3 million price tag for the proposed Lansing and Lansing Township sidewalk “insane.”

“What I told you wasn’t racist,” Ballenger said today. “You mangled what I said. You took two quotes out of context.”

“The fact of the matter is that most of the people who actually use it now are lower income from Jolly Road,” he added. “I see them all. You can tell from their clothing that they’re not affluent people.”

He said he is not opposed to the project because of who uses the path. “If I had that much of a problem I would have said something a long time ago.” He said he opposes spending $1.3 million on a sidewalk that he expects will be underused.

"That's why he (Bernero) wants to build this. They want a path to the YMCA. They want an antiseptic environment paved in gold,” Ballenger said.

Ballenger does not dispute he made the comments attributed to him. He said he can see who uses the path from inside his house.

“The fact is there are hardly any people using the sidewalk. You saw for yourself” Ballenger said.

Ballenger, 69, lives at 2029 S. Waverly Road, in the Waverly Hills subdivision. He is a former Republican state representative and state senator, an ex-state racing commissioner, and director of the Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulation. Ballenger also served as deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education & Welfare in the administration of President Gerald R. Ford.

He is the editor and owner of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics and a commentator on local television and radio. He also speaks to local organizations and businesses.

Ballenger said there is nothing to apologize for, not even for generalizing the socioeconomic status and race of those who use the narrow footpath near his home.

“My next-door neighbor is African American, and we stand shoulder to shoulder on this (sidewalk) issue,” Ballenger said.


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