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Wednesday, April 6,2011

First Ward race thickens

Martinez commits to the First Ward, a fifth candidate jumps in, and who will get labor support?

by Andy Balaskovitz
Former State Rep. Lynne Martinez has settled on running for Lansing City Council in the First Ward instead of At-Large, where she would have faced two incumbents with strong labor support.

Martinez and three others say they will challenge incumbent Eric Hewitt in the nonpartisan Aug. 2 primary.


Martinez was actively considering an At-Large race that would have pitted her against incumbents Carol Wood and Derrick Quinney. Presuming Martinez survived the primary, she’d likely face both of them in a runoff general election for their two At-Large seats.


Wood has strong labor support, and Quinney is the state AFL-CIO’s health and safety director.


Martinez acknowledged labor’s backing for them “had some influence” on her decision.


“It wasn’t the total reason,” adding that she has “huge respect for labor unions.”


“I’ve been (living) here in the first ward for 17 years,” Martinez said. “I’ve been very happy to work with lots of folks in the First Ward. I prefer to be the First Ward representative. I want to represent the neighborhood where I live.”


Todd Cook, a Lansing-based political strategist, said Martinez might fare better in the First Ward than At-Large because of her name recognition.


“That’s much more of an advantage in the First Ward. Any time you have a smaller electorate to deal with, name recognition helps,” he said.


Martinez was a three-term state representative from 1994 to 1999. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Martinez as the state Children’s Ombudsman in 2003. She stepped down from that post to run for mayor of Lansing in 2005, which she lost in the primary to incumbent Tony Benavides and then state Sen. Virg Bernero. Before joining the Legislature, she was an Ingham County commissioner.


Martinez also spent three years as the executive director of the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition before resigning in October 2009. Mary Levine, president of the housing coalition board of directors, said at the time that there was disagreement over how Martinez should balance fundraising and ongoing development projects. Levine told City Pulse in 2009 that “she (Martinez) was fulfilling fundraising expectations, but not at the level the board expected them to be filled.”


Now Martinez has consulting contracts through the Allen Neighborhood Center and the Ingham County Land Bank, she said.


Any At-Large candidate will be up for a challenge in facing Wood and Quinney, Cook said. “Derrick is someone who is well known throughout the city. Carol has served a while there (on Council) and reaches out to the community — she’s a known commodity.”


As for labor support, Cook said that depends on what kind of support it is. There’s a difference between an endorsement versus having a group “rally troops and collect PAC money.”


However, Cook said at a national and state level, the labor movement is getting “reenergized. I wouldn’t be surprised to see labor get members fired up as a run-up to 2012.”


Lynne Meade, vice president of the Teamsters Local 580, said it’s a little early yet to get behind City Council candidates. Meade said the union will “definitely” take the time to consider new candidates, such as Rory Neuner, 30, a policy analyst for Safe Routes to School National Partnership.


Neuner announced for At-Large last fall after Quinney and Wood supported the successful City Council effort to block incentives for developer Pat Gillespie’s Market Place project because he wouldn’t agree to labor demands. A judge subsequently overturned the decision.


“I think their (labor) support is important,” Neuner said. “I’m definitely trying to speak to folks from our various labor unions. I’m trying to court their support. I’m supportive of the work they do whether or not that is reciprocated (by their support) in this election.”


Neuner said it’s not like she’s going to withdraw from the race if she is unable to “line up every single labor union” behind her. “I want to talk about quality of life, economic development and good jobs. I’m running for those reasons.”


In the First Ward, Joe Manzella, 25, a manager at the nonprofit LEAP — Lansing Area Economic Partnership — also announced he would run after the battle between labor and Gillespie at City Council. The other candidates challenging Hewitt are Harold Leeman Jr., 53, whom Hewitt knocked off Council four years ago, and neighborhood activist Jody Washington. She is the only candidate who has filed so far. The deadline is May 10.


Cook thinks the First Ward race “has the potential to be the hottest race in the city. Not to say other races (for the Third Ward and the two At-Large seats) won’t be of interest. You have Harold coming back again, Manzella is trying to capture the young professional group, and you have Lynne Martinez, a longtime progressive activist.”


Washington just committed last week for her first City Council campaign.


“It’s high time the first ward has an independent voice,” she said. “I am the only one not connected to any political people and big business. I’m only connected to the people in my neighborhood.”


Washington, 54, an East Village resident, is a grievance specialist at the state Department of Corrections. She serves on the Lansing Fire Board of Commissioners and is vice president of the Eastside Neighborhood Organization and secretary of the Lansing Neighborhood Council.


This is her first campaign for elective office. She said she decided to run for Council this year because she “couldn’t take it anymore” and wants to offer a “sober head” on Council.


“For far too long, our City Council has been split into two factions. I don’t think political posturing and political agendas should play any role,” she said.

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