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Wednesday, July 27,2011

Five to four

Incumbents in the At-Large race are likely to survive the primary, but who will fall?

by Andy Balaskovitz

After Tuesday, five At-Large Lansing City Council candidates will be narrowed to four — the question is: Who will fall?


Incumbents Derrick Quinney and Carol Wood
each had strong showings in the 2007 primary, and it’s likely they will
again this year, said local political strategist Todd Cook.


“I think Carol and Quinney will be the
top two. The rest is not clear,” he said. Cook said he believes Wood
will be the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s primary “based on her past
performance.”


In her 12 years as Councilwoman, Wood has
made herself known as the accessible Council member — she also works
the job virtually full time, even though it pays part time — who is
often at odds with the Bernero administration on big projects. Though
she tends to find common ground with Council members Eric Hewitt, who is
not seeking re-election this year, and Brian Jeffries, Wood denies
setting up an “anti-Bernero camp.” Bernero recently was against Wood’s
backing of the medical marijuana dispensary moratorium that lasted six
months. Bernero wondered why it took so long to draft an ordinance
creating the moratorium, which he called “nonsense,” “Nixonian” and “an
attempt to thwart the will of the voters.” Wood said the moratorium was
meant to follow the lead of neighboring municipalities that also had
moratoriums: “I guess that’s his idea of regionalism,” she said of
Bernero’s claims.


Wood said recently on “City Pulse on the
Air” that while they may have “differing opinions” on policy, they still
get along, as evidenced at a recent City Council meeting where together
they presented a tribute to the Capital City African American Cultural
Association.


That leaves newcomers John Krohn, Rory
Neuner and Tom Stewart, none of whom is over 31 years old. Neuner leads
all five in campaign contributions, of which contributors were spread
far and wide: Since mid-January, Neuner has collected more than $10,600 —
the most out of any City Council candidate this year — from about 180
contributors.


“Neuner has the energy and the resources — the rest of the field is a little bit jumbled,” Cook said.


Krohn has criticized Quinney and Wood for
their votes on certain projects, particularly when they voted against
granting brownfield tax incentives for developer Pat Gillespie’s Market
Place project (which was reversed by an Ingham County Circuit Court
judge) and against putting the sale of a portion of the former Red Cedar
Golf Course up to city voters. Krohn has also said he believes
Quinney’s and Wood’s votes are tainted by campaign contributions from
labor groups. Krohn raised the least amount among at-large candidates,
$2,954, which came in 122 different contributions — an average of $24.21
per donation.


In this election, Quinney has received
$500 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Committee
on Political Education and $500 from the Transit Workers Union. Quinney
also works full time as the state director of health and safety for the
Michigan AFL-CIO union. Wood received $1,000 from IBEW Local 352 and an
individual contribution of $200 from Jim Bitzer, business manager for
Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local 9.


Stewart raised a little more than $6,000,
with notable contributions coming from Kelly Rossman-McKinney of the
public relations firm Truscott Rossman ($100) and developer Pat
Gillespie ($250). Stewart was the only candidate to whom
Rossman-McKinney and Gillespie donated.


Rumors also circle around this year’s election that perhaps it’s a bad year for incumbents.


Paul King, director of survey research at
Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group, said last week that this year’s
election lays “fertile ground for a challenger to come in and win at
least one of those seats.” Incumbents are running in the At-Large and
3rd Ward races.


King’s notion is based on a poll MRG
conducted in June of 300 likely voters that showed 67 percent of Lansing
voters think the Council is “dysfunctional.” It also gave the Council a
D on managing taxpayer money. The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce
helped MRG pay for the poll, though King would not say how much it
cost. The Chamber endorsed Neuner and Stewart in the At-Large race;
newcomer Joe Manzella in the 1st Ward; and incumbent A’Lynne Robinson in
the 3rd Ward. Third Ward candidates Robinson and challenger Jason
Wilkes get a bye in the primary since they are the only contenders.
They’ll face each other in November.


The incumbents — perhaps unsurprisingly —
have been skeptical of the rating and deny Council’s alleged
dysfunction. Wood blamed it on the press for perpetuating a “myth.”
Quinney has said difficult decisions are part of the process and doesn’t
think the D is accurate. 


But newcomers are playing up Council’s
public displays of non-affection toward each other. Neuner has called it
an “epidemic of distrust” and on Tuesday announced a “Reform Plan for
City Council,” which calls for reducing the number of Council meetings
per year, limiting the time Council members have during meetings to make
announcements and setting aside one meeting a year to recap policy
decisions. Stewart said he has encountered voter concern about Council
dysfunction when knocking on doors. Krohn, who said this is a democracy
and not every Council vote should be 8-0, agreed with Stewart about the
public perception when knocking on doors.


But Cook doesn’t think the poll will have
much of an effect on the incumbents, at least in the primary.
Oftentimes, he said, the public is more eager to criticize a legislative
body than a single politician. Also, Cook said there’s “a lot of
frustration by people in government in general.”


“People vote for individual candidates,
they don’t vote for the body as a whole. On the flip side, people could
manifest their disappointment into one or two members,” Cook said.
“There’s a week to go yet, you never know.”

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