No single word crystallizes Tuesday’s city election more than this one:
Across the Midwest, visionaries are leading old manufacturing cities like ours back to life by drawing new business and hard-working, creative people into its borders.
We’re part way there in Lansing. We’re not a crime-ridden dump like Saginaw or Flint, but we don’t quite have the buzzing, go-to downtown like Indianapolis or Madison either. The Stadium District and the revamped Ottawa Street Power Station shows us what’s possible, but there are plenty of examples of what still needs to be done.
The empty, hulking eight-story mass of the old Oliver Towers on Capitol Avenue is Exhibit A. The chewed-up parking lot across the Grand River where the old Farmers Market once stood and the field of waist-high weeds formerly known as the Red Cedar Golf Course off Michigan Avenue are Exhibits B and C.
Picture those properties before filling out your ballot. Davenport University isn’t building its new campus at the Oliver Towers site because of a 4-4 split on the Lansing City Council. The Gillespie project for the former Farmers Market site stalled on a 4-4 vote. It took the state Appeals Court to undo the Council’s deadlock.
Nobody wins on tie votes. Literally.
In August, City Pulse urged voters to say no to Lansing’s example of Groucho Marx singing "Whatever it is — I’m against it" — Councilwoman Carol Wood. We have one more opportunity to deny her another four years on the Council. Please, for the city’s future, do so.
Instead, Rory Neuner deserves to be everybody’s first vote in one of two open at-large Council seats. The project coordinator for the Transportation for Michigan Coalition is a local product with an open mind and a strong ability to work well with others.
This bona fide progressive supports or supported solid redevelopment proposals for all three aforementioned vacant properties. Neuner is an unwavering "yes" on the millage vote and has a sensible approach to managing marijuana dispensaries along Michigan Avenue if the courts or the Legislature allows it.
Neuner is a must-vote on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Councilman Derreck Quinney has been the city’s leading voice for legitimate businesses serving patients in chronic pain with legal medical marijuana. Instead of playing community politics by dreaming up spooky stories about imagined crime, Quinney has advocated for patients and against empty storefronts.
Yes, Quinney has found himself on the wrong side of some of these 4-4 votes, but we take solace in knowing his principled opposition comes from genuine concern our working men and women. His "no vote" is not political pandering or a finger flip to Mayor Virg Bernero.
We appreciate the organized labor blood running through Quinney’s veins, but we would strongly urge this full-time Michigan AFL-CIO official to work his passion into the city’s progress as opposed to being labor’s rubber stamp.
On Lansing’s east side, Lynne Martinez has the temperament and experience to be the Council’s new 1st Ward councilmember.
Like anyone else, Martinez has strengths and weaknesses. But she thrived as state representative and an Ingham County commissioner, where she represented progressive viewpoints while moving good ideas forward as opposed to throwing up roadblocks.
While her overly scripted opponent also supports selling a piece of the former Red Cedar Golf Course, Martinez didn’t need months of study to get there. While her opponent supports the millage, Martinez worked the "yes" vote into her own campaign. Using "progress" as our guide, Martinez is the better choice here.
No Lansing City Council member has blossomed these last four years more than 3rd Ward Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson. Originally seen as a Wood yes-woman, Robinson is refreshingly open to new ideas while running efficient meetings as Council president.
We also like Robinson’s frankness. She’s crystal clear on where she stands, unlike her mysterious opponent, whose artful dodging of basic questions on standard city issues is alarming.
In short, Robinson has done nothing to be denied a second term. Rather, she gives us new reasons every week why Lansing needs her for four more years.
On the millage vote, voting "yes" should be as automatic as picking up that little black marker, filling in ovals, running the ballot through the machine and taking a sticker. Absolutely no formula for Lansing’s success includes fewer police officers, fewer firefighters, fewer mowed parks and fewer plowed streets.
State government shoved its budget cuts onto cities like Lansing, and local leaders have no other place to go. Yes, times are tight, but with declining home values, most property owners don’t pay more under this higher millage rate anyway.
Lansing simply cannot make progress if more crime seeps back into our streets. We need a properly staffed police department. We need a vote yes on the millage.
The Red Cedar Golf Course proposal may be Lansing’s most misunderstood. The question is whether the Lansing City Council can sell off about a quarter of that 48-acre field of urban nothingness.
No specific redevelopment plans are tied to it. The Lansing City Council would still need to sign off on any proposal.
A golf course is not returning and the city can’t maintain the parks it has, let alone build a huge new park across the street from Frandor. A guaranteed gated field of city-owned weeds into perpetuity is not progress. What would be progress is creating a greater bridge between MSU and our city, which that stretch of Michigan Avenue is ideal for. We urge a yes vote on the Red Cedar Golf Course proposal.
As for a City Charter revision, this isn’t the time to divert attention from greater needs. No one has made a convincing case that the charter is in serious need of repair. We urge a no vote.
Finally, Lansing can’t truly progress unless its school district invites parents into its pubic schools instead of chasing them to East Lansing, Holt, DeWitt, Okemos, privates or charters.
Let’s not focus on the well-documented dysfunctionalism of the Lansing Board of Education. We are recommending leaders that see turning the Lansing School District into a selling point by offering classes that mid-Michigan parents want their children in. (Their views were outlined in last week’s City Pulse and can be seen free online in the archives of our Digital Edition.)
Peter Spadafore, a Michigan Association of School Boards official, embraces this vision. Spadafore realizes that our public schools’ future is offering Chinese immersion programs like that at Post Oak Elementary or the arts curriculum at Pleasant Grove. The LSD is competing for children and it needs to give parents what they want.
Likewise, we feel Jeff Croff, a vice president at Astera Credit Union, gets it. As a parent of students in the district, Croff has a vested interest in the district’s success. His business experience is nicely complemented by his creative side as the founder and artistic director of a theater company, which will give the arts a needed voice on the board.
Of all the candidates, Nicole Armbuster brings the only experience as an incumbent who in her one year as an appointee has avoided the board’s factionalism. Moreover, we like her open-mindedness: She is the only candidate who was willing to consider the idea of placing the board under city government, akin to the Board of Water & Light. In these difficult times, all ideas should be considered. Lansing city and the LSD work together to attract people. If that means mayoral appointees on the school board, we’re happy to hear this state government property analyst and mother of two Lewton Elementary School children is open to talking about it.
Lansing, its school district and its citizens must be bold together if they are to progress together.