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Wednesday, April 4,2012

Divided African American field emerging in 68th

by Kyle Melinn

Nobody thought Democratic Ingham County Commissioner Andy Schor would run unopposed for term-limited state Rep. Joan Bauer’s seat.

The surprise is that all three of Schor’s recently declared opponents in the Democratic primary are African American. It’s a dynamic that threatens to divide the community and leave Schor with an even better shot at winning the Lansing-based seat. 

Former Ingham County Democratic Party Chairman Griffin Rivers announced in January. Ingham County Commissioner Dale Copedge filed paperwork with the secretary of state. Lansing City Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson will officially announce April 12. A fourth African-American candidate, Lansing School Board member Charles Ford, had filed to run for the 68th, but decided Monday to run for the Circuit Court seat opened up by Judge Paula Manderfield’s decision not to run again.

While Robinson declined to talk about the race until next Thursday, the other two admitted the concern among some within the African-American community is real and that there are ongoing discussions about what should be done about it.

Obviously, the city’s African-American community isn’t monolithic. Individually,  the candidates wield great resumes, start with some real political support and have the potential to win.

The problem is they’re all starting from square one at just about the same time. Robinson (3rd Ward) and Copedge (6th District) represent almost identical areas — south of Victor Street and west of Martin Luther King. Rivers lives steps away from the 3rd Ward, but technically lives in Lansing Township.

Schor has been knocking on doors and raising money for about a year. He’s got some $42,000 already in the bank. While the other candidates each have their own individual bases from which to start, the large-scale support networks like the NAACP or the black pastors are, at least initially, neutralized.

How can either group support one of the candidates without offending and alienating the others?

This isn’t Paul Pratt v. Michael Murphy of 2000 — a mano-a-mano clash. This isn’t even 2006 with Diana Rouse, when she ran as the only African American candidate in a six-horse Democratic primary for the 68th.

This is a situation where some endorsements and campaign cash simply aren’t going to happen because of conflicts.

The ideal situation for the African American community is one unifying candidate. But it’s just hard to see Robinson, Copedge or Rivers getting out. For starters, any of the three, in a one-on-Schor situation, have a decent shot at winning, which is an obvious deterrent for any of them.

This is a free shot for Robinson. She’s already served two one-year terms as City Council president. She’s gotten about as much name ID out of the position as she’s going to get. She’s no longer a Jackson Public Schools administrator, so she’s got some time.

And while she told me twice in the past eight months that she intended to serve all four years of her brand-new Lansing City Council term, she has a public office and other career opportunities to explore if this bid for the $70,000-a-year state rep job falls through.

Copedge’s recent retirement from the Department of Environmental Quality  after nearly 30 years puts him, personally, in a good position to run, too. He’s served on the County Commission for four terms and been a part of so much public service, it’d take half my column to list it all.

Copedge isn’t running for the County Board of Commissioners again. In fact, a pair of potential replacements — Joe McDonald, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s longtime aide, and Sarah Anthony, who was Bauer’s legislative aide for a spell before joining the Michigan College Access Network — are already making the rounds.

Rivers, 72, was swept out of the Legislature when his former boss, House Appropriations Committee Chairman George Cushingberry was termed out of office and didn’t win his state Senate race. Rivers’ connections with local and statewide Democrats (not to mention donation-eligible lobbyists) are current.

He’s got Murphy in his corner since Rivers ran Murphy’s race in 2000. City Councilwoman Carol Wood and former Lansing Mayor Tony Benavides showed up at Rivers’ announcement, too.

Will any of the four — Schor, Rivers, Copedge or Robinson — get out by the May 15 filing? My guess is no. 

The Democratic nomination in the Lansing-based 68th House District is far from over. We still have the door-to-door stops, mail, parades, debates, public appearances and the typical maturation of a political campaign to go through. 

As with most races, the person who works the hardest and makes the best case will win.

But it’s hard to debate that if Schor’s prospects looked good in December because he didn’t have a declared opponent, they’re looking just as good in April because he has too many declared opponents.

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