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Wednesday, January 9,2013

The New Wave

Ingham County's up-and-coming political leaders

by Walt Sorg
There’s a new generation starting to take over the reigns of government in Ingham County. The 2012 election brought in a new wave of political leaders. Together with a couple of “old hands” — a two-term East Lansing City Councilman and a three-term township clerk who are both under the age of 45 — they will help define the political agenda for the county over the next decade.

Not surprisingly, all of them are Democrats. Elected Republicans are becoming an endangered species in Ingham County. Democrats swept the three state House races, and swept all but one position in Ingham’s two largest townships. GOP victories were mostly limited to a handful of small township races.

Without exception, the group’s economic development focus is on creating a more attractive environment for young talent: vibrant cities, a higher percentage of residents with college degrees, thriving arts communities and an environment of inclusiveness. They decry Michigan’s focus on lowering business costs, noting the lack of correlation between a state’s business costs and economic prosperity.

While none will admit it (on the record), most of these new leaders will continue their political careers in higher offices. Some are contenders for Congress or even a statewide position, others are potential judges. Those serving in the smallest of offices — think township clerk or City Council — are potential candidates for the state Legislature. But for now they are concentrating on their respective offices, knowing that their future electability depends in large part on doing a good job now.

These are City Pulse’s picks for emerging political leaders in Ingham County. The list is made up of two state reps, two township officials, two city officials, two county officials, two African Americans, one Indian-American and two women. The age range is 28 to 50.


Who: Andy Schor

Office: State representative, 68th House district (Lansing)

Age: 37

Newly elected state representatives Andy Schor and Sam Singh head up the Class of 2012. 

If they choose, Schor and Singh will likely spend the next six years in the state House representing overwhelmingly Democratic districts in Lansing and East Lansing, respectively. They are both 24 years younger than the lawmakers they replaced, Mark Meadows (Singh) and Joan Bauer (Schor).

Schor moves to the Legislature after a decade serving as an Ingham County commissioner. His experience there and as a lobbyist for the Michigan Municipal League clearly give him a focus on local government issues. He is also a former legislative staffer, which gives him a head start on most of his freshmen colleagues.

“I already have relationships with half of the Republican caucus. If they are interested in working with us, I’m someone who can play that role. A lot of it depends on how the session starts.”

Education funding is high on Schor’s list of priorities.

“Our per-pupil funding is way out of whack. Lansing gets $7,000 per pupil. Some of the wealthiest Detroit suburbs get more than $12,000,” he said. “That has to be fixed.”

He’s also looking at legislation that would reimburse college students for all or part of their tuition if they stayed in Michigan after graduation.

Schor, a Long Island, N.Y., native, married Erin Schor 10 years ago. They have an 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. He has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Michigan.


Who: Sam Singh

Office: State representative, 69th House district (East Lansing)

Age: 41

Singh is the second consecutive former East Lansing mayor elected to the state House in the 69th district. After working with MSU’s student government, he was elected to the East Lansing City Council at the age of 24, serving 12 years and becoming mayor in 2005.

Singh is a policy wonk. Most recently he was senior consultant for the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, a nonprofit focused on transforming Michigan to a knowledge-based economy. He also was an affiliated consultant with the Lansing-based think tank Public Policy Associates. Before that, he headed the 1,100-member Michigan Nonprofit Association.

His resume includes a well-publicized, 17-month odyssey when he traveled the world and spent time on all seven continents. His penchant for world travel was evident again last month when Singh married Kerry Ebersole on a beach in Jamaica and then honeymooned for three weeks in Southeast Asia.

“We have to position Michigan in a global economy. We need to understand our role as a trading partner in the world,” said Singh. “Hopefully my international experience will be an asset as we work to expand Michigan’s presence in world markets.”

Singh’s legislative focus will be state government investment in education, economic development and the environment (the “Three E’s”). (We spoke with him while he was driving to a meeting with Ingham County school superintendents in anticipation of Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2013 education agenda.)

“We have to get away from this mentality of just trying to cut all of our budgets and somehow reach success,” Singh said. “Investing in the ‘Three E’s’ will encourage innovation, attract and retain talented workers, make more vibrant communities and create jobs.”

Singh, a native of Livonia, is the son of Indian immigrants. He is the first Indian-American to serve in the state Legislature.


Who: Sarah Anthony

Office: Ingham County Board of Commissioners, 3rd District (southwest Lansing)

Age: 29

Two newcomers on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners have the potential to be a force on mid-Michigan’s least visible level of government.

The first is Sarah Anthony, who was urged to run by her now-constituents in southwest Lansing. The departure of former Commissioner Dale Copedge, who ran unsuccessfully against Schor in August’s Democratic primary, meant there would be no African Americans on the 14-member commission.

She sees the county commission as a perfect fit for her background and interests.

“I want to connect Lansing’s south side with county government,” she said. “People need to know more about what county government does, and how it fits into their lives.” As a member of the board’s Finance Committee, she plans to pour over the county’s books, looking for more efficiencies to make up for a continuing decline in both property tax revenues and state revenue sharing.

As director of finance and strategic planning at the Michigan College Access Network, Anthony works to increase access to college educations for underprivileged students, first-generation college students and people of color.

Anthony is a native of Lansing with degrees from Central Michigan University (bachelor’s in political science/legal studies) and a master’s of public administration from Western Michigan University. She is single.


Who: Kara Hope

Office: Ingham County Board of Commissioners, 7th District (Delhi Township, Holt)

Age: 38

It was almost inevitable that Ingham County Commissioner Kara Hope would run for office. Public service is a Hope family tradition in Delhi Township, something she inherited by marrying longtime Delhi Township Clerk Evan Hope in 2006.

Bernard Hope Middle School is named after Evan Hope’s late father, who served for 17 years on the Holt School Board. The Kenneth Hope Soccer Complex is named after his late uncle, who served on the Delta Township Board of Trustees, Ingham County Road Commission and Ingham County Board of Commissioners.

The Hopes became stars of local politics in November with their orchestration of a Democratic sweep of the township board (only moderate Republican John Hayhoe survived). In one of the most unusual matchups of the election, Kara Hope defeated incumbent Republican Commissioner Vince Dragonetti, while her husband Evan defeated Dragonetti’s wife, Denise.

Kara Hope was motivated to run, in part, by the negative tactics used by conservative Republicans in the township over the last year. The Tea Party wing of the local GOP took out longtime Delhi Township Supervisor Stuart Goodrich in a nasty Republican primary, but came up empty in November.

Kara Hope says that, unlike the Tea Party slate, she is “not an ideologue, and I ran as an answer to that.” 

The Ypsilanti native attended Michigan State University and Cooley Law School. Her legal career has included work at the Michigan Court of Appeals, in private practice and as an adjunct professor at Cooley Law School.

Hope believes the county commission is “functioning well.” Her goal is to work cooperatively with her 13 colleagues “to continue the tradition of doing smart things.”


Who: Evan Hope

Office: Delhi Township Clerk

Age: 41

Evan Hope started in the “family business” at the age of 24 as a township trustee. Two years later he began what is now a 14-year run as township clerk. He’s been encouraged to run for other offices several times, but he’s content to stay where he’s at. 

“What I like about being clerk is it’s the town in which I was born,” he said. “I like being a part of shaping what happens. I’m able to do more at this level. There’s a much different atmosphere at the Capitol.”

Evan Hope’s reticence to seek higher office may not extend to his wife. Evan Hope readily concedes that she could someday run for judge or the Legislature, quickly adding (like any good husband), “But that’s up to her!”

The Hopes met through Match.com, and it stuck. Six months after their wedding, they took in a niece and nephew they are raising in their Holt home.


Who: Brett Dreyfus

Office: Meridian Township Clerk

Age: 50

At age 50, Brett Dreyfus is the oldest of the new generation of leaders.

After 12 years as a Meridian Township trustee, he was elected township clerk on a promise to use technology to improve efficiency and provide more user-friendly services. He also wants to increase voter turnout in non-presidential elections. 

“We need to make the voting experience easier and to incentivize the voting process,” Dreyfus said. “We’ll use an opt-in email or text notification service to remind voters of an election and send them polling location information.”

Dreyfus is also researching the viability of a lottery or raffle for people who vote, with local merchants contributing prizes. And he wants to develop “democracy ambassadors,” high school seniors who actively encourage their peers to register and vote.

Dreyfus has a bachelor’s in political science from Michigan State University. His career has been in communications, most recently as executive producer at Digital Media Productions. He is founder of the Meridian TimeBank, a program that allows participants to pay for services from other members with their time rather than money.


Who: Nathan Triplett

Office: East Lansing City Council

Age: 29

Under 30, Nathan Triplett is already a veteran of East Lansing City Council, winning his first campaign in 2007 and reelection in 2011.

He ran, in part, out of frustration.

“East Lansing offers such a unique combination of attributes that I was looking for a way to give back. It was accepted as fact that MSU students would graduate and then leave. There wasn’t a desire to have a vibrant knowledge economy or creative economy in the area,” he said.

Triplett exemplifies his economic vision for Michigan. He has accumulated four college degrees: two bachelor’s from MSU; an M.P.A. from University of Michigan, and a J.D. from MSU’s School of Law. After passing the bar exam last summer, the Parma, Ohio, native decided to stay in mid-Michigan, joining the Old Town law offices of Clark Hill in the litigation department.

His passion for attracting young talent helps fire an unrelenting campaign in support of LGBT rights. He sees it both as a matter of simple justice, as well as economic development.

“The next generation wants to live in communities that are welcoming, that embrace diversity and looks on it as a strength. East Lansing has always done that, but Michigan has struggled with those issues and it is hurting us.” 

Triplett’s five-year marriage to Sarah Triplett, assistant director of communications for the Early Childhood Investment Corp., began when both were legislative aides working in adjacent offices. Many say Sarah could someday also run for public office.


Who: Marlon Brown

Office: Mason City Council

Age: 28

Marlon Brown didn’t waste any time setting his roots down in Mason. A native of Warren, the 28-year-old moved to the Ingham County seat just three years ago. In November, the new Mason City Councilman tied Barbara Tornholm for the fourth and final Council seat.

Several days later, Brown drew a slip with the word “Elected” out of a shoebox held by Ingham County Clerk Mike Bryanton — the closest electoral victory since George W. Bush beat Al Gore. (Tornhold declined a recount.)

As a newcomer to Mason — and an African American in a city that is predominantly white — it would seem Brown couldn’t win. Neither fact hindered his campaign. He credits the welcoming attitude of the people of Mason with his quick acceptance.

“I knocked on more than 2,000 doors — nobody else running for Council was that active. People were happy to talk with me, and excited to see a new face, saying that we need new blood, new ideas.”

A full-time budget and policy analyst with the state, Brown has a bachelor’s in political science from American University, where he met his wife, Margaret. He earned an M.P.A. with a specialization in city management at the University of Delaware. He also graduated from MSU’s Michigan Political Leadership Program, a breeding ground for future elected officials in both parties.

He has found that he likes being on Council. “I’ll keep running for as long as I can be effective, knowing that one of these days someone will come along with some fresher, newer ideas. That’s when I’ll step aside.”

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