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Wednesday, July 17,2013

Votes and the veto

In a City Council race with veto implications, how do 4th Ward voters perceive Councilwoman Jessica Yorko's support of the mayor?

by Sam Inglot
The city’s budget battle this year was not won by compromise between the Lansing City Council and Mayor Virg Bernero. Bernero got his way by vetoing all of the amendments the Council had made to his budget. 

But if City Council elections this year don’t go the way he wants, Bernero could well lose his ability to govern by veto, throwing much of the control over the city’s direction to the faction led by City Council President Carol Wood. Bernero and Wood, who ran against him for mayor four years ago, are frequently at odds.

In the 4th Ward, where one of Bernero’s backers on the Council, Jessica Yorko, is up for re-election, a small sampling of voters indicates they are not concerned about her allegiance to the mayor. Indeed, many applaud her for it.

That’s despite efforts by one of Yorko’s opponents, Chong-Anna Canfora, to make an issue of the incumbent’s support for the mayor.

“I’ve definitely gotten the sense from talking with residents that they want their 4th Ward advocate to be a check and a balance to the administration,” Canfora said Sunday on “City Pulse Newsmakers.” “I have heard from residents that strongly feel like they have not been represented at Council for the past three and a half years.”

Besides Canfora, who has significant union support, Yorko faces two contenders in the Aug. 6 primary election: lawyer Bert Carrier Jr. and Larry Hutchinson.

Yorko is one of three votes on the eight-member Council that the mayor can usually count on to sustain a veto, which requires six out of eight Council members to stop. The others are both up for re-election this year as well: At-large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton. 

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope believes the 4th Ward election “is probably the most contested” race and expects a large number of 4th Ward voters to show up at the primary polls. The 4th Ward encompasses the northwest corner of the city, continuing through downtown and just south of Mount Hope Avenue.

City Pulse talked to 10 randomly selected likely 4th Ward voters, asking them, among other things, how they viewed Yorko’s stance with the mayor and if it would affect their decision.

Seven voters said they either supported or didn’t have an issue with Yorko’s allegiance to the mayor. Only three said they had a problem with it. Three said they support Yorko, while two said they would probably vote for Canfora. The other five were undecided. None of the people interviewed knew anything about Carrier or Hutchinson. The seven women and three men ranged in age from 46 to 81; all of them said they would vote in the August primary. 

For 59-year-old Marcie Alling, a Westside Neighborhood resident, Yorko’s support of the mayor is a good thing — it’s one of the reasons she’s voting for Yorko.  

“Is she a supporter of the things he’s done? Absolutely,” Alling said. “That’s why I support her, because I support him. The things he’s done are not always perfect, it’s not always done the best way, but he’s got the right vision for the city. I think on most things they share a similar view of things and how we need to get there.”

On the opposite end is 47-year-old Dennis Dershem, who is also lives in the Westside Neighborhood. Dershem said he won’t vote for Yorko because of her support of the mayor. Dershem was the only undecided voter who had an issue with Yorko’s stance with Bernero. 

“I’m quite furious with (Bernero), and her support of him bothers me quite a bit,” he said. He went on to blame the city’s financial troubles on the mayor’s handling of city employee pensions and objected to the way he “gutted” the city’s golf courses. 

But even for undecided voters like Walnut Neighborhood resident Paul Deslauriers, 52, who has issues with Bernero, Yorko’s support of him isn’t an issue that will affect his vote.

“I’m not the biggest Mayor Bernero fan,” he said. “But (her support) is not a big deal to me because I think you can be aligned with someone and disagree with them.”

Deslauriers said his biggest concern is how the candidates think the Niowave Inc. pole barn “fiasco” in his neighborhood should be handled. 

Although she thinks the split between the Wood and Bernero factions on the Council cause problems sometimes, undecided voter Claire Turner, 62, won’t be holding it against Yorko when deciding how to vote. Turner resides near Delta River Drive and Grand River Avenue.

“I don’t have a problem with it because I agree with his politics,” she said.

Jodie Grzadzinski, 58, who lives on Jension Avenue in the northwest corner of the city, said she will likely vote for Canfora. But it’s not because of Yorko’s support of Bernero, which she said she “can live with.” She said she’s unhappy with Yorko because of her support of the new bike lane on Saginaw Street. She believes it shouldn’t be on a high traffic road.  

“It just seemed like it would be better back in the neighborhoods where it would be more pleasant and safer for the riders,” she said. 

On “City Pulse Newsmakers,” Carrier also beat the drum for his independence from Bernero, while not necessarily disagreeing with him on all fronts. He sided with the mayor, for example, on the pole barn issue in the Genesee neighborhood. Both have said the jobs that Niowave, which built the massive structure that neighbors object to, are more important.

But on the budget issue, Carrier agreed with Canfora. “I think the control of the budget needs to be in the hands of the City Council and not the executive branch,” he said.

Addressing both Canfora and Carrier, Yorko said there was ample opportunity for the Council to add amendments to the budget. Moreover, she said there have been multiple areas where she has disagreed with the mayor. She said the mayor has dropped efforts when he finds out he lacks support from even his backers on the Council, such as her. 

Yorko publicly disagreed with a key piece to Bernero’s agenda — the proposed casino downtown. 

“I disagreed with the location, I disagreed with the refusal to implement a smoke free policy, and I don’t think there was adequate protection in there for helping people with gambling addiction,” she said. “I couldn’t get the things I was negotiating for that people of the 4th Ward told me they needed to see and so I didn’t support it.”

For more on the City Council and mayor's race, please see City Pulse's Primary Election Preview Issue on July 31. For a “City Pulse Newsmakers” interview with 4th Ward candidates, please see lansingcitypulse.com.

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