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Wednesday, October 23,2013

Who will stay and who will go?

A predictable mayoral race, a quiet 2nd Ward and close calls in the 4th Ward and At-Large

by Andy Balaskovitz
If there’s a foregone conclusion to any of this year’s mayoral and City Council races, let’s just come out and say it: Few would disagree that Virg Bernero is coasting to his third term as mayor.

Bernero, 49, easily took home nearly 66 percent of the vote in the August primary field. Former City Councilman Harold Leeman Jr. advanced to the nonpartisan General Election with 17 percent of the vote. Three novices split up the rest.

Leeman, 55, is not convinced this one’s over, though. “I’m not just in this race to go through the motions and have the current mayor be re-elected,” Leeman told the City Pulse Endorsement Advisory Committee last month. He’s running on a platform of having a transparent office willing to meet with constituents and getting along with the full Council — both of which he criticizes Bernero for not doing. Leeman served his last two years on the Council while Bernero was mayor and also served under the Hollister and Benavides administrations.

Since losing the 1st Ward seat he had for 12 years to former Councilman Eric Hewitt by 17 votes in 2007, Leeman has bounced around local political campaigns unsuccessfully: This is his fifth public office he’s running for in six years. He lost in the 2009 General Election as an At-Large candidate; he didn’t make it out of the primary to regain his 1st Ward seat in 2011; then he didn’t make it out of the primary last year in a bid for the open 68th House District seat.

While Leeman is promising “positive change” for the Mayor’s Office, Bernero has stood on claims of attracting $1 billion of new investment and thousands of new jobs.

But where Leeman truly pales in comparison is fundraising:

He’s raised just under $2,000 this election cycle, more than half of which came as a loan from himself. Bernero, on the other hand, has raised more than $85,000 this campaign.

At-Large While Bernero’s made endorsements for the incumbents in the 2nd and 4th wards, his strongest opposition to any single candidate may be in the At-Large race as he tries to unseat 10- year Councilman and attorney Brian Jeffries (see page 5).

Negative mailers have circulated in recent weeks from a group called “Capitol Region Progress, ” which is not registered with either the state elections office or county clerk. The organization’s return address is the home of Republican political operative Matt Muxlow, who has refused several requests for comment.

The organization has attacked Jeffries’ record on development, particularly accusing him of stalling the former Marshall Street Armory (which came to fruition) and a proposed development of the YMCA building downtown (which has seemingly disappeared). Jeffries, 58, has defended his record on both. In the case of the YMCA, Jeffries said an amended plan called for a city-subsidized parking ramp. Also, he was critical of the fact that the developer was delinquent on property taxes to the city and county, which goes against an executive order Bernero signed in 2008 that requires developers seeking tax incentives to be paid up.

But whereas Bernero criticizes Jeffries for leading a bloc of Council with longtime Councilwoman Carol Wood, Jeffries may benefit from built-in community support like Wood saw as she coasted to re-election in 2011. (That didn’t translate into a successful mayoral campaign for her against Bernero in 2009.)

Still, based on results from the August primary, the race is anybody’s call. It was a virtual dead heat among Jeffries, incumbent Kathie Dunbar and newcomer Judi Brown Clarke. A mere 328 votes separated the three of them, with each getting between 26 percent and 29 percent of the vote.

Completing the At-Large ticket is Ted O’Dell, who gathered just over 9 percent of the primary vote. O’Dell’s campaign has been quieter than the others since the primary, though he did pick up the endorsement of the police union earlier this year.

O’Dell, a 47-year-old labor relations and local government consultant, is strongly pro-union. He’s perhaps best known for his work trying to bring a casino to downtown Lansing, launching a petition drive in support of one before Bernero announced his plans with the Sault Ste.

Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. O’Dell has also pledged to attend every Council meeting and every committee meeting he’s assigned to if elected. Since coming in fourth in the primary, O’Dell has done little campaigning.

Dunbar, the 45-year-old director of the nonprofit South Lansing Community Development Association, is seeking her third term on the Council, with Bernero’s strong backing. She points to early legislative success in her first term of bringing rain gardens to Michigan Avenue and amending the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to include GLBT and gender-identity protections.

Brown Clarke, 52, is the diversity director of the BEACON Center at Michigan State University. Like Dunbar, Brown Clarke picked up the joint Chamber/UAW endorsement. She also points out that she’s received the same endorsement as Jeffries from the Greater Lansing Labor Council. While she also has Bernero’s endorsement, Brown Clarke deflects the idea that she’s running on the mayor’s slate.

“There’s a correction: I am not on a slate,” she said on a taping of “City Pulse Newsmakers” now available at lansingcitpulse.com.

“I’m on Lansing’s slate. … I’m not running against anyone. I’m running for a seat.”

She’s also running against a combined 18 years of service on the Council between Dunbar and Jeffries, though she says her combination of work experience in “corporate America,” nonprofits, education and the U.S. Department of Human Services make her prepared for the job. “The skills are transferrable,” she said.

4th ward The race to represent Lansing’s northwest quadrant has been contentious from the outset.

As early as April and a month before the filing deadline, sparks flew as incumbent Jessica Yorko called on opponent Chong- Anna Canfora to sign a “clean campaign pledge” after local political strategist Joe DiSano wrote on Twitter: “Stand against Chong-Anna Canfora and you will be humbled old country way.” DiSano was tied to the Canfora campaign, but Canfora said DiSano was a volunteer spokesman “on a couple of occasions,” and dismissed the line as “silly and immature” from “my husband’s friend.” Her husband, Luke, is a field representative for the national AFL-CIO.

Yorko, 34, called on all of her opponents at the time to sign a clean-campaign pledge. Canfora, 38, dismissed the pledge as “petty political games.”

At the time, DiSano also criticized Yorko for her Council attendance record, which is still a leading issue in the campaign. Canfora has released more than one press release criticizing Yorko’s attendance by calling for a per-diem system of pay (which Yorko said is “fine by me”) and in her endorsement announcement from the Fraternal Order of Police, which took aim at her Public Safety Committee attendance.

In her first year in office, Yorko missed 27 of 36 public safety meetings, which also met far more often than any other committee and was one of five she served on. Yorko directs the criticism back at Canfora and her attendance record on the Ingham County Economic Development Corp. board. Meeting minutes show that Canfora missed 50 percent, or nine of 18, of her meetings over 2011-’12 (missing six of nine in 2012 and three of nine in 2011, minutes show).

In the August primary, Yorko finished first in a field of four, taking just over 50 percent of the vote. Canfora finished second with nearly 39 percent of the vote.

2nd Ward Which brings us to Lansing’s southeast quadrant, where incumbent Tina Houghton, faces off for the first time against challenger Charles Hoffmeyer. As the only two candidates on the ballot, they bypassed a primary.

Houghton, a 46-year-old student services coordinator at MSU, is one of three loyal Bernero supporters on the Council. She’s seeking a second term, on a slate with Yorko and Dunbar.

Hoffmeyer, a 31-year-old information security specialist with the Michigan State Police, has kept a somewhat lower campaign profile. He has not landed any endorsements and has declined or was unable to attend multiple public speaking engagements, instead highlighting issues related to land use, crime and the Lansing Police Department in letters to the Council. One of Hoffmeyer’s concerns center around the LPD’s testing of Automatic License Plate Readers, a technology that scans license plates in search of stolen vehicles, but that has given rise to privacy concerns.

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