WEDNESDAY, Nov 11 — As Lansing Mayor Andy Schor continues to solicit campaign donations for a run at a second term, two potential candidates have surfaced in recent weeks as viable challengers.
In interviews this week with City Pulse, former three-term Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said he is “strongly considering” a 2021 campaign and Councilwoman Patricia Spitzley declared: “I’m in it to win it.”
“It’s my intention to file to run,” Spitzley explained. “It’s time to move Lansing forward, and I’m interested in moving forward with new leadership and a new sense of transparency and accountability. This election is where our residents will really decide the future of their city.”
Wednesday evening, Spitzley told City Pulse that she not running to aid Schor, as some have speculated, by taking African-American votes away from Bernero. "Absolutely not," she said. "I have a vision for the city."
Asked if she believes Schor needs to be replaced, she said, "Obvoously, if I am in the race, I think he has to go."
The turning point for her, she said, was Schor's handling of the death of Anthony Hulon last month in police custody, which the Ingham County medical examiner has ruled a homicide.
"I just think the transparency and accountability have not been there," she said, noting how the Council has found out about numerous issues at the same time as the news media.
Said Bernero: “Lansing faces many tough challenges heading into 2021, but none tougher or stronger than the commitment and will of Lansing residents. By tapping the tremendous resources of the Lansing region and working together, I’m sure Lansing can get back on track.”
Mayoral candidates have until April 27 to file for next year’s election. None have done so.
Schor hasn’t formally announced a reelection campaign and declined to disclose his plans this week to City Pulse, though his campaign committee is still actively seeking donations, in part through an annual “Beer Tasting Fundraiser” next week.
“I’ll continue to fundraise regardless. That’s not uncommon,” Schor explained. “I’m going to continue to do my part to push the city of Lansing in a positive direction. I’ll keep doing my job.”
Council President Peter Spadafore and State Rep. Sarah Anthony — both widely speculated to be mayoral contenders next year — crossed themselves off the list of possibilities this week. Despite rumors, both told City Pulse that they have no intention to run for mayor next year.
City Clerk Chris Swope, another possible mayoral candidate, played it cool.
“I want to continue to serve the citizens of Lansing,” he said. “I’m not saying more than that.”
That leaves Schor, for now, facing the possibility of a three-way primary race for mayor next August amid a backdrop of a worsening pandemic, financial uncertainty and racial tension. The top two vote-getters in the nonpartisan primary election will face each other in the November general election.
Bernero said he likes his chances. Spitzley said she simply wants to leave voters with a choice in 2021.
“Next year’s election will be another opportunity to make key decisions to improve life in Lansing and address some glaring problems,” Bernero said. “Numerous civic leaders, including the business and faith communities, have encouraged me to return for the last several months.”
Added Spitzley: “I think we should trust the democratic process and let residents choose the best leader for this city, someone who they feel can move forward their vision for the community. Good, bad or indifferent, any mayor is going to need to be held accountable for their decisions.”
Schor has faced calls for his resignation over the last several months — both from the louder segments of the Black Lives Matter movement in Lansing and from some of the 1,300 city retirees who expect to have their health benefits slashed by the city on Jan. 1, 2021.
After the death of Anthony Hulon in the Police Department lockup beneath City Hall was revealed to the public in the form of a federal wrongful death lawsuit last month, the angst against Schor’s administration — and perceptions of secrecy — have only compounded.
City officials have since largely declined to answer any questions about the incident at all.
“Andy is really more of a city manager than a mayor,” one long-time public official told City Pulse. “The mayor’s job is to be regional, visionary, collaborative. You know, big picture. Andy is taking a more low-profile, managerial approach, and I don’t think that’s going to work for him.”
Many offered their speculation on next year’s mayoral race, but only under the condition of anonymity. City Pulse offered that option to dozens of people over the last week to weigh in.
Despite recent missteps, particularly with the Black community in Lansing, Schor hadn’t done any irreparable damage to a possible reelection campaign, some suggested. Others said residents were still shaking a major sense of “Virg fatigue” that took root back in 2016 and 2017.
“I don’t necessarily think that the people pushing for divestment in Lansing, those who are also most critical of the mayor, really speak for the citizens of Lansing,” one prominent politician said. “As for Virg? That’s like a reboot of a movie that’s not that old. I’m not sure we’re ready for it.”
Bernero won by 23 points in 2005 and carried 71% percent of the vote in defeating Lansing City Councilman Harold Leeman in 2013. After then state Rep. Schor chased Bernero out of running for a fourth term in 2017, Schor won the mayoral race by similar margins — 72% — against then-Councilwoman Judi Brown Clarke.
Many speculate that a race between Schor and Bernero would be bound to take a nasty turn as both candidates looked to lean on their own records while simultaneously attacking the other. Bernero is also expected to lean on racial discord to sew continued opposition to Schor.
Bernero called for a more “serious commitment” to inclusion and equity this week.
“The team I had put in place was second to none and it reflected and respected the rich diversity that is Lansing. I was deeply saddened to see that team and commitment decimated over the last 3 years,” Bernero said. “I left Lansing with a lot of positive momentum.”
Not having been mayor, Spitzley could possibly avoid those barbs, some said. Though with multiple terms on Council, including as president, she’ll also have her own record to defend.
Others suggest that an eventual dogfight between Spitzley and Bernero would only help Schor’s odds as the two compete over a finite pool of fundraising dollars and endorsements.
“Any incumbent is always going to have that incumbent advantage, and I think Schor will maintain that advantage going into next year,” one business leader told City Pulse. “I think a lot of this will hinge on the status of COVID-19, unfunded liabilities and a business recovery plan.”
Recent campaign finance reports filed with the Ingham County Clerk’s office show that Schor is sitting on about $150,000 to pour into a bid for another term, including about $40,000 that was raised in the last four months alone. One source also labeled Schor a “door-knocking wizard.”
Bernero, also known to be a major-league fundraiser, was late in filing campaign finance reports from his longstanding mayoral candidate committee last month. Reports from August showed him with a balance of about $17,000. Spitzley’s last report shows a balance of about $1,200.
“Andy and Virg really aren’t all that different politically speaking. They’re both pro-development. They’re both supportive of tax incentives. Virg is charismatic and can be inspiring, but I don’t think he can stand on that alone,” another local politician told City Pulse. “Patricia could give voters a real alternative, but I’m also not so sure she’s prepared to go up to bat against them.”
“This all depends on whether Andy can build the visible army of volunteers that he needs to stand on his side of these issues,” another political insider told City Pulse. “It’ll also depend on the status of federal funding and city finances with COVID-19 going on in the background too. One thing is for sure: It’s one hell of an interesting race that’ll shape up over the next 90 days.”