Lansing City Council taps Daniels to fill First Ward vacancy

Eastside gym owner to ‘bring back trust’ in government


TUESDAY, Feb. 1 — By a 7-0 vote, the Lansing City Council decided tonight on an appointed replacement for disgraced First Ward City Councilman Brandon Betz. It’s Brian Daniels.

Three finalists were selected by the Council last night from a field of 11 applicants. Those top contenders were called back tonight for a longer round of 30-minute interviews. And with no discussion among the Council, it was decided that Daniels would be the best person for the job.

Daniels, 35, is a U.S. Army veteran, a Purple Heart recipient and the founder and head trainer of Empower Lansing, an eastside boxing and fitness studio. He is also on the Parks Board — a position that he’ll have to resign now that he’s serving on the Council. The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce also recently included him on its acclaimed “10 Over the Next Ten” list.

At tonight’s meeting, Daniels said he had planned to run for the Council for the last few years. He also said that he intends to run in the November election to fill the final year of Betz’ four-year term, which expires on Dec. 31, and again in November 2023 for a full four-year term.

“I want to create and bring back trust in the local government,” he said. “I want to be able to explain to people what’s going on and what's happening. I feel that people in the First Ward not only feel unheard, but they’re at a loss because of a lack of communication. I want to fix that.”

Daniels grew up in the Churchill Downs neighborhood. He studied at Lansing Community College and the American Academy of Personal Training. In an interview with City Pulse, he identified three top priorities: help to create community unity; seek new solutions to gun violence; ensure all new housing projects remain affordable and existing ones stay up to code.

He also relayed those same three priorities to the Council during tonight’s interview.

“Respectful tolerance is something that has been lost. It’s been lost in our city and in our country,” he noted. “You don’t have to agree with someone to co-exist. You don’t have to agree to respect them. I want to work on bringing that sense of mutual respect back to the First Ward.”

Using paper ballots, each Council member recorded up to three of their top candidates last night in no particular order. Daniels was the clear favorite among the Council from the outset with all seven Council members naming him among their top two or three contenders. Four Council members also listed Old Town Commercial Association Director Ben Dowd. Three listed Caitlin Cavanagh, an assistant professor at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice.

At a committee meeting before the Council meeting tonight, an informal poll among the Council showed five votes for Daniels. Hussain voted for Dowd. Jackson voted for Cavanagh. Afterwards, Councilman Peter Spadafore made a motion to appoint Daniels, which quickly garnered support from all six other Council members — including both Jackson and Hussain.

Daniels’ appointment was immediate. He was sworn in by City Clerk Chris Swope at 8:12 p.m.

Cavanagh, 33, billed herself as a “renowned expert in juvenile justice,” who focuses professionally on parent-child relationships and the criminal justice system. She’s also an adviser for the family division of Ingham County’s 30th Circuit Court, a volunteer-in-training for CASA for Kids Inc. and the vice president of the nonprofit Steiner Chorale in East Lansing.

In addition to serving as the interim executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association Dowd, 39, is an associate director at the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan and a board member of Suits and the City in Lansing. He said he has lived in Lansing for seven years, earned multiple college degrees in business management and human resources from Colorado Technical University and has worked in banking for about 15 years.

The three finalists were asked the same exact interview questions in the same exact order tonight under legal advice from City Attorney Jim Smiertka. No follow-up questions were asked based on their individual responses. Those identical questions were also provided in advance — meaning that everyone in the room tonight could essentially read lines directly from a script.

Additionally, not all Council members were asked for input in developing the interview questions.


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