It’s time once again for Lansing and East Lansing voters to choose representatives to serve on their respective city councils. Sadly, less than 20% of eligible voters are expected to participate in the off-year, local election. On the theory that in a democracy we get the kind of government we deserve, perhaps you’ll find the motivation to fill out your absentee ballot or head to the voting booth on Nov. 7. If so, City Pulse offers our thoughts on whom you should pick to keep our local governments on an even keel.
Lansing City Council At-Large (Vote for 2)
We generally favor experienced leadership. But we do make exceptions, one of which is Jody Washington, the former First Ward Council member who is touting her past Council experience in her bid to win one of the vacant citywide positions. We certainly admire Washington’s community work, especially her in-the-trenches advocacy for Lansing’s homeless population, but we’re decidedly opposed to her comeback attempt. In her last Council stint, Washington’s on-again, off-again relationship with civility led her to frequently lash out at anyone who disagreed with her. And her palpable conservative lean left us — and plenty of others — wondering if she really is a Democrat.
Four years later, not much appears to have changed. Following the recent horrific, senseless murder of beloved Lansing political activist Ted Lawson, Washington eulogized him on social media as a man of great integrity. Indeed, he was. Yet, just weeks before, she publicly lambasted Lawson at a county Democratic Party meeting, accusing him of conspiring with a competing City Council candidate to swing the party’s endorsement away from Washington. It isn’t the first time her mercurial personality has led Washington to wield an ill-considered rhetorical axe. After the MSU mass shooting, she told the City Council, “Gosh, imagine that, it didn’t even happen on the south side of Lansing.” We can’t imagine having Jody Washington back on the Lansing City Council.
The good news is Lansing voters have solid choices to replace Carol Wood and Patricia Spitzley, who are retiring after 24 years and eight years, respectively. Tamera Carter has a strong resume of community engagement when she’s not working her day job at Lake Trust Credit Union. She has a master’s degree in organizational leadership and her priorities are solidly progressive. Trini Lopez Pehlivanoglu is a state employee and daughter of long-time Lansing School Board member Giullermo Lopez. We recommend votes for Carter and Pehlivanoglu to fill the two at-large vacancies on Lansing City Council.
Lansing First Ward
While we’re still put off by First Ward incumbent Ryan Kost’s dissembling about his financial troubles, we appreciate his energetic, boots-on-the-ground approach and focus on improving the city’s housing stock. With a little-known opponent, Michael Vandeguchte, Kost will almost certainly win reelection. We hope he’ll set aside his animus toward Mayor Schor for backing Brian Daniels, who ran and lost against Kost in last year’s special election. For the good of his constituents, it’s time to let go of hard feelings and move on to the business of improving the city.
Lansing Third Ward
Incumbent Third Ward Council member Adam Hussain has been a steady, hard-working advocate for the southwest corner of the city. His opponent, MSU student King Robertson, needs more experience and seasoning before he’ll be ready for public office. Hussain could be even more effective if he tempered his emotions when contentious issues arise. There are more respectful ways to deal with Mayor Schor, for example, than by blaming him for failing to take Logan Square seriously enough. We hope in his next term Hussain will find ways to work in good faith with Schor and knock off political antics like signing on to a trumped-up ethics complaint against the mayor.
Lansing Charter Commission
Lansing’s City Charter requires asking voters every 12 years if the charter should be reviewed and updated by a citizen-led charter commission. Charter revisions are an expensive and time-consuming process that divert precious energy and resources from the innumerable challenges facing the city. Some proponents of a charter commission want to change the city’s governance structure from a strong mayor to a strong council/city manager arrangement. City managers can and do work well in other communities,, but we’re generally satisfied with the steady leadership Lansing’s strong mayor system has provided over the last 30 years. Any shortcomings in the current charter can be addressed through specific amendments as the need arises. We recommend voting against the charter commission proposal.
East Lansing City Council
We can’t quite put our finger on the underlying causes of East Lansing’s recent turmoil, where the door for outgoing employees continues to revolve and a relatively new City Council struggles to stabilize the ship. As noted above, we generally favor experienced leadership and East Lansing voters are fortunate to have strong choices in this regard for the three open seats on the five-member Council. Mark Meadows, a former state representative and East Lansing mayor, brings to the table a deep well of knowledge and considerable wisdom in matters of public policy. Erik Altmann, an MSU professor, served on the Council from 2015 to 2019, losing by just two votes in his last bid for reelection. Both Meadows and Altmann would help steady the ship and create a Council that works together to solve the city’s internal troubles while helping the new city manager learn the ropes. For the third spot we recommend Noel Garcia, a former Lansing Police Department captain who was appointed to the Council last January to fill a vacancy. He has considerable municipal experience and has done good work as a freshman. He earned the chance to serve a full term.
East Lansing Proposals
Three questions will also appear on the East Lansing general election ballot. We’re intrigued by the concept of ranked voting and encourage support for the corresponding ballot proposal. We also endorse the proposal to move the date election winners are sworn in from shortly after the election to the first Tuesday after Jan. 1 of the following year. We don’t think it’s necessary to expand the City Council from five members to seven — not now anyway — and recommend a vote against this measure. We think the current Council of five members will be more nimble in addressing the challenges facing East Lansing city government without the distraction of adding even more new members.
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