Nine Lansing charter commission candidates join forces in response to chamber endorsements

As absentee ballots go out, candidates form coalition to counter business, union backing


THURSDAY, March 28 — Nine candidates for Lansing’s Charter Revision Commission announced today that they have formed an alliance in response to a separate slate of endorsements by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and local unions.

The two sets of nine candidates are half the field running for nine spots on the commission in a special election on May 7. Once elected, commission members will have three years to recommend revisions to the city’s 1978 charter, which determines the city’s operating rules. Absentee ballots began being mailed today.

 The group, known as the Lansing Community Alliance, cited concerns over “special interests” they charge drove the chamber’s selections. Members said they decided to ban together last week to create a parallel slate to the one the chamber and unions announced on March 15.

 This new coalition features Jazmin Anderson, director of equitable economic development at LEAP; Layna Anderson, a digital communications manager at Michigan State University; Randy Dykhuis, a retired librarian; Samuel Klahn, child welfare clinician at MSU; Heath Lowry, a staff attorney for the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence; Erica Lynn, project coordinator for the Michigan Public Health Institute and co-founder of The Village; Jerry Norris, founder of The Fledge; Julie Vandenboom, program reengineering specialist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; and Ross Yednock, financial services legislative liaison for the Michigan Department of Financial Services.

The Lansing Community Alliancee ticket (from top left): Heath Lowry, Randy Dykhuis, Layna Anderson, Jazmin Anderson, Erica Lynn, Ross Yednock, Julie Vandenboom, Jerry Norris and Samuel Klahn.
The Lansing Community Alliancee ticket (from top left): Heath Lowry, Randy Dykhuis, Layna Anderson, Jazmin Anderson, Erica Lynn, Ross Yednock, Julie …
The Lansing Community Alliance ticket: (Top row, from left) Heath Lowry, Randy Dykhuis, Layna Anderson; (middle row, from left) Jazmin Anderson, Erica Lynn, Ross Yednock; (bottom row, from left) Julie Vandenboom, Jerry Norris and Samuel Klahn.

“Some of us had already been partnering on things and realized we had similar views on the charter,” Layna Anderson explained. “It came to a head when we actually got in the room together and decided it might be time to make a plan to work together more formally.”

Members of the new slate ironed out the details in a meeting March 21 after months of informal talks, according to Vandenboom. She said their goal was to “discuss how we could pool our resources and work together to fight against big money flowing into the race.”

The chamber’s slate comprises Stephen Purchase of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights; Ben Dowd, associate director with the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan; Joan Bauer, a former state representative and Lansing City Council member; Muhammad Qawwee, UAW Local 4911 president; Elizabeth Driscoll Boyd, communications director for former Gov. Jennifer Grandholm; Brian Jeffries, an attorney and former member of the Lansing City Council and Ingham County Board of Commissioners member; Miranda Swartz, IBEW Local 665 member; Keith Williams, former director of MSU’s Alumni Office; and Guillermo Lopez of the Lansing Schools Board of Education.

The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce's Charter Commission endorsements (from top left): Brian Jeffries, Ben Dowd, Elizabeth Driscoll Boyd, Joan Bauer, Stephen Purchase, Mahammad Qawwee, Keith Williams, Guillermo Lopez and Miranda Swartz.
The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce's Charter Commission endorsements (from top left): Brian Jeffries, Ben Dowd, Elizabeth Driscoll Boyd, Joan …
The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce's Charter Commission endorsements: (top row, from left) Brian Jeffries, Ben Dowd, Elizabeth Driscoll Boyd; (middle row, from left) Joan Bauer, Stephen Purchase, Muhammad Qawwee; (bottom row, from left) Keith Williams, Guillermo Lopez and Miranda Swartz.

“I think the difficult part about this particular race is that there are only nine spots for 36 candidates,” chamber spokesperson Steve Japinga said. "We had to narrow that down, which was very difficult because there really are a lot of great candidates.”

The chamber’s slate included concurrent endorsements from 11 local unions: the Capital City Labor Program; International Association of Fire Fighters Local 421; Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 333; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers locals 352 and 665; United Auto Workers Local 2256; Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters & Millwrights; Michigan Building Trades Council; Michigan Laborers Local 499; Painters IUPAT DC1M; and Operating Engineers Local 324.

Japinga said the chamber selected its slate in tandem with these organizations in a shared desire to identify “labor and business-preferred candidates.”

“Everybody has a special interest, because everyone's interested in this,” Japinga said. “The business community can’t continue to build Lansing without labor. That was the biggest consideration for us when we made our selections."

While the Lansing Community Alliance slate came together as a direct result of those chamber endorsements, the group noted in a press release that its existence “is not an indictment of the endorsed candidates” but rather “highlights a broader concern regarding the disproportionate influence special interest groups can have.”

 “To be fair, I know and have worked with quite a few of the folks who the chamber endorsed,” Yednock said. “This is not a knock on them at all. It’s about the larger process. People are tired of the way decisions are being made in the back room. It doesn't necessarily mean it’s nefarious, but public elected officials need to do more to be open and transparent.”

For Lynn, the end goal was to “give voters an option” from the chamber’s slate.

“Right now, there’s an option being presented to them in a very aggressive public way,” Lynn said. “The question we wanted to answer was: ‘How do we give them an alternative’?”

Lowry seconded that take.

 “We wanted to make sure that we're elevating voices that are not necessarily being supported — the voices of grassroots voters and residents,” he said.

Vandenboom said, “Fourteen or 15 candidates took part in those early discussions.” However, Layna Anderson added that the nine emerged “more or less organically.”

“Frankly, nine names are a lot to remember if you're going to the polls and you don't have a piece of paper or something on your phone to look at. In making a list of nine, we can tell our supporters that we like these other eight people and that they should consider voting for them, too,” Layna Anderson said.

While the newfound union is generally cohesive in its opposition to “big money interests,” Vandenboom noted that members still differ on some issues.

“It would be impossible to find people who agree on everything, and we wanted it that way. This is a group of folks that believe that having opposing voices in the room can make things better,” Vandenboom said.

Japinga said he welcomed the rival slate.

“Some people may not like us being involved, but it's not like we haven't been involved in the past,” he said. “We've been very consistent with our endorsements over the years.”


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