THE ELECTION GUIDE

Round One — Lansing Mayor

Kathie Dunbar vs. Andy Schor

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Schor,
Schor,
Schor, 46, was elected to his first term as the 52nd mayor of Lansing in 2017 after having served five years in the Michigan House of Representatives and a decade on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from University of Michigan. He has lived in the city with his wife, Erin, for more than 20 years. He also serves on executive boards for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Capital Area United Way, Lansing Promise, Accelerator of America and the state’s Manufactured Housing Commission. 

Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar
Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar
Dunbar, 52, is the director and founder of the South Lansing Community Development Association, which runs the South Lansing Farmers Market. Her fourth term on the Council, ends this year; her decision to run for mayor forced her to forgo seeking reelection. Dunbar is also chairwoman of the Council’s Committee on City Operations.

 

Weighing heavily on the race are the typical bread-and-butter issues of most city elections, public safety, crime reduction, economic development, affordable housing, protecting the environment, repairing sidewalks and, of course, fixing those damn roads.

Both Schor and Dunbar have voiced plans that lead to many of those same goals for Lansing, albeit with differing playbooks on how to get the job done. Perhaps more than a vote on any particular issue, however, next month’s election is more of a referendum on the sitting mayor.

The question for voters: Has Schor’s record earned him another four years?

Schor, of course, thinks the answer is clear. And that’s evidenced by the veritable war chest of campaign contributions and the mountain of political endorsements his campaign has collected.

Schor outraised Dunbar by nearly $300,000 and still had $232,000 in the bank this month. City Pulse cannot afford the ink to print his full list of supporters, but they include former Mayor Tony Benavides, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, State Rep. Sarah Anthony, nearly a dozen labor unions, the Greater Lansing Labor Council, dozens of small business owners and neighborhood leaders, multiple members of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce’s PAC and many other political powerbrokers. 

Even former Schor critics — like City Councilman Brandon Betz — now stand in his corner.

“I feel great. The campaign is doing everything it needs to do and leaving everything out on the field,” Schor said. “The reception is fantastic, and you can also see that with the endorsements.”

Schor cast a wide net of priorities for the next four years, including reducing crime (in part) by hiring more police as quickly as possible, securing more funding for road and sidewalk repairs, incentivizing continued economic development and supporting more local small businesses.

And he’s standing on his track record to convince voters that he could use another term.

Schor touted more than $1.5 billion in economic investment in the city since he took office — including the opening of the highly anticipated Capital City Market grocery store on Michigan Avenue and several new housing projects “for all income levels.” Schor also said he’s committed to bolstering community programs that can help prevent kids from getting involved with crime, securing more grant funding for small businesses and enhancing racial equity. And he appears to be on track to delivering some semblance of a performing arts center, a goal that has eluded his predecessors going back to David Hollister, who left office 18 years ago.

“I came into this office as a new mayor, with a vision for the city and the leadership style to work with others and get things done. While there have been many challenges during my tenure, my team and I have tackled them head-on to do what is best for our community and proven that we have what it takes to help Lansing grow for another four years,” Schor told City Pulse.

Dunbar, however, is risking her Council seat to push a different narrative and different solutions. For her, the last four years under Schor have been marred by the highest homicide rates in decades, multiple lawsuits that allege discrimination at City Hall, cops who disproportionately target, search and arrest Black people — and a general lack of desire to bring about change.

She has a firm answer to whether she thinks Schor deserves another term: “Absolutely not.”

“I think transparency matters. Accountability matters. Compassion matters. Those are all key components that are missing in the leadership of this city right now,” Dunbar told City Pulse. “Even if our goals are the same, the way that we’ll get there is very different. We all want public safety and an economically thriving community, but Andy Schor is reactionary. He doesn’t lead. Morale at City Hall is shit. There’s no vision or direction. That’s the big difference between us.”

Dunbar has emerged as a leading (and vocal) opponent to the Schor administration over the last year — even more so after she announced plans to block him from a second term in April. She said her campaign is about giving a stronger platform to “disenfranchised” voices in the city, including Black and brown residents who have faced a culture of discriminatory retaliation under Schor’s leadership, she explained. She has also slammed the mayor for a lack of financial oversight and lack of meaningful progress on bridging a widening racial divide within the city.

Among her specific priorities for the next four years: curb a record-high level of gun violence by “reconsidering” how police resources are allocated, explore ways to encourage developers to build more affordable housing across the city and show some more “human emotion.”

“We need someone who can show some empathy and feel some emotion,” Dunbar explained.

“We’re just not seeing that. How much contact does Andy Schor have with average folks in Lansing that aren’t scripted as part of a public relations stunt or ribbon cutting ceremony? When is he actually communing with folks? When is he listening to the needs of average residents?”

In the wake of unrest after the murder of George Floyd, Schor launched an advisory alliance designed to craft recommendations for a more equitable future for public safety in Lansing. He also cobbled together a task force last month to help address rising levels of gun violence. 

That work has since led to the reopening of at least two community centers, as well as a deluge of city funds budgeted to proactively curb gun violence — $180,000 for youth programs, $240,000 for a gun violence prevention initiative called Advance Peace, $75,000 to help solve cold cases, $1 million for cameras and plans to hire a dozen more cops as quickly as possible.

Many of those plans are still in the works. Dunbar said only a few of them have paid dividends.

“Crime is certainly an issue at the top of mind for a lot of folks, whether that’s speeders or gunshots or homicides. We’re certainly working through our plan there,” Schor explained.

But despite Schor’s “best efforts,” as he labeled them, his administration has still faced an onslaught of criticism from several Black institutions in Lansing. Leaders of the local Black Lives Matter and NAACP chapters have also denounced his leadership or called for his resignation.

Those complaints have also boiled into several lawsuits from current and former city staffers, as well as ongoing civil litigation from the family of Anthony Hulon, an inmate who the medical examiner said was killed last April by officers in the Police Department lock-up. Among Hulon’s last words: “I can’t breathe.”

Despite a medical examiner’s report that clearly listed Hulon’s cause of death as homicide due to positional asphyxia, Schor said last week that the four officers who had pinned Hulon to the ground last year were “not responsible” for his death. And they are back on the job.

“There was a death in the lockup,” Schor said. “There was not an inmate killed by police officers. There was an inmate that died. There is nothing that actually said officers killed him.”

He added: “It’s my understanding that he died of a medical condition. That’s what I know.”

Dunbar had a pointed response to Schor’s latest assessment on Hulon’s death: “Fuck that.”

“He was killed by positional asphyxia caused by four officers putting him on his stomach while he was in handcuffs,” she added. “You don’t have to have intent to kill someone. I watched the video. His hands were cuffed. He did not pose a threat. They all could’ve just walked away.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel found that the officers were not criminally liable for Hulon’s death, as they acted within the bounds of reasonable policies and procedures. An internal review also found that officers acted appropriately, though it still recommended policy changes. 

Dunbar added: “We’re going to be settling lawsuits. They’re going to cost us a lot of money. And when I say us, I mean you and me — the taxpayers. These aren’t going to go away. They have merit. Some of these folks would’ve taken a policy change but they were ignored. The mayor let it get worse. He delayed the process of remedying the situation and forced them to work in an environment that is really hostile and retaliatory until they have no choice but to sue the city.”

Schor couldn’t cite any internal Police Department policies that were changed in response to Hulon’s death. He also couldn’t cite any procedural changes in response to officers deploying tear gas without warning at a massive demonstration that turned violent downtown last May. 

“It’s an empathy issue,” Dunbar said. “You don’t have to say the officers were negligent. If the officers were acting in accordance with their policies, you can still be a human and recognize that it’s sad that people were tear gassed or that it’s tragic that someone died in their jail cell.”

Dunbar has stopped short of publicly calling for Schor’s resignation, but drafted a resolution last June in collaboration with Black Lives Matter that sought a 50% reduction to the police budget. She also argued that Schor’s administration hasn’t done enough to simultaneously stop gun violence, curb police discrimination and provide support for families of murder victims. Her first campaign “press conference” last week featured several mothers of those killed in recent shootings. The overarching sentiment: Schor isn’t doing enough to keep Lansing safe.

“I think the biggest thing is acknowledging that there is a problem,” Dunbar said. “There’s no acknowledgement. These mothers who lost their children to gun violence want to know that there’s somebody in power who is listening to them. They want a mayor who cares about their kids. There’s nothing of substance, and he has had four years to do something before now.”

Schor responded: “I have absolutely recognized that we have issues in our city. I also recognize that some people feel there has been racism in Lansing for many years. There are certainly a few people who have been to my house protesting with guns outside. I don’t like those tactics and they don’t like me — and that’s OK. I’m still working with many, many leaders in the Black community. There are some people who will just never want to work with me and that’s OK.”

Last month, Dunbar’s plan for public safety included true divestment from the Lansing Police Department — that is, actually reducing the amount of money in its budget and reallocating that cash to other, more proactive social services and nonprofit organizations throughout the city. 

That particular political stance was the subject of the first mudslinging mayoral mailers to hit local mailboxes this month, which declared “Dunbar wants to slash the police budget and fire police officers!” Schor said his campaign was not aware or involved in the distribution of those materials, which have a paid-for line from the dark money “Michigan Deserves Better” account. 

Those mailers also included Dunbar’s personal cell phone number and have led to an outpouring of angry phone calls from residents who want more cash for cops, she said. But most of those callers may be disappointed. Dunbar has changed her tune on divestment.

Faced with a recent report that showed as few as 10 cops on the street at any given night, Dunbar said her latest public safety plan actually includes the possibility of more police funding, particularly to help hire more detectives and road patrol officers to crack down on speeding.

And that’s a major turnabout from her hardline stance on budget reductions voiced last year. 

“I don’t want to even talk about adding funding or removing funding,” Dunbar said. “That puts the onus of public safety on the amount of money spent. It’s actually about how everything is deployed. It’s about examining how our resources are used. I don’t know exactly what I would do with the police budget. There would definitely be more funding for training but it wouldn’t be bullshit training. We would need to decide things that have the greatest return on investment.”

So, what are the real differences between Schor and Dunbar? It’s as much about style as issues.

“Even if our policies and directions were the same — and I don’t think they are — we’re both Democrats. We both stand on generally the same platform,” Dunbar said. “Our method of governance is different. I do not and would not govern the way he governs. He’s reactive and defensive. For me, it’s more about recognizing mistakes and separating intent from impact.”

Schor said voters won’t need to look further than his track record to make an informed decision.

Dunbar led the way on amending the human rights ordinance to protect members of the LGBTQ+ community, worked for easier access to marijuana when the city was establishing regulations and also fought hard to declare Lansing a sanctuary city for immigrants in 2017.

But aside from saving the city about $2 million between now and 2038 through a recently reworked lease agreement with the Lugnuts, many of her most noteworthy achievements are collecting dust.

“The Council can use our position to advocate for things, but I’m not the mayor,” Dunbar said. “We don’t get these shiny feathers for every ribbon cutting. When people say they haven’t seen me as much as the mayor, it’s because it’s a different job. They aren’t going to see me out there. I don’t get invited to ribbon cuttings anymore. That doesn’t mean I’m not on the ground talking with people and trying to address their issues every single day. It’s just not as visible.”

She added: “That’s a big driver in why I’m running for this job — to be able to make change.”

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