THE ELECTION GUIDE

Round Two — Lansing City Council at-large

Top two vote-getters will fill two seats.

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Spadafore
Spadafore
Spadafore, 36, was elected to the Council in 2017 and has twice been unanimously president elected by his colleagues. He was president of the Board of Education at the Lansing School District. He is a graduate of Michigan State University, where he studied social relations and policy. He is a lobbyist and deputy executive director for the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators.

Willis
Willis
Willis, 33, is the vice president (and past president) of the board at the Lansing School District and director of the East Lansing branch of Bethany Christian Services. She has a master’s degree in social work from Michigan State University. She is a division director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Services Agency. 

Brown
Brown
Brown, 37, serves on the executive committee of the Ingham County Community Health Centers and the city’s Human Relations and Community Services Advisory Board. He has several college degrees — including a doctorate in Ministry Christian Leadership from Kingdom University International Bible College. Brown is also a public speaker and author, with a stated focus on vocational rehabilitation, transitional housing, residential long-term care, life skills management, community living supports, youth and self-employment and job readiness.

Duckett-Freeman
Duckett-Freeman
Duckett-Freeman, 39, has lived in Lansing for 16 years with her husband and five children. She has degrees in education and political science from Michigan State University and has served as a combat medic in the U.S. Army Reserves. Duckett-Freeman is a board member at the Willow Tree Family Center and the state Board of Licensed Midwifery and was the first Black certified lactation counselor in Lansing. In addition to volunteering for churches and several other neighborhood organizations, she’s also pursuing a career as a firefighter-EMT.

With Kathie Dunbar’s departure from the City Council at the end of the year because of her mayoral bid, at least one fresh face is guaranteed to take the dais at City Hall next year. The odds are whoever that is will serve alongside Spadafore.

Along with the advantage of incumbency, Spadafore carried a five-figure fundraising edge over the competition throughout this election cycle and gathered endorsements from nearly as many political power brokers as Mayor Andy Schor, including the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and several labor unions.

His moderate approach hasn’t ruffled many feathers at City Hall. And Spadafore thinks he’s best suited for the job because, well, he’s already been doing it for the last four years, he explained.

“I’ve spent the last four years learning on the job, navigating the Council through COVID-19 as the president for the last two years, and the last 10 years in public service roles, earning the respect of my colleagues in leadership roles,” Spadafore said. “I’m proud of my work.”

His biggest accomplishments? Passing three balanced city budgets that simultaneously invested in public services, public safety and economic development while also promoting expanding affordable housing stock in the city, Spadafore said in response to a questionnaire.

Spadafore was also a leading advocate for the boozy social districts that opened this summer.

Just don’t expect him to rock the boat over the next four years. His top priorities, while essential for effectively running a municipality like Lansing, are just about as down-the-middle as it gets: Quality of life improvements, more opportunity for all and investments in the local economy.

“We all care about the basics: good roads, clean water, nice streets and parks. I am committed to making sure city services measure up to resident expectations, because we all deserve to live in a city we feel proud of,” he said. “Economic development can’t just be about new hotels and breweries. We need to ensure the opportunity reaches every neighborhood, from clean parks and good quality of life to easy access to services and support for small businesses.”

Also on his priority list: “reforming laws that disproportionately affect residents of color must be a part of our multi-pronged efforts toward fostering racial equity,” Spadafore told City Pulse.

Willis’ experience in public education and dealings with budgets, personnel and policy would likely make her a relatively cohesive partner for Spadafore’s moderate agenda next year. Both have been school board presidents. Willis even endorsed Spadafore for Council in 2017.

“I am a social worker who has dedicated my entire life to supporting and protecting children and families,” she told City Pulse. “I have experience doing the job as a member of the school board. I know how to govern, pass and manage large budgets and meet the needs of constituents. Lansing deserves leadership that understands what they are doing, and I can be that person.”

Willis said her top priorities for the next four years include supporting businesses that weathered the pandemic while attracting new development, addressing the “divide” between police officers and the public, new placemaking efforts within the city and, quite broadly, “people over politics.”

Her agenda for social equity reforms also includes a “thorough review” of racism and disparate outcomes that exist within existing city policies. Lansing has assembled enough committees, she said. It’s now time to look at the results of that work and hold people accountable, she said.

“The wellbeing of people and the community should take precedence over any individual political motivations. We need to hear from the community and govern in a way that makes people feel valued and heard,” Willis added. “Stable employment opportunities lead to stable health and wellbeing, which lead to stable education, which leads to stable long-term success.”

Brown said he has been working to uplift and empower local residents for “several decades.” And there’s only one reason why he’s running for the Council this year: “To ensure that I am in the best position possible to continue this work on behalf of our citizens.”

“With all due respect, I have worked harder than any candidate in the at-large race to meet people at their front doors and learn the issues from their perspectives,” he told City Pulse. “I have walked away with a keen sense of what the citizens of this city expect from their leaders.”

Among Brown’s top priorities: build stronger neighborhoods, support small businesses, create more jobs and work to make local government more transparent and accessible. He also cited plans to implement “common-sense policy and investment” to build more housing, enhance local parks, boost community policing efforts and collaborate with Lansing schools.

He added: “We must do a far better job at getting to neighborhood meetings, creating opportunities for constituents to interface with their representatives, and meeting people where they are at so that we can build a stronger, more inclusive Lansing for all.”

Brown said that he inadvertently attended (and was photographed at) a pro-Trump fundraiser alongside conservative spitfire Linda Lee Tarver last year. He has garnered support from several members of the Council’s more traditionalist bloc, including Carol Wood, Adam Hussain and former Councilwoman Jody Washington. He has also secured endorsements from the chamber of commerce and several local labor unions that represent police officers, building trades, firefighters, realtors, plumbers and pipefitters and other major institutions in Lansing.

Just don’t call him a Republican.

In response to several questions about his reported attendance at a Trump fundraiser last year, Brown insisted he’s a Democrat who does not support Trump and has no “political relationship” with Tarver. They’re just church friends. And Brown only helped her to “coordinate logistics.”

“It wasn’t until the end of this event did I realize there was Trump information at this event,” he said. “I was not aware and did not authorize or approve of myself in any pictures soliciting Trump for president. Given what was happening in this country, those images did not and do not reflect who I am and I had them removed. Most people in the black community know one another because the black community has had to stand shoulder to shoulder to resist and fight racism for decades. To think otherwise is to be ignorant of the struggle of the black community.”

Brown’s game plan to bolster racial equity in Lansing includes “leading by example, listening, observing, problem-solving with diverse groups of stakeholders” and “not only creating equity plans but ensuring that provisions of said plans are implemented” and cemented into policy.

“We need to address inequitable access to services, inequitable support of neighborhoods and at-risk demographics, lack of job growth in certain parts of the city, economic development, and entrepreneurial support in vulnerable communities and inequitable city programming,” he said.

Duckett-Freeman is the only at-large candidate to have a public endorsement from Dunbar as one of three members of “The Crew” — a political alliance that also includes Oprah Revish.

Announced last month on an episode of “Merica 20 to Life,” a local Facebook program focused on the African-American community, the three of them represent an equitable and progressive shift to city government — one designed to focus heavily on the needs of the city’s disenfranchised residents, Duckett-Freeman said. And since none of them have the advantage of incumbency, they also represent the underdogs of the general election.

“I’m the best candidate because I’m able to relate to people from different walks of life. I’ve lived in places outside of where I was raised. I’m used to adapting and I don’t allow barriers to stop me. My education in the military and at MSU has prepared me to deal with challenges of the 21st century, like overcoming racism, sexism and classism,” Duckett-Freeman told City Pulse.

Her top priorities include cutting more tax breaks for affordable housing projects, investigating complaints of racial discrimination at City Hall and getting a better grip on the city’s unfunded pension and post-employment benefit obligations without cutting back on retiree benefits.

Duckett-Freeman also wants to curb gun violence by taking “unneeded money” away from the patrol division of the Police Department, instead investing those resources into more detectives for unsolved murders, more community center programming and resources for mental health.

“I will be only one voice, but I will use my voice to fight tirelessly for these issues,” she told City Pulse. “All these things would make our city more desirable to live in while still honoring those who already live here. I am aware that we need to build new power in the City Council to do these things. I am up to the challenge. My role in all of this will be to remind the mayor and the rest of Council that we work for all the people, even the ones without power or influence.”

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