School Board vice president seeks at-large Council seat

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Lansing Public Schools Board of Education Vice President Rachel Willis, 32, joined the Lansing City Council At-Large race Monday, fewer than 24 hours after longtime Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar announced her candidacy for mayor. 

Willis said she would not have run if Dunbar hadn’t dropped out. “I don’t believe in challenging incumbents I support,” she explained.

Since a candidate can’t run for two posts, Dunbar’s decision opened up a rare citywide seat on the eight-member legislative body. 

The eight-person field will be narrowed to four in the August primary. The top four vote-getters will proceed to the November general election and the top two will win the at-large seats on Council.

Councilman Peter Spadafore, 36, has filed for reelection. Spadafore has been president of Council since January. 

Willis works as the director of the East Lansing branch of Bethany Christian Services. She has previously served as president of the Lansing School Board. Spadafore serves as deputy executive director for the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators. 

The two Lansing schools-related candidates are joined in the race by six other hopefuls: Grant Blood II, 34; Jeffrey Brown, 37; Linda Appling; DeMarco Taft, 47; Linda Keefe, 64; and Claretta Duckett-Freeman, 39. Besides Willis, only Keefe, Spadafore, Blood and Taft had responded to requests for interviews. Brown was unavailable for an interview. 

Appling had no public contact information or date of birth filed with the City Clerk’s Office. 

Public safety and law enforcement involvement with the community appeared high on the list of concerns for the candidates interviewed. 

Willis said there are two types of policy: “racist and antiracist.”

“If a policy is impacting a minority group more than any others, then it’s racist,” she said. “That’s where you have to change the policy to make the outcomes work.”

Taft, who said he is an ordained minister with a church outside of Benton Harbor, has lived in Lansing for six years. He hopes to use a seat on the Council to drive initiatives to lower youth and gang violence issues in the community through alternative dispute resolutions. 

He said he was going to be “on the streets,” which would allow him to hear what the average citizen was thinking, concerned about and agreeing with. He also wants to host an annual event inviting the community and police as well as their families for a BBQ in the city. 

“Maybe then we can begin to get to see each other as people, that we share something in common,” he said. 

As a corporate security consultant for MSUFCU, Blood said he wants to see more involvement with community police, an idea pioneered at Michigan State University. He said his goal would be to employ community policing in Lansing in order to make it a prime role model for the country. With cops in the community, he said, there would be less fear.

“We need to get people to be less afraid of law enforcement,” Blood said. “There is fear.”

Blood, who grew up on a dairy farm in Ionia, noted he would use his white privilege to “benefit” others in the community. 

Keefe, a former commissioner in Eaton and Ingham counties, said she jumped into the race with deep concerns about climate change and addressing systemic racism. She is a long-term substitute teacher at the Holt Public Schools. 

She and Spadafore both said they need to listen to impacted communities more to find creative solutions to address systemic racism issues, particularly in law enforcement. 

“There may need to be changes made in the police department itself,” Keefe said. “Whether that’s staffing or structural or both, we need to improve in this area sooner rather than later.”

Spadafore pointed to initiatives he’s led to address diversity initiatives in the city, including expanding funding opportunities for outside organizations to investigate allegations of racial and other discrimination for people who might not feel comfortable engaging with the city, 

“I don’t have all the answers,” Spadafore said. “But I am hoping through listening and learning for people impacted, we can find answers together.”

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