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Truth to power


Bernero assails business leaders for accepting mediocrity As he prepares to leave office, the Angriest Mayor in America is still angry. Very.

In a farewell address to the Rotary Club of Lansing, Virg Bernero called out community leaders for their willingness to accept mediocrity. His talk was pointedly titled “Mediocre or Marvelous: Metro Lansing at the Crossroads.” He left no doubt which he thinks it is.

“There’s no reason I’m not going to offend you today, just as I always have,” Bernero warned. “Strap yourself in.”

With under two months left in office, the mayor declared the condition of the city “good.” Unemployment is nil. The city is safe. GDP is up. The population is growing, Michigan Avenue is coming alive.

“Were solidly good.” But not great. The culprit: an unwillingness by Lansing’s Establishment — well represented in his audience — to demand regionalism.

“Here’s the thing that really galls me.

This is why I yell at you. Because I know you. I know one or two or three or all of you at every one of these tables. And I know you to be people of excellence, that strive. You don’t accept mediocrity from yourself or your employees and your colleagues. But you accept this for your communities. That’s what’s galling to me.”

“Why do we need all these governments? Why should we put up with ‘I am Delta’ banners? You are west Lansing, you ain’t Delta. You don’t go travel and tell people you’re from Delta. You say you’re from Lansing. I know you do.”

Why is it called the Capital Regional International Airport? The ticket says LAN.

“What is this bullshit?” yelled Bernero.

“You are Lansing. Embrace it. Love it. You will be better because of it. I don’t understand and I don’t accept it.

“You know what else?” Bernero continued, the ballroom at the Lansing Center very quiet. “You don’t accept it for your businesses but you accept it for your community. You say, ‘It just can’t be done.’ But, he went on, “It would be done if you demanded it. It would be done because township officials, the supervisor, the treasurer, the clerk, they’re worried about what you think. They care about what you think.”

No doubt some were thinking that it could have been done if Bernero were not so tempermental, that he had become an obstacle to regionalism and had to go after three terms.

He read their minds. “I’m in a pissing match with Lansing Township,” he said. “Well, it must be Bernero — he’s got some wild hair.”

“No! They have screwed us continuously because they are a client state.

They represent Eastwood. They are the Township of Eastwood.”

“All these people I can’t get along with.

I got the county to take the zoo, which I couldn’t afford anymore. I got the county to agree to a new countywide millage for a regional trail. But I can’t play well with others. Seems like I have a pretty decent track record.

“But Lansing Township — they’re different,” he said sarcastically. “I guess we’ll just put up with it and hope for the best — and hope that the tapeworm doesn’t kill the host.”

In Grand Rapids, the community leaders invest in the city. Here, he said, major institutions such as the MSU Federal Credit Union and Delta Dental build outside the city. “And we wonder why the city sucks.”

“It’s what you want,” he told his powerful audience.

Why? “Change is scary. Without change, well, you get mediocrity.”

“Again, you don’t accept it in your business but you accept it in the community because it’s working out OK, right now, we’re able to grow and the bottom line looks pretty good and so we’ll leave that for somebody else.”

What’s needed is simple, if not simple to achieve: metro government.

“In metro government, if the money goes it comes back because we’re all in one metro government. I’m willing to say, “OK, then, we won’t have a Lansing. If Lansing and East Lansing and Lansing Township were to merge, a few petty politicians would lose their jobs.

“We wouldn’t be twice the city, we’d be 10 times the city.

“But we won’t even consider it. We don’t even talk about it. You think mergers are even discussed? We’re in a political campaign and all I hear about is potholes.

“Potholes. For some reason Bernero wouldn’t fix the potholes. I guess I must love potholes. Thank God we’re going to get a mayor who’s gonna fix potholes.

“Have you listened to the dialogue around here, for God sake? Where’s the media? Where are the tough questions?” Where, indeed.


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