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Grand Rapids to elect a new mayor after more than 10 years

Jul 27, 2015

The primary election for Grand Rapids' new mayor will take place next Tuesday
Credit All photos courtesy of candidate Facebook pages

Grand Rapids voters will be electing their first new mayor in more than 10 years, and the primary is a week from tomorrow.

Current Mayor George Heartwell is being term-limited out after serving in office for more than a decade.

Michigan Radio’s West Michigan reporter Lindsey Smith tells us that Grand Rapids voters narrowly passed an initiative limiting the terms of both the city commissioner and mayor to two four-year terms.

City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss, Reverend Robert Dean, Willard Lee, and John George are all seeking to replace Heartwell.

All four candidates took part in a town hall-style forum moderated by Stateside’s Zoe Clark at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Smith tells us that Bliss is commonly considered to be leading the race, trailed closely by Dean.

Bliss has been city commissioner since 2005 and is personally endorsed by Heartwell. Smith tells us she has received broad support in her campaign to the tune of $92,000, “which is by far more than any other candidate.”

According to Smith, Dean has a lot of experience and credibility within the city. On top of being a prominent religious leader, he’s a former state representative and city commissioner, and served as president of the Grand Rapids school board. She tells us he’s focusing hard on budget issues, which is earning him support from conservative voters in particular.

Lee is a military veteran, and Smith says his honesty and straightforward attitude in debates is winning him a lot of credit with some supporters. “He admits, 'look, I’m trying to do this, and I don’t know exactly what I’m doing but I’m willing to learn on the job,'” she says.

George is a retired engineer, Smith tells us, whose main focus in his campaign is removing fluoride from the tap water in Grand Rapids. “The City of Grand Rapids was the first city in the country to put fluoride in its water,” she says. “He’s made this a really strong issue.”

There is plenty of time until the general election, but Grand Rapids uses a system by which any candidate could take office if they receive more than 50% of the primary vote, skipping the general election entirely.

The primary is set to take place on Tuesday, August 4, so it’s possible we may see the new mayor of Grand Rapids in just over a week’s time.

“I think this is really on Tuesday going to come down to, can Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss come up with 50% or more of the vote,” Smith says. If Bliss doesn’t take it on Tuesday, Smith speculates that we’ll see Bliss and Dean on the ticket in November.

- Ryan Grimes, Stateside