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Low-key Lansing mayoral race enters its final month

Oct 12, 2017

Four weeks from today, Lansing voters will elect the capitol city’s first new mayor in a dozen years.

The next mayor will be a departure in style from the current holder of the office.

“When I knock, I say I’m Andy Schor. I’m running for mayor,” Andy Schor told a group of volunteers at his campaign office, before they headed out to knock on doors on a recent Saturday morning.

The long campaign is moving into its final month, and Andy Schor is a bit tired.

When not working at the state Capitol in his job as a state lawmaker, Schor spends time knocking on doors himself. He tells voters about his support for improving services in Lansing neighborhoods, bettering city schools and encouraging economic development.

Andy Schor is running to replace Virg Bernero, the blunt and sometimes bombastic politician who announced earlier this year he would not seek another term. 

Andy Schor points to a map of Lansing, showing where he and his volunteers have knocked on doors this summer
Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Bernero led the city through the Great Recession. He managed budget cuts and promoted big economic development projects. But Bernero’s tenure has also been marked by clashes with the city council and others.    

Bernero earned the title “America’s angriest mayor” for his spirited, and often combative support for the Obama administration’s efforts to guide General Motors through bankruptcy protection.     

The mayor’s personal style irritated many of his opponents.

Schor feels, as the next mayor, he can repair the divisions, including those with the Lansing City Council.   

“How do you fix it?” Schor asks. “You have somebody come in that hasn’t been part of the divisiveness. I haven’t been part of it.”

Someone who has is Judi Brown-Clarke. Hers is the other name on the ballot. 

She finished second to Schor in the August primary. Finishing second holds a special place on her resume. Judi Brown-Clarke won the silver medal in the Women’s 400-meter hurdles in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. 

Judi Brown-Clarke has produced a 49-page strategic action plan to address what's needed for Lansing's future
Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio

But there’s a lot more on her resume.   

She’s currently an administrator at Michigan State University. She’s also served on the city council for four years, including a stint as council president. 

Brown-Clarke says there are numerous challenges facing the city -- maybe none larger than Lansing’s legacy retirement and pension costs. One study has pegged Lansing’s legacy costs at roughly $600 million over the next 30 years. 

Brown-Clarke says Lansing’s balanced city budget hasn’t fully addressed the problem.

“It’s like saying, I pay my bills so I’m not in debt. But your credit card is (maxed),” says Brown-Clarke. “It’s time for show your credit card.”

Despite the major challenges facing the city, Lansing residents could be forgiven if they didn’t know they were electing a new mayor.

The campaign has been extremely low-key with little controversy.

Berl Schwartz is the publisher of the Lansing City Pulse. He says neither Schor nor Brown-Clarke are exciting candidates compared with outgoing Mayor Virg Bernero.

“He found issues and outspoken about them,” says Schwartz,.“The candidates have been very quiet. They haven’t really gone after each other. And consequently, the electorate is less engaged than usual for an off-year election.”

Lansing’s two mayoral candidates are even low-key about something you might expect them not to be.

Outgoing Mayor Virg Bernero wants to sell city hall. The aging building sits on prime real estate across from the state Capitol. Bernero says it makes more sense to sell the building and relocate city offices elsewhere. He also wants to seal the deal before the next mayor takes office in January.

Andy Schor says Bernero is the mayor, and for now, he doesn’t see a reason to put the decision on hold until the next mayor takes office.

Judi Brown-Clarke agrees, though as a city council member she will have a say in the matter. 

Lansing voters will decide November 7 which of their two low-key candidates will take on the city’s highest profile job.