Michigan’s Municipal Election Highlights

Several large communities throughout the state will go to the polls again this August and September to pick municipal leaders. Many of these local elected officials become members of the legislature as state lawmakers reach their constitutional term limit, making local government elections a key feeder for higher office.

Below is a quick review of local government elections in key communities throughout Michigan. Grassroots Midwest has been following the developments in many of these cities with interest and has a short analysis of some races across the state. There are several other cities with elections this summer that are not listed here, including Battle Creek, Marquette, Muskegon, and East Lansing.

 

Lansing

In Michigan’s Capital City, four total city council seats will appear on the ballot in 2019. They include two at-large council seats, and the seats in the 1st and 3rd Wards.  

  1. Two at-large seats, currently held by Councilmembers Patricia Spitzley and Carol Wood. Both Wood and Spitzley have filed to run for re-election. Spitzley is currently serving her first term on city council, and was elected with considerable assistance from former Mayor Virg Bernero. Wood is a long-time council member who has fended off serious, well-funded challengers in the past. This cycle, the challengers include Yanice Jackson-Long, Terry Eagle, and Julee Rodocker. Jackson-Long and Rodocker appear to be putting together serious campaign operations. The top four vote getters in the nonpartisan primary election advance to the general election, with the top two finishers in the general election claiming these at-large seats. 
  2. The seat for Lansing’s 1st Ward (northeast Lansing, including Old Town) is currently held by Councilmember Jodi Washington. Washington has created some controversy with her public statements in the past. She is the mother of Councilmember Adam Hussain (3rd Ward, see below), and mother-in-law of County Commissioner Thomas Morgan. Some neighborhood groups and small business owners in Lansing’s Old Town had been trying to recruit candidates to challenge Washington, but were unsuccessful in recruiting a top tier candidate. Her challengers are Brandon Betz, James Pyle, Scott Hughes, and Farahan Sheik Omar.
  3. The council seat for Lansing’s 3rd Ward (southwest Lansing) is currently held by Councilman Adam Hussain, the son of Ward 1 Councilwoman Jodi Washington. He is running unopposed.

GRMW Assessment:  The top four at-large finishers will likely be Wood, Spitzley, Jackson-Long and Rodocker.  For November, Wood remains safe as it is next to impossible to knock her off. In Ward 1, Washington drew four challengers but it seems unlikely any of them will have the resources to knock her off city council. Hussain was virtually guaranteed reelection by having no one file against him. 

 

Grand Rapids 

In addition to three City Commission seats appearing on the ballot in 2019, Grand Rapids will also have a mayoral election this year. The Grand Rapids races are:

  1. Mayor Rosalyn Bliss is running for another term this year, and appears to have a relatively easy road to victory at the moment. She faces Daniel Schutte, who ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 2018, but does not appear to be a serious candidate.
  2. The 1st Ward seat held by City Commissioner Jon O’Connor, who is also up for re-election. O’Connor is a co-founder and co-owner of Long Road Distillers, and previously served one term on the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education. He faces a young, progressive challenger in Allison Lutz.
  3. The 2nd Ward seat held by City Commissioner Ruth Kelly is on the 2019 ballot. Kelly is term-limited making this an open seat. Two serious contenders have emerged here; Milinda Ysasi and Wendy Falb. Ysasi is executive director of the nonprofit business collaborative The Source, and has endorsements from Kelly and 3rd Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear. Falb is executive director of the Literacy Center of West Michigan and is a former Grand Rapids Public Schools board member. She has support from State Sen. Winnie Brinks, GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal and 1st Ward City Commissioner Jon O’Connor. Mike Farage, another candidate who also filed, is the head of the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association and is not considered a serious challenger.
  4. The 3rd Ward seat is held by City Commissioner Nathaniel Moody, who was appointed to the seat in 2018 to fill a vacancy. He is seeking election this year to his first full-term and does not have a challenger.  

GRMW Assessment: Mayor Bliss should coast to re-election, along with O’Connor in Ward 1 and, obviously, Moody in Ward 3. The big fight here will be the 2nd Ward race. Whoever comes out on top in the August primary should have significant momentum heading into November.

 

Jackson 

In Jackson, Mayor Derek Dobies is up for re-election after unseating an incumbent two years ago. Additionally, there are three ward-based seats on the ballot, including:

  1. Mayor Dobies faces a challenger in Ward 3 councilman Jeromy Alexander. GRMW has recently been made aware of a very long rap sheet and checkered criminal past for Alexander. Another candidate, Cindy Eby, initially had her petitions rejected by the City Clerk, but sued and has been ordered on the August ballot.
  2. In Ward 2 (southeast Jackson) Councilman Freddie Dancy is up for re-election. No other candidates filed for this seat. 
  3. In Ward 4 (northwest Jackson) Councilman Craig Pappin is not running for re-election. Two candidates have filed here, Laura Dwyer Schlecte and Laura Beth Stephens. Dwyer Schlecte was the councilwoman from this ward until she ran for Mayor (and lost) in 2015.  
  4. In Ward 6 (southwest Jackson) Councilwoman Colleen Sullivan is running for re-election against Will Forgrave, who previously worked for the city as their public information officer.
  5. City Treasurer Martin Griffin was appointed to the post last year. He is a former mayor and state representative. No other candidates filed for this race.

GRMW Assessment: Mayor Dobies should be re-elected here pretty handily. In Ward 4, Dwyer Schlecte has the upper hand since she previously represented this ward and nearly won it back in 2015 in a write-in campaign after she lost the mayoral primary.  Sullivan won the 6th Ward seat in 2017 by challenging Dobies in a recall election, but Dobies didn’t fight the recall because he was running for Mayor at the time, which he ultimately won. 

 

Flint

After surviving a recall attempt two years ago, Mayor Karen Weaver is up for re-election. She faces State Rep. Sheldon Neeley, Greg Eason, and Don Pfeiffer.

GRMW Assessment: Mayoral elections in Flint are always lively affairs. Expect Weaver and Neeley to come out of the primary and head to a face-off in November.  Both have some ground to make up with Flint voters, but if city residents decide to make this a referendum on city government, we could see the mayor’s office flip yet again this year. In the meantime, recalls are being attempted against four members of city council – all supported by Councilman Eric Mays.

 

Kalamazoo

In Kalamazoo, popular incumbent Mayor Bobby Hopewell is hanging it up after serving six terms.  Long-time city commissioner David Anderson has announced his run to replace Hopewell. Anderson works for the Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and serves as chairman of the Kalamazoo County Public Housing Commission.  

Three city commission seats are also up for grabs in November. Commissioners are selected at-large, with the top six vote getters advancing from the primary to the general election. The filing deadline in Kalamazoo is July 23, so many of these races are still shaping up.

GRMW Assessment: It’s still a bit early here because of the filing deadline, but on paper city commissioner David Anderson looks poised to be a serious contender to replace Hopewell.  

 

Livonia

In Livonia, Mayor Dennis Wright is not seeking re-election. Former State Rep. & Senator Laura Toy is running. She has been a popular elected official in Livonia for nearly 30 years. Toy faces another city council veteran in Maureen Miller Brosnan, herself no stranger to tough election battles. A third candidate, Bruce Tenniswood, has also filed.

GRMW Assessment: While there is also a city council election here, the race for mayor will be the big show. Toy has faced tough elections in the past and her Livonia voters have always come through for her.  In addition, she is being supported by out-going Mayor Dennis Wright and former long-time mayor Jack Kirksey. Interestingly, Toy, a long-time Republican official, faces Democrat Miller Brosnan in this non-partisan race. While Livonia has been trending away from the GOP in recent years, Toy’s longtime service here appears to give her the upper hand.

 

Warren 

Macomb County elections rarely disappoint interested followers and this year’s municipal elections will be no different in Warren. Controversial Mayor Jim Fouts is up for re-election. He faces nine challengers, including Kelly Colegio, an at-large member of the city council.  With alleged recordings of the mayor making disparaging remarks about, well, everyone and long-time rumors of employing his younger girlfriend, this race is going to be a brutal fight.

But, this isn’t even the best of Warren politics this year. Council is made up of five districts and two at-large seats, and all seats are up for election. Voters changed the city charter several years ago to enact term-limits for council members and several of them are termed out of their seats. And this is where it gets crazier…or more interesting. Some members who were term-limited attempted to pull a fast one on voters by having the city attorney issue a ruling declaring that those members were termed out of their specific seats (districts vs at-large) and therefore were eligible to run for council in the other seat. According to the opinion, if a councilmember served at-large and was termed out, he/she could still run for council from a district. Confused? Well, those incumbents were hoping Warren voters would be too. After several rulings and appeals, the matter has been settled with the Michigan Supreme Court ruling that term limits apply to city council, not specific seats. As a result, the tricky term-limited incumbents have been removed from the ballot setting up some big open seat battles in an always colorful election community.

GRMW Assessment: Mayor Fouts is extremely vulnerable given his apparent history of racist/ageist/sexist/ableist remarks, and placing his girlfriend on the city payroll. The question is can any of the challengers capitalize on this and actually beat him? A couple of the city council candidates who stand out are former one-term state Rep. Patrick Green running for an at-large seat, and in district 2 Richard Sulaka II, who is the son of a former Warren councilman and city clerk, and worked as deputy commissioner to disgraced former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco. Keith Sadowski is not running for re-election to council to take a shot at City Clerk. 

 

Sterling Heights

The Mayor and City Council in Michigan’s fourth largest city are elected at-large and are all up for election in 2019.  They all serve two-year terms. The Mayor is running unopposed and all six incumbent city councilmembers are seeking re-election.

GRMW Assessment: Mayor Mike Taylor withstood the local “controversy” of the M-59 Golden Bu…. err, halo public sculpture and didn’t have anyone file against him. Incumbent members of council should all be re-elected, including former state Rep Henry Yanez who was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the election of Nate Shannon to the state House. 

 

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