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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

A most peculiar turn

What are we to make of the mayoral candidacy of Rev. Robert Dean?

One one hand, it represents the most peculiar of alliances, between old school African American politics, the more sharply radicalized left of Jose Flores, and fiscal austerity package — Tea Party in all but name — of Rina Baker and our raft of comptrollers. What each has in common is a sense of distance, even alienation from the present downtown initiatives. As a potential vehicle for outside grievances, the Dean candidacy could be useful. After all, with all the building downtown, the  city’s population still struggles, particularly in the African American community. And one might ask if the downtown emphasis also helps the Hispanic communities. Are they prospering? Or only providing the low-wage service support to keep the new buildings gleaming?

And as irascible as Baker and her compatriot Betty Burke are, they function as an outside populist counter to the young and downtown crowd.

But…

Instead of raising the issues of neighborhoods, the campaign has instead chosen to focus on the subject of debt. In the literature from Dean, it is a billion dollar cliff. But as the reactions in Wednesday’s debate reveal, it is a most peculiar cliff. If it is as dire as made out, then one must focus on cutting it — this is the basic argument. How odd, then, when asked about current surpluses, the response?

“Why not return (the voter-approved rate increase) back to the voters?”

Well that’s an answer, but it just doesn’t match with the threat. Giving back revenue only increases the obligation, scarcely the thing one wants to do. And in this response, Dean basically gives away the game.

No, there is not cliff. The earlier respect for the City’s budget by Comptroller Sara VanderWerf is correct.

Picking up Fleas.

Sadly, Rev. Dean appears to have picked up some of the worst habits of the fiscal hawks. He touts a billion dollar debt, but a debt only if one lumps all types of debt together, including that that is covered by other revenue streams. While such an approach has a kitchen table, monetarist appeal, it mistakes the problem of debt, viz. that of cash flow. The question with any obligation is one’s ability to meet the demands.

However the question of debt is not simply that of what Grand Rapids is doing, it is part of the fiscal hawk narrative generally: the city’s debt is a stand in for the perceived national debt.

Here, Dean’s advocacy of this narrative does a genuine disservice to those who have backed him. The implicit solution from the fiscal hawks is not more taxes, but more cuts. Assume that the problem is as dire as Dean says, the actual City response would then be more cuts to personnel and programs. It’s fewer police and closed parks. Lying down with the fiscal hawks, these are the fleas one eventually picks up.

Or the Reverend may want to remember Scripture: Bad company ruins good morals (1 Cor 15:33).

Filed under: Politics, , , , , ,

Three Maps that Explain the Term Limit Results

Vote distribution term limitsFor politicos, the above map will look rather familiar. Support for the Term Limits amendment is in red and right where you would expect it: up on the hill on the west side, and out one the NE rim. These have been reliably conservative votes for some time, and especially on the more populist measures like term limits. On the SE side, the continuing impact of the Dutch community can be seen. This pattern of balance between the far SE and the west side can also be found on taxation issues such as the Silver Line or way before, on school millages.

The SE side vote serves as a reminder that the populist, libertarian stance so popular today is not the only one available to the conservative. The precincts out Burton can be painfully conservative, but they nonetheless vote for institutions. This lies less in a hidden heart of softness, than in the character of their theology and social class. Like their neighbors to the north in East Grand Rapids or in Ottawa Hills (historically a “Yankee” not a Dutch neighborhood) the population out Burton is one that prizes education; the residents are professionals and white collar, often in management or in education. Underneath this, there is also the element of the Dutch Reformed social philosophy, “Kuyperianism” that seeks to bring belief to transform society. Think of it as social conservatism with brains.

So this is story one: the Term Limits proposal pits the conservative populists concentrated on the west side against the socially moderate SE side. For a long time in Grand Rapids history, this has been THE battle. But the map of course shows another segment for the opposition: the “hipsters” (as commentators on MLive have it) — a band of neighborhoods stretching out Fulton from Downtown out Marywood and the city limits, a region usually defined by its zip code: 49503. In contrast to the Dutch, these are largely Yankee: middle class of varying religious persuasion, largely white. This has been the part of town that has provided some of the strongest leadership in the urban revitalization, and for that matter, the City; it is the backbone of the political culture of the Second Ward (although the Ward is far more diverse than this).

In most seasons, the alliance between Second and Third Wards is enough to stop the occasional populist outbreaks on the West Side. Not this time. What happened?

Map Two: the Blue Collar Revolt

Term limits map 3 blue collar

Earlier, I had posited a blue collar antipathy to the Big City: term limits were part of a struggle for the urban guidance of the city. The data above is pretty clear.  The neighborhoods of the northside by Aberdeen, or on the SE side towards Alger Park (the blue collar part of the SE side Dutch community) — they were pretty adamant about the term limits voting in a range of 54%-60% in favor.

The distinct geographic clumping adds another layer to the story. These are not so much the disaffected as they are the invested. Their neighborhoods have not seen the downtown love, so to speak. These are also the neighborhoods with relatively less spending income: first home buyers, long time residents. What we see is something like a map of (potential) revolt. Oddly, the passage of term limits may actually help reconnect this group, provided they get representation.

A third map, however reveals the mistakes of the opponents. Painfully so.

Map Three: the Disconnected Poor

Term limits map 2 poor

Above are the low-turnout precincts, again with the darker dots indicating strong support for term limits (approx. 54%-65% in favor), the lighter dots represent those low turnout precincts that slightly favored the measure. We can consider low turnout as a proxy for poverty — a position any one familiar with these neighborhoods already understands.

Again, the geography tells everything. These are the Hispanic and African-American districts, the same ones that were skeptical in the Lenear/Tuffelmire battle.These are neighborhoods of the working poor — low turnout is strongly correlated with poverty. In civic discussions, they are also the community that is acted upon, rather than takes part (as an aside, one might read the election of Jose Flores to the school board as part of this same dynamic, a pushing back as it were).

Looking to the numbers, this was the part of the electorate where the measure won. The two thirds of higher-turnout precincts basically broke even. So although this cluster of precincts represents perhaps 20 % of the total vote, the 900 vote margin provides the win.

In short….

When considered through the lens of the usual politics, or even of the Blue Collar Revolt, the battle over term limits looks manageable. It is the failure to make the case with the working poor that really stands out. This may have arisen from unconscious bias (i.e. communicating as if your viewpoint is normative, leaving off the connecting with the audience). It could have been that the argument was too abstract relative to the proponents. It may well be something else.

Here’s one thing that advocates of the City need to take to heart: the big measures will take buy-in from the near neighborhoods. They are our neighbors and often our friends. Advocates ignore them at their own risk.

And for purposes of vote counting, these districts represent the winning margin for Term Limits

Filed under: Community, Elections, , , , , , , , ,

The unspoken contest

The best thing that happened to Senita Lenear in the Third Ward campaign was the silence of the Republican Party. In the last serious contesting for the Third Ward, the GOP jumped in on the side of Patrick Miles Sr. in his race against Scott Bowen, former chair of the Democratic Party. That battle was fierce and expensive, and it polarized the Democratic community: with the GOP on the other side how could they not support Bowen?

As it is, this year’s contest has seen the Democratic vote split between Lenear and Mike Tuffelmire, with African-Americans and a few other Dems supporting Lenear, and more progressive Dems lining up behind Tuffelmire. Given the make-up of the district, this split is likely to doom Tuffelmire — at the very least it has given him a head-wind in terms of reaching out to the high-voting precincts south of 28th and east of Plymouth.

Under the surface other tensions seem to be lurking. It’s flavor can be seen in this comment on MLive

If an individual moves to or re-locates into a community for the perceived purpose of running for an elective office, then that person is considered to be “carpetbagging”. This, it seems, describes Tufflemire if he has just recently, this calendar year even, moved into the Third Ward to run for this seat. This is the “white elephant in the room” and speaks to a lack of integrity in the process if Tufflemire and his supporters are attempting to commandeer this election by basically lying about how long Tufflemire has been a resident in the Third Ward.

While the question of residency in the Third Ward is a relatively minor one (Tuffelmire has long experience in the City generally), the sense that a status quo is being threatened or over-turned is palpable.

Part of the tension is certainly racial (see “white” in “white elephant” above): Lenear represents a new generation of leadership in the African American community, she has received a blessing of sorts from the existing commissioners, and she would be the first African American woman to serve on the City Commission. How could one oppose this?  So we see a fair amount of identity politics at work. The question as to whether Lenear is the best representative or messenger for African-American politics in the City is a more difficult one, not least because some of her supporters are quite to her left.

Another part of the tension surely lies in the issue of gentrification. Tuffelmire’s chief supporters are those who are part of the redevelopment along Wealthy Street and East Hills; young urbanists; entrepreneurs; activists. This tension between the reviving neighborhoods, and the older (and poorer) African American neighborhoods to the south has been simmering in the City. The tragic story of the D&G Party Store captures these tensions. Tucked into the issue of gentrification is that of political power. The rise of the new neighborhoods has brought new voices to the table: owners, developers and the like. The older neighborhoods that were once minority are being shifted, if not pushed out; the success of the redevelopment understandably grates at residents. Does money flow only when white people take part?

And finally, there is the question of political agendas. Tuffelmire and his supporters represent a new politics, or perhaps better, a more robust politics that is moving out of Heritage Hill. When one looks at the issues, it is clear that the primary battleground in the Third Ward this year has been in the part of the district that belongs to the 75th State House seat of Brandon Dillon. Since redistricting, this seat is safe. The tension between Tuffelmire and Lenear is the beginning of the tussle for who will succeed Dillon: will it be someone out of the minority community? or someone out of the progressive neighborhood networks? Or could it fall to bridging figure such as 19th District county Commissioner, Candace Chivis?

Further complicating the political reality is the nature of two other seats: the slightly marginal D of the 76th State House now held by Winnie Brinks, and the 29th State Senate seat, Dave Hildenbrand being the incumbent. Republicans look at the center right stance of Lenear and see a potential candidate (this according to conversations with local party members). Would she go partisan? Her list of significant Republicans endorsements at least give a crack of possibility here, although the presumed commitments she has made to her supporters likely militate against it. For now.

So, if you listen carefully to the race, you can hear the scrape of political chairs being shuffled around. The Tuffelmire-Lenear contest represents a beginning of the reshaping of our City and state politics.

Filed under: Community, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Can Palin Move Michigan?

The post-convention bounce is well underway and recent polls underscore how much the race has tightened up. The recent poll by Public Policy Polling gave Obama a rather one point lead (47/46) – a tie given the 2.9% margin of error.

This post-convention bounce has certainly troubled Democrats nationally, but should Dems be worried here in the Great Lakes State?

A look under the “hood” and at local races is in order. Fortunately the survey breaks down the results by gender, race and age.

Gender. In a breakout of the poll subsets, Palin’s likeability among women (“does McCain’s selection of Palin make you more or less likely to vote for him”) matches their preference for McCain. Gender does not seem to be in immediate play, however with one in five remaining neutral, women will be a continuing object of GOP outreach.

Turn to race and age, however, and we can see the impact of Palin.

Race. African Americans understandably are strongly for the Democratic ticket, with only 9 percent expressing a preference for McCain. Nonetheless, 13 percent find Palin attractive. The extra four percent of this segment (worth one point in overall results) may reflect a reversion to mean for the African American vote –the breakthrough status of Palin validating a return to the GOP fold for moderate black conservatives. If so, this would

Age. Younger voters (age 18-29) also may seem to be in play. While 41% are for McCain, 45% look favorably. Other age cohorts’ enthusiasm for Palin remains proportionate to their support of McCain. This of course suggests that something like the youth/celebrity of the Alaskan governor is helping her. This may be more pop culture than electoral planning. At least so far.

The danger is likely that if youth energy decreases, then this pop identity takes over, and Obama loses a crucial edge. This is the threat.

So the first brush suggests that she has earned people’s attention, even in the minority community. For local races the issue gets a little more serious: how will she affect local races?
Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , , , , , , ,

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