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

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.

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Goeing, Goeing, Gone?

Does Bing Goei know something we don’t? Or is he just really pissed? In today’s press conference, he suggested a little bit of both:

“I had to rethink my position,” Goei said. “I’ve always challenged people, when they see a wrong, to stand up and challenge it and make it right. I’ve been asking other people to stand up and this became ‘Am I going to stand up?’”
“I can’t let a wrong or an injustice go unanswered and unchallenged. And when I look at Roy being a Republican leader for Grand Rapids, that move was made in Lansing. No one has said he’s a Republican here and I want this to be a choice.”

Perhaps we can attribute it to blood in the water, but Goei has been pretty cautious — after all he considered running earlier and then declined to run. So some other recalculation has taken place. Whatever the reason, Goei’s entry makes the task for Roy Schmidt all that much harder.

Tactically, Goei faces a challenge: his write-in campaign will need 4,000 – 6,000 votes for a clean win. That scale is certainly larger than his mailing list from his last run. His clear advantage is that he will be a known quantity for many in the district if nothing else, from his last run.

But it’s going to take money. Here, Rep. Ken Yonkers’ abandoning Schmidt serves as an indication of potential funding. More critically for the campaign will be that of organization. At this point it looks almost certainly like a direct mail campaign rather than a lot of door to door.

At least one commentator on MLive has suggested that House Speaker Jase Bolger is already at work on this, that Goei has at least his tacit blessing, or even more, perhaps the assurance that Schmidt will be gone by August 4.

Of course much of this is good news for Winnie Brinks.

Her background in the Christian Reformed Church dovetails with that of Goei’s — when it comes to the center they appeal to the same audience. In the general this may prove problematic, given Goei’s more visible standing in the Third Ward, but for now, she’s out front and on the doorsteps. As Brandon Dillon showed in 2010, hard work and vigorous campaigning can make a big difference in this district.

The larger question in the next two weeks will be what to do with the Republican Right Wing. In 2010, Goei ran slightly to the left of the militants, (aka Tea Party). For Schmidt, the defensive move will be to shift rightward. The danger is that the Third Ward is conservative but not as anti-government as the militant wing presents itself. Even if going right wins it for Schmidt in the primary, it only serves to confirm to conservative centrists that they will be better with the moderate Winnie Brinks.

But the other option on the  table, that Schmidt will withdraw, also poses a danger for Goei. Does he then lean right to better secure a win in November? Or can he keep reasonably centrist and so suck some air out of a Brinks’ campaign? Here, his first hesitancy probably comes into play. The ideological contortions that would be involved are the sort that can subtly rob a campaign of its attack. And most definitely, a Brinks-Goei battle will need strong, aggressive campaigns.

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Why the silence?

Looking at the gathering Monday at the Wealthy Street Theatre, you couldn’t really blame Republicans for staying away. It was a meeting on foreclosure dominated by area activists, minorities and Democrats — not exactly the kind of crowd that even City GOP members hang with. Still ceding the issue, letting The Press editorialize on it, leaves the Republican party exposed as being either disinterested, or worse unwilling to help homeowners.  Was it blindness?  Self-interest? Partisanship?

Whatever the case, they are behind the wave, and what is significant in the past week, silent.

The Background

The circumstances are by now, well known.  Last week Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox proposed giving $500,000 to help with Millennium Park, and Crescent Park tucked in the shadow of the Van Andel Institute.  The hitch?  This was money from the foreclosure settlement with Countrywide Mortgage.  And why these particular parks?  They were beloved of well-known Republican (and in fairness civic benefactor) Peter Secchia.

Yet this gift went unappreciated.  As it should.  With 10 foreclosures a day taking place in Kent County, and 5.5%  of all homes in foreclosure in 2008 according to this report from Dyer-Ives, parks were not the first thing that comes to mind in helping people, neighborhoods and cities handle foreclosures.  While the Mayor waffled, County Commissioner Brandon Dillon and Carol Hennessey, and Grand Rapids Second Ward Commissioner Dave LaGrand urged a better use of the funds, and last Friday, the AG relented.

(Phil Skaggs was also on the case big time — the story making it to the Chicago papers.)

So What Were They Thinking?

It is not at all obvious that home foreclosure should be the province of just one party.  Apart from the personal tragedy of lost home, foreclosures impact neighborhoods, lowering property values and reducing municipal revenue.   It would seem, this is the definition of a voting issue.

For the social conservatives, this would be especially important.  Home ownership is a commitment to place and family; loss of home is a family tragedy.  The neighborhoods that are hit — those along Burton, not to mention the villages of Kent City and Sand Lake — these are places where a Republican brand could take hold.

Could. That’s what has me thinking.  Helping homeowners, showing interest in their struggles is certainly consonant with what are purported to be Republican values, especially for social conservatives.  At a time when their brand has taken such a shellacking would it make sense to say something?

As a practical matter, there would be two kinds of political hay to be made here.  The first benefit would have been to be seen favorably by the very neighborhoods affected.  This would clearly be the case for anyone who had aspirations of running in the 75th to replace Robert Dean.  To not care about foreclosure can easily be read as not caring about the city.  That’s why it is so important to say something, anything.  The second benefit lies with those moderates who care about the issues but live in the suburbs.  Caring for the city has direct benefits for these voters — this is the standard ploy that so many of the Dutch Republicans have previously made on race; why Vern is considered a “moderate.”

If there is so much practical upside, why the silence?  Several reasons present themselves.

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

Moving Furniture in SE Grand Rapids

Tuesday’s primary had several races of interest. Even with a low turnout in the city, one could see the rearrangement of political furniture underway. Here are some of the highlights:

Talen Returns

This is the big news. In 2006 Jim Talen lost a tight race in CC-16 against veteran Paul Mayhue. That year, the vote was split between Talen, Mayhue and Robert Womack (known on local radio as Robert S). In 2008, Talen enlisted the support of Robert S and came home with a solid 61/39 win over Mayhue.

In post-election interviews Paul Mayhue attributed his loss to a lower turnout — the election saw a drop-off of 22 percent, or more than 300 votes. Although Paul had been out doing GOTV in some minority neighborhoods, Jim’s door to door work in Heritage Hill (2-7, 2-9, 2-16) plus help from Robert S made the difference.

In looking back, Jim notes something of a sea change underway. After 20 years, there was a perception in the neighborhood that Paul was “old school.” Jim’s alliance with Robert S (definitely “new school”) and with the progressive wing in Heritage Hill (City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss and commissioner candidate Ruth Kelly) positions him for a more progressive stance on the County Commission somewhat to the left of Brandon Dillon and Dave LaGrand.

The election was also bittersweet one for many, since 20 years ago Paul and Jim had stood side-by-side as reformers on the County Commission and within the Democratic Party. It was clear going that was going to be the last election for either Jim or Paul.

Anybody but Vaughn?

Next door in CC-17, Jim Vaughn may have run unopposed, but most voters still rejected him. One fourth of all voters for Dean did not bother to vote for Vaughn. Couple this with the 495 for the nominal Republican candidate, and the total anti-Vaughn vote of 680 beat the Commissioner’s 651. This is not an especially good sign. The alliance between the conservative Dutch and the conservative black communities stand posed to do the hitherto unthinkable, vote in a Republican in the heart of the city. At the very least, this will likely encourage the Republican candidate for the general.

The mood of dissatisfaction could also be heard in Paul Mayhue’s words. When asked on WOOD-TV8 about the impact of his loss on minority representation, the commissioner said,

the minority community will have to go to Jim Talen and their pastors and preachers to deal with the issues that (they) want to be dealt with.

The failure to mention Vaughn speaks volumes.

Synk Swims

In Commission District 19, Bob Synk also provided some interesting moments of furniture moving. With the exeption of two precints (31, 38) Synk beat Rep. Robert Dean’s numbers by more than 20 percent. Synk’s strong pro-life creds certainly helped him here, but Rev. Dean is no slouch either. It may be the pro-life piece of Tietema eroded some of Dean’s support, or it may be that the SE side of town feels a lack of connection. In either case, Synk’s performance ought to raise storm warnings for Dean.

Filed under: Elections, , , , , , ,

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