Windmillin'

Icon

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

Why He Lost

In  the end, Mike Tuffelmire proved to be a better Catholic than a neighborhood activist. Tuesday, Senita Lenear cruised to an easy 59-35 victory on an 1100 vote margin. Given the very low turnout, the results were probably to be expected.  The race is perhaps better thought of as competing affirmative votes, rather than as divvying up of the electorate (aka zero-sum”). There were always more votes to be had, so the failure in the Tuffelmire vote is best seen as a measure of strength for his ideas, his sales, if you will.

And the bulk of that margin took place in the four square miles that make up the Ward’s NW corner, a region roughly bounded by Wealthy, Sylvan, Burton and Lafayette.

Four Square Miles

Most of the Lenear margin came here. But this wasn’t Tuffelmire’s problem. To understand how he lost we will need to look elsewhere.

Going into the race, one could divide the Ward into three rough clumpings. There were neighborhoods that were African-American and broadly poor, often living in housing stock that was pre-WWII; people lived there because of socio-economic constraints; these are the Constrained. Then there were the “first ring” suburban precincts, built up in the 40s and early 50s — these were then and now, the First Homes for families, typically bungalows and some old colonials. Then there are the Suburbs, initially built out as ranch houses (note the difference between east and west side of Plymouth), the move-up neighborhoods, the middle class, for the most part post-1960 construction. In this mix there are some outlier neighborhoods: Heritage Hill, Ottawa Hills, the subsidized apartments out at Eastbrook or in back of Town and Country (44th SE).

Constrained, First Homes, Suburbs: this is the physical and political geography of the Third Ward. In his literature and approach, Tuffelmire aimed at the First Homes neighborhoods, places like Alger Heights (Pct 72-74), Mulick Park (59),and Boston Square (75). He spoke of better representation, concerns for public safety (property crimes) and of fiscal prudence — all themes that should resonate. These neighborhoods would give him an edge over the Constrained neighborhoods — principally African American and rather solidly for Lenear. The Commission would be won in the Suburbs.

That at least was the apparent strategy. Only it just didn’t work out that way.

Let’s Do the Numbers

The First Home neighborhoods didn’t respond.

  • Mulick Park (59): one in eight vote; Tuffelmire lags by 68 votes
  • Boston Square (75): one in fifteen vote; good news, Tuffelmire runs 25 votes behind.
  • Alger (72-74): one in twelve vote; Tufflemire gives up 63 votes.
  • Ken-O-Sha (65): one in twelve; Tuffelmire keeps it close, lagging by 21 votes.

Note, the problem is not the lost votes but the missed connection. These were to be the natural connections, but the message missed.

Where Tuffelmire did show strength were in the Suburb precincts going out Burton:

  • Indian Village (55): 11 percent vote, Tuffelmire actually tops Lenear by 3.
  • Ridgemoor (54,69): 14 percent vote, Tuffelmire lags by only 3
  • IHM (77): 13 percent vote and Tuffelmire lags by 20.

These neighborhoods are shaped by the presence of two Catholic churches (IHM and St Paul the Apostle) — Tuffelmire grew up in IHM, and retained the support of members there. Away from these Catholic neighborhoods, Tuffelmire struggled.

  • Pct 53 (Raybrook, Calvin College): more Christian Reformed, positive on City issues; Tuffelmire surrenders 68 votes
  • Pct 56 (east side of Kalamazoo, Brookside CRC) with 58 (mostly condos, Breton/44th): 13 percent vote, Tuffelmire drops 69
  • Pt 57 (Sherwood Park): this is the last standing suburban school in GRPS; one in eight vote and Tuffelmire comes short 32.
  • Pct 68 – 71(Ottawa Hills): one in eight vote, but Tuffelmire comes short by 128 votes, in many ways the most disappointing showing of the race.

What Did He Miss?

Three things likely combined to doom the campaign.

First, the neighborhood message did not motivate. To win, Tuffelmire needed to make a case that things were really broken at City Hall. There was potential in the message, but he did not have it tuned to sufficient intensity to motivate the dissatisfied. Ironically, the issues that could have been pursued (Roads, economic development, transportation and continuing integration of services), broad City-oriented issues, were the ones that a local campaign passed by. The Big Picture would have helped.

Second, there were the public schools. The Four Square Miles, noted at the beginning, are the core of the GRPS sending community on the SE side. The likely reason for voting for Lenear is because of her identity with GRPS. This also explains the the win in out at Sherwood Park.

Third, let’s call it diversity. It certainly trumped the progressive politics. Within the broad CRC/Calvin mix is an affirmative response to diversity, best expressed by Rev. Al Hamstra on MLive

Two words influenced the Rev. Albert Hamstra’s vote for Lenear: “Black female.” The Christian Reformed Church pastor said “it matters to me to have diverse people in leadership.”

This is also the likely reason for the Raybrook vote, and probably much of the Ottawa Hills vote, too. What the Tuffelmire campaign missed was a connection to this CRC community. Without it, then the community votes for its perception of the common good, the broad and good vote. Issues of perceived racial (and sexual) justice become important when there there is a missing personal connection. This alliance of justice, as it were, explains why the Ward has consistently voted for conservative African Americans.

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Archives

February 2020
M T W T F S S
« Jan    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
242526272829