Growing and strengthening west Michigan's middle class
GRAND RAPIDS July 10, 2015– Last night, the four candidates vying to become Grand Rapids’ next mayor gathered at the Kent-Ionia Labor Center to answer a series of questions submitted by Kent and Ionia County union members.
The public forum was organized by the KICLC Women’s Caucus.
The four candidates– Rosalynn Bliss, Robert Dean, John George and Willard Lee– will face off in an August 4 election. If one of the candidates receives more than 50% of the vote, he or she will be elected mayor. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, a run-off will be held in November.
KICLC Women’s Caucus Chair Lisa Bennett (OPEIU 277) said the purpose of the forum was to make sure the candidates paid attention to those residents who don’t always feel “heard” in the political process.
“The Women’s Caucus wanted working men and women in Grand Rapids to have a voice in this election,” said Bennett after the forum. “We didn’t want the only discussions in this campaign to be around corporate development and business interests.
“It’s important for the candidates running for mayor to hear from working families, and to answer to them.”
The candidates were each presented with the following questions, and were given two minutes to respond to each one:
Highlights of the candidates answers, from MLive/The Grand Rapids Press:
• As expected, retired engineer John George pushed for Grand Rapids to remove fluoride from the water that serves customers in the city and several surrounding communities. George, 64, who writes about fluoride on his campaign Web site, stated that he’s “not a one-issue candidate.” But he had little to say on labor-related state legislation like paid sick leave or on homelessness in Grand Rapids.
George is pleased that city voters passed term limits last fall, and he wants to cut city spending.
“When the next (stock market) crash occurs, is that going to throw this city in an untenable situation? I’m a fiscal conservative and I would like to see where cuts can be made.”
• Robert Dean, 61, also focused on reigning in city spending, and he repeatedly appended his answers with talk about his experience getting things done when he was a school board member, city commissioner and state legislator.
“We fought against (Right to Work when I was in the state House) and, ironically, after I left it finally went through.”
Dean, a pastor, said he’s unhappy that more police officers haven’t been hired with money from a voter-approved income tax increase in 2010: “Why are we not doing what we said we were going to do? We have to get our fiscal house in order.”
• Rosalynn Bliss, 39, a social worker and 10-year City Commission veteran, appeared the most knowledgeable about the topics addressed at the forum – which included six questions from union members. She feels “really good about the work that we’ve done at City Hall” and believes the city is “in a positive place” and “on really strong financial ground.”
Bliss identified the city’s three most pressing issues as making sure there’s quality affordable housing as some people get priced out of their homes by new housing development; maintaining a healthy general-operating budget now that deficits of past years have been eliminated; and making Grand Rapids more welcoming and inclusive to more people.
“We are moving in a positive direction in our city. I want to build on that.”
• Willard Lee, 26, a temp factory worker and military veteran, expressed little knowledge of the forum’s topics aside from homelessness, which is a key point of his campaign. He wants to use state monies to renovate abandoned buildings into housing for homeless people.
Lee spoke with passion on certain issues, suggesting that low-wage jobs don’t pay enough while at the same time calling on people to get more education and develop new skills if they want to earn more money. He also suggested people give money to panhandlers and build a culture of community support.
“I believe the biggest problem is people’s morality and it is going down. We need to get people to care for each other and not just themselves.”
To see how the candidates responded to each question, the forum is available to watch in its entirety below: