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ELECTION 2011: Seeking re-election, Wood, Quinney fight 'obstructionist' label

WKAR Illustration
WKAR Illustration

By Mark Bashore, WKAR News



Mid-Michigan voters go to the polls one week from tomorrow to choose from a variety of candidates for city councils and school boards. The Lansing City Council may be on the verge of a shake-up. Several influential players are trying to persuade voters to defeat incumbents Carol Wood and Derrick Quinney. The two at-large council members are being called obstructionists to development.

The exasperation that development supporters in Lansing feel toward the group Mayor Virg Bernero calls the No Faction' got amped up to a new high last month. Davenport College had proposed a $13 million investment in the mostly vacant Oliver Towers. The plan failed when council members Wood, Quinney, Brian Jeffries and Eric Hewitt voted to deny it a hearing. Not for the first time, the quartet wanted a more inclusive and deliberative process. Withdrawing the offer, Davenport blamed council for being "politicized" and withdrew its offer.

The Greater Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce has launched an aggressive effort to vote Wood and Quinney out. Chamber President Tim Daman says the city's economic future is at risk:

"It's a university project today," he says, "but when is it going to impact a significant economic development project that means thousand of jobs for this city and this region?"

Jobs advocates also claim Wood and Quinney indulge in obstruction for its own sake. A scathing weekend editorial in the Lansing State Journal called on voters to remove Wood. The paper cited repeated cases of resistance for no apparent reason other than to oppose the ardently pro-growth Mayor.

Carol Wood's reportedly been sick with the flu. Repeated calls to her over the weekend for comment for this story were not returned.

Wood enjoys a good reputation for listening to constituents and her for work ethic. When news of the Davenport offer first reached the media in August, she complained to the City Pulse that the administration had kept the council in the dark. That's been a regular complaint of Wood's. The comment seemed to suggest the Mayor forces the council to play catch-up, and that might appear to some to be "obstructionism."

Derrick Quinney defends his record by pointing to support of the Accident Fund, the regional aerotropolis plan and other selected initiatives. He initially opposed the city's proposed sale of the Red Cedar Golf Course for development, but now says he supports it. The union-backed incumbent says he doesn't deserve the obstructionist label.

"I've been a part of 4-4, I've been a part of 5-3, I've been a part of 8-0," he explains. "I don't think that that's a fair, uh, label. I look at each situation for what it is and I evaluate it based on its merits."

Quinney says Bernero-supported proposals sometimes get fast-tracked without enough time for the council to assess them. And he says other interested parties should be allowed to weigh in, as Lansing Community College did with Oliver Towers. But backers of the Davenport plan argue that LCC had years to show interest and didn't get serious until Davenport came calling.

The run up to election day is more dramatic thanks to a pair of attention-getting first-time candidates. Rory Neuner says political self-interest has created an icy, unproductive divide on the council. Citing the Davenport disintegration, the 31-year old says she wants to warm things up.

"I think it's one thing to say we're not ready to do the public hearing, but we still want to partner with Davenport to make sure that we don't lose their investment in the city. And I don't think that we have people who can reach across the table and say I want to work with you, but I have to hammer a few things out before we get to that point' and that's different than just saying no."

Neuner and the other new at-large candidate, 29-year-old Tom Stewart, have been endorsed by the Lansing Chamber. Stewart denies taking a pro-labor or pro-business stand, calling himself "pro Lansing."

With the election next week, one thing seems clear. Lansing voters have heard plenty lately about a line in the sand at city hall. It allegedly separates backers of development from detractors. In eight days, voters will make clear whether the claim resonates with them.

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