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Lansing Mayor Reflects On 2020, COVID-19 Pandemic And Black Lives Matter Protests

Mayor Andy Schor Delivers His 2020 State Of The City Address
Andy Schor Twitter
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Andy Schor will deliver his State Of The City address in the next month.

2020 was a challenging year for many city leaders including Lansing Mayor Andy Schor.

The coronavirus pandemic, a storming of the state Capitol and a summer of protests against racial inequity and police brutality.

In the first month of the new year, WKAR’s Sophia Saliby spoke with Schor to reflect and look forward.

Interview Highlights

On What The City Is Doing To Promote Racial Equity And Justice

We're doing our economic development with equity. We're working in neighborhoods of focus, so to make sure that, again, formerly redlined areas are going to receive the assistance they need. So, we're doing a lot of work on racial justice [and] on equity. Again, working with folks in the NAACP, working with folks in the clergy, working with a variety of different groups and taking input. And we've just had an incredible group of folks who've been helping out resources, and we'll have an action plan, I believe, in a few months, but we're taking steps even before that, and then we'll take further steps.

On If There’s Anything He Did During Last Summer’s Protests He Wished He Did Differently

I got caught off guard in a call. And I was expecting to be listening to the community, and it turned out there were questions asked to me that I wasn't prepared for. So, at the time, I admitted that I was unprepared for those questions. But, again, I'm going to listen and I'm going to take action as I can as mayor.

On Some COVID-Safe Activities The City Might Host In The Near Future

Moving forward, we'll be doing, again, more unique activities. We're looking at, you know, a winter poster contest and snowman builds and sledding and using our River Trail more [and] potentially ice skating, so COVID-friendly activities that allow people to get out of the house but stay safe.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

2020 was a challenging year for many city leaders including Lansing Mayor Andy Schor. The coronavirus pandemic, a storming of the state Capitol and a summer of protests against racial inequity and police brutality.

In the first month of the new year, he joins me now to reflect and look forward. Mayor Schor, thank you for being here.

Mayor Andy Schor: Thanks for having me, Sophia.

Saliby: We are almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Is there anything you would have done differently to keep Lansing residents safe? And do you expect to do anything new to help get people vaccinated?

Schor: You know, things were progressing almost, you know, day by day. You know, there were times when we were told not to recommend masks and then we went right into recommending masks. You know, we shut down everything pretty quickly in mid-March, as soon as we heard that there were cases in Michigan, and we were concerned about having all of our employees in one place. You know, I'm very much trying to remove silos and get departments to work together, but, you know, when you have coronavirus, now, one person could infect all of our departments. So, we shut things down at City Hall [and] pushed people remotely.

I'm sure there are things that I would have done differently, in retrospect, but I am pretty confident that we did the right things in terms of moving people remotely and then getting people back to work at the right time to make sure that services are provided.

So, you know, I'm sure there are things that I would have done differently, in retrospect, but I am pretty confident that we did the right things in terms of moving people remotely and then getting people back to work at the right time to make sure that services are provided [like] ensuring that our police officers were safe, and our EMS were safe. You know, we took our inspectors out of the field for a while because we didn't want them to get COVID and then we put them back when it was safe.

We have increased a number of activities that will help out people. We closed our community centers, so we couldn't have classes and things through our Parks and Rec, but we added a drive-thru Halloween. We had a drive-thru senior fair, and you know, we're working on a whole variety of COVID-safe activities. So, it was certainly a learn as you go, but we did quite a bit.

We kept our homeless community safe by opening one of our community centers for the unsheltered and then we put more money into the unsheltered community.

Moving forward, we'll be doing, again, more unique activities. We're looking at, you know, a winter poster contest and snowman builds and sledding and using our River Trail more [and] potentially ice skating, so COVID-friendly activities that allow people to get out of the house but stay safe.

Saliby: Last summer, Lansing saw protests against police brutality as part of a national movement following the police killing of George Floyd. You faced calls to resign by some Black Lives Matter activists. What concretely have you done to repair trust with the city's people of color, especially Black Lansing residents?

Mayor Andy Schor speaks with protestors during 2020 protests against police brutality
Credit Abigail Censky/ WKAR
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Protestors marched to Mayor Andy Schor's house several times during the summer of 2020 to call on him to resign.

Schor: I've had conversations with many Black residents, with many Latino residents [and] with many residents of the different minority communities in Lansing. We took some steps initially with policing. Chief Daryl Green, in essence, eliminated what are called, “pretextual traffic stops,” so traffic stops for broken taillights and things like that, where traditionally, it's a higher number of Black residents that are pulled over for things like that. So, we made some changes. Our police took an oath that if they were to see anyone else commit police brutality, they would take action against even their fellow officer. So, he's made several policy changes through the police department.

But even more importantly, we initiated a Racial Justice and Equity Action Plan which culminated in our Racial Justice and Equity Alliance, which has a significant number of leaders in the Black community and then in other communities that are putting together a plan for us moving forward. We're doing an internal scan of city government, and we're doing an external scan of the city. We are having Michigan Public Health Institute assist, and Teresa Bingman is quarterbacking this for us. [She's a] consultant who's done this in other areas. So, we've taken several steps. They continue to meet.

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We've got workgroups on everything from economic development, to arts, to other things that [they] are exploring, and they're going to put together recommendations. Additionally, our small business activities, we have inserted issues of equity, making sure that those who have not been able to get resources in the past are better able to get those resources by assisting.

We've just had an incredible group of folks who've been helping out resources, and we'll have an action plan, I believe, in a few months.

So, we're doing our economic development with equity. We're working in neighborhoods of focus, so to make sure that, again, formerly redlined areas are going to receive the assistance they need. So, we're doing a lot of work on racial justice [and] on equity. Again, working with folks in the NAACP, working with folks in the clergy, working with a variety of different groups and taking input. And we've just had an incredible group of folks who've been helping out resources, and we'll have an action plan, I believe, in a few months, but we're taking steps even before that, and then we'll take further steps.

Oh, we also created the city's first Diversity Officer. Guadalupe Ayala is our first Diversity Officer. She's doing a lot of hard work. We've got trainings. We've done implicit bias training, and I issued an executive order to ensure that everyone is being trained and that we are working with national organizations. So, we're doing a lot of work on that in the area of racial justice and equity. And, you know, I'm proud of the work and that will continue as long as I'm mayor.

Saliby: In hindsight, is there any moment during the summer protests that you wish you would have handled differently?

June 'Black Lives Matter Call To Action" webinar
Credit WKAR
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CEO Of One Love Global, Angela Waters Austin called on Andy Schor to resign as Mayor during a June Zoom webinar.

 Schor: You know, just, I got caught off guard in a call. And I was expecting to be listening to the community, and it turned out there were questions asked to me that I wasn't prepared for. So, at the time, I admitted that I was unprepared for those questions. But, again, I'm going to listen and I'm going to take action as I can as mayor.

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Saliby: The city is also facing a wrongful death suit following the death of a man named Anthony Hulon in police custody last April. The Lansing State Journal reported those police officers involved are back on duty after an initial review, but the Attorney General's office is still investigating the case. Should those officers still be on the job?

Schor: You know, that's the Chief's decision on staffing. My understanding is they were put on administrative leave. It was sent to the Attorney General's office for criminal investigation, so, we're still waiting to hear back.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Lansing PD Sued For Wrongful Death Of Man In Its Custody

You know, he's got limited staffing, so he will put those officers in a position where they can be used because of limited correction staffing at the jail. So, that is a staffing decision that the Police Chief is allowed to make. And as soon as the jail death was, as soon as we heard about it, it was sent immediately on to the Attorney General's Office for criminal investigation, which is the right thing to do.

If there were criminal activities, then the Attorney General will take action. And then after that, after we hear from the Attorney General, we'll do whatever internal review we need to do.

Saliby: You will deliver your State of the City address in the next month. What do you think your priorities are for Lansing in 2021?

Schor: Well, continuing to navigate the COVID crisis, for certain, making sure that we can get vaccinations out in conjunction with the county health department, with the federal government, making sure that people are staying safe and yet have activities that will certainly be important. Continuing the racial justice and equity work. Growing our city, you know, we have to continue to do what we normally do.

We had to cut $12.5 million last year in just three months. And you know, we could be looking at a budget that is similar to last year

You know, we also have an economic crisis where our budget is a lot less than it has been because we're seeing less in income tax and fees and things like that. So, we have to navigate that as well. We had to cut $12.5 million last year in just three months. And you know, we could be looking at a budget that is similar to last year. So, we're going to keep an eye on what the federal government's doing, but the budget will be an important piece of what's coming in the next year and what we work on the next few months.

Saliby: Lansing will see a mayoral election this year. You have not formally announced a reelection campaign, but do you plan to run again?

Schor: We'll have an announcement on that pretty soon. You know, I'd like to get through the State of the City and govern for as long as I can before we insert politics into anything.

Saliby: Andy Schor is Lansing's mayor. Thank you for joining me.

Schor: Thank you, Sophia.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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