Lansing Mayor Praises COVID Response, Racial Equity Initiatives, In State Of City Address
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor highlighted his efforts at addressing diversity and accountability during Wednesday's 2021 Virtual State of the City Address.
Mayor Schor touted his efforts in working with Lansing’s police chief to reform policies for traffic stops and putting an end to “no knock” searches.
"Last summer, after some evaluation, we took action that created immediate change," he said.
The mayor also pledged to continue addressing racial disparities through his Racial Justice and Equity Alliance.
“We must face the harsh reality of inequality and injustice for black and brown community members in our community. These conversations can be uncomfortable and difficult, but they're necessary," Schor added.
Schor also announced a new phone service to help city residents. The “One Call to City Hall” answering center will be able to help people solve any non-emergency question related to the city by calling 3-1-1, according to Schor.
“Staffed by real people right here in Lansing, who will be equipped to handle almost any problem, question, or complaint that residents may have," he said. "We will provide better customer service for residents by addressing their concerns quickly and efficiently."
In addition to the city's phone service program, Schor said residents will now be able to file their individual income tax returns online.
Schor’s actions follow a tumultuous 2020 when several Black community leaders requested his resignation for what they say was a lack of action during a summer of protests following the police killing of George Floyd.
WKAR politics reporter, Abigail Censky, joined WKAR's All Things Considered host Sophia Saliby to discuss Schor's State of the City address.
Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I'm Sophia Saliby.
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor says the state of the city is resilient. Schor echoed Governor Gretchen Whitmer from her State of the State in his own State of the City Address last night.
He gave a speech virtually over the course of a little less than a half an hour, mainly focusing on how the city has come together during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here with me to break down Schor's final address of his term is WKAR's politics reporter, Abigail Censky. Thank you for being here.
Abigail Censky: Of course happy to be here.
Saliby: Did we expect Mayor Schor to hit any specific themes last night?
Censky: Yeah, obviously, we expected the mayor to touch on COVID; it's upended all of our lives over the course of the last year, and also on racial justice and equity, and economics in the city. He did touch on all of those things. As you said, this was a virtual address, and it felt a little bit more like a bullet list of a press release in terms of programs the city has done and aid the city has received.
The biggest highlights were really that Schor has continued modernization projects. He announced a new 3-1-1 call center, which will allow Lansing residents to call a single number to access city hall and government in Lansing.
He also announced e-filing will be available for individual income taxes, and he highlighted investment that's still happening in Lansing like the new Capital City Market on Michigan Avenue, and a new hotel that's expected to open there later this month.
But there was nothing really new on racial equity projects or policing. And notably, all of the people who made, kind of a virtual cameo or cut-ins, were either associates in county government or city government. So, there were no actual community members who were able to tell stories of this past year.
Saliby: Schor spent much of his speech recapping 2020, like you said, and only gave us a few announcements as to things to come in 2021. Can you tell me more about some of those new initiatives?
Censky: Schor announced the Lansing CARES program, which is basically a big umbrella of aid to go to businesses in the Lansing region, $1.5 million from federal grants that they're going to split up to go to different businesses.
$600,000 will go to, kind of, emergency and disaster training for small [businesses] in the form of forgivable loans, and an organization called Michigan Women Forward will also receive $100,000 to distribute to smaller small businesses. He also announced $780,000 to the Capital Area Housing Partnership, which will strive to prevent homelessness in the Lansing region.
There was some criticism from at least one small business before the State of the City Address that he was holding off on making this announcement about all this aid until he gave his State of the City address. And we asked him about that last night after his address, and this is what he said:
My understanding was it's always been something that we were going to announce at the State of the City and have opened on Thursday. Actually, I think it opened today. I know that there was information mistakenly given out by some folks saying it will be open on Monday, but that was incorrect.
Censky: Like I said, apart from the small business aid, he also talked about the Courtyard Marriott, which will open on Michigan Avenue later this month and also continued investments in Lansing like the Capital City Market in a year of otherwise revenue loss and financial upheaval for the city.
Saliby: Right. So, before the pandemic the city has already had a preexisting problem of unfunded liabilities. Did the mayor talk any more about plans to deal with decreased revenue?
Censky: He didn't specifically say how he was going to deal with decreased revenue, but we do know because Lansing has such a hub for government workers who, many of whom, who are now working remotely, that income taxes will provide a major revenue loss for the city.
And that's in addition to, you know, losses from layoffs and furloughs that the city has or the government has had to make that will decrease the revenues they're able to collect in addition to things like fines and fees. This is what he said when we asked him about that last night:
We still have to see what the future holds for income taxes, for fines and fees collections, and other, other things that we have to work through. But we don't know what the revenues are going to be.
Censky: The mayor is planning to put together a budget for March, but that budget is largely contingent on state and federal aid which will give us a clearer picture of how financially unhealthy Lansing is.
Saliby: This year is a mayoral election for the city of Lansing. Former mayor, Virg Bernero has said he is running for the job again. In these last 30 seconds, Abigail, do we know if Schor is running or if anyone else is throwing their hat in the ring?
Censky: He did not say if he'll run again in this 2021 race. He said he's not even focused on thinking about it, or you know, his largest opponent right now, which is his predecessor, Virg Bernero.
That's really the only big name candidate we have in the race at this point, and others have until late April to throw their hats in the ring. So, we'll see if he ends up running again.
Saliby: Abigail Censky is WKAR's politics reporter. Thank you for joining me.
Censky: Of course.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.