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Politics & Government

Kathie Dunbar | 2021 Lansing Mayoral Candidates On The Issues

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courtesy Kathie Dunbar
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Lansing has a primary election coming up on Aug. 3.

Voters will cast their ballots to narrow down the field of six candidates running to be the city's next mayor before the general election in November.

WKAR is speaking to each candidate about why they're running and the biggest issues Lansing faces in the next few years. 

Kathie Dunbar is an at-large member of the Lansing City Council.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby asked her to give her elevator pitch to residents about why they should vote for her.

Interview Transcript

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WKAR's Sophia Saliby interviews Lansing mayoral candidate, Kathie Dunbar.

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

Lansing has a primary election coming up on Aug. 3. Voters will cast their ballots to narrow down the field of six candidates running to be the city's next mayor before the general election in November.

WKAR is speaking to each candidate about why they're running and the biggest issues Lansing faces in the next few years.

Joining me today is City Councilmember Kathie Dunbar. Thank you for joining me.

Kathie Dunbar: You're welcome. Thank you, Sophia.

Saliby: So, why are you the right person to lead the city?

Dunbar: Well, I will be the first person in that seat that has municipal experience and grassroots perspective, and I think that that is an extremely important combination, given the issues that we're facing right now in the city. So, I've worked for 20 years in the community working with some of our most vulnerable citizens. I've done, facilitated community engagement to create policies and change in the city.

I will be the first person in that seat that has municipal experience and grassroots perspective.

And I've also worked in City Hall, so I'm familiar with the budget, the way that City Hall works, [and] our employees. So, it's really important for me, I believe, and for many of our citizens to have someone in there who can relate to the issues that are important to them, to relate to the situations that many of them face and also have the knowledge of how to use City Hall to improve those conditions.

Saliby: How would you reform policing in Lansing? And would that include defunding the force in some capacity?

Dunbar: There are many, many ways to reform policing, not just in Lansing, but across the nation. I have definite opinions about where funding should be placed. I think that we have spent far too many years using the police as a carceral solution, when we should be looking at the root causes of crime. So, crime is a result of poverty and inequity. Violent crime is rooted in trauma. And if we aren't putting funding into programs that address those issues, we will constantly be chasing the carceral solutions, which we have found throwing more money at does not change the result.

So, I'm very budgetary. I am very, very budget minded. I look at things that will give us the greatest return on investment. And if what we are doing and have been doing do not demonstrate that they are effecting change, I am going to look at other solutions.

Saliby: What are the biggest issues to you involving racial equity in the city? And how do you plan to address them?

Dunbar: So, what is happening right now, the racial equity issues were raised by employees and community members, primarily based in the Mayor's office, the fire department and the police department. And the solutions that have been proposed right now are a series of committees, alliances, [and] task forces. It's a "Dilbert" form of governing. And I say that seriously, because we form a committee to have a committee to do another committee. And we have all of the data that we need to analyze right now.

We should be looking internally at the facts. We should be looking at promotional data, disciplinary data, [and] looking at audits. We should be doing a DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) audit of the entire system of government, internal and external communications, looking at programs that we have, facilities that we have, hiring and discipline. The data is all there.

If you aggregate it and study it and look for trends based on race, we will see what needs to be addressed. And instead, we're asking all these questions about the general public's opinion, and the general public does not necessarily face racial discrimination.

One of my concerns with the recent study that was done is that 75% of the respondents are white. Most of them live in the city, but 33% don't. Many of them didn't have an interaction with the police department even though the question was about whether or not there's racial discrimination in police stops.

RELATED: Green: 100 Percent Of Survey Respondents Say LPD Treats People Differently Based On Race

You can't ask the opinion of a segment of the population that doesn't face racial discrimination whether or not there's racial discrimination. So, there's just definitely much more scientific ways to do this in a statistically valid manner and what's being done right now is statistically meaningless.

Saliby: In many ways, the coronavirus pandemic has worsened financial inequalities for Lansing residents. How would you stop the most vulnerable from being left behind?

Dunbar: One of the things that we learned during the pandemic is that the folks who benefited from government resources were very skewed. The folks who needed the help most didn't get it. I think 9% of businesses owned by non-minority folks got pandemic relief. Only one half of 1% of minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs received relief. And that, to me, says that we have barriers in access.

It's not that folks didn't need the money, it's that they either didn't know to access it, didn't know how to access it [or] didn't have the way to get past the barriers like capital, that are unbanked. There are many families that need it. And we have still $24-25 million left that has not been allocated from the $51 million that we received. And that needs to be strategically invested in ways that make a long term difference in the financial health of our residents and businesses.

Saliby: And in these last few seconds that we have here, Lansing does face hundreds of millions of dollars in underfunded pension and retiree health care costs. How would you address this problem if elected?

Dunbar: Well, thankfully, we had Boomershine come in. They're an actuarial consultant who said that the numbers that we had been given previously, were off. That there had been a sort of chaos that was created out of the numbers to create fear and restrict funding. And actually the numbers went from being over $900 million proposed now down to $247 (million). That's a massive difference in the numbers.

Editor’s note: In this interview, Dunbar references the city’s unfunded liability calculation as having shrunk from “over $900 million proposed now down to $247 (million).” In documents submitted to Michigan’s Treasury department last year, Lansing estimated its total unfunded liability at $907 million, including $534 million in retiree health care costs plus $343 million in pension costs. This year, a consultant estimated Lansing’s unfunded health care costs at $247 million but has yet to release an updated pension liability estimate.

And what they have said is that if we funded at the current capacity that we're doing, we should have it fully funded within 20 years. So, I am not the doom and gloom mentality on that issue anymore. I believe that we are headed in the right direction, and that our unfunded liabilities will be funded within 20 years.

Saliby: And I'd like to give you these last 30 seconds here to kind of give an elevator pitch to voters about why they should choose you on the primary.

Dunbar: I have 27 years in the city of Lansing. I've raised my kids here. I've taught in the schools and at LCC (Lansing Community College). I am rooted in the community. I work every day with folks who need our help the most. And I also have 16 years of experience on the City Council and in all things municipal. And that combination brings me to a place where I have a skill set unique to this position.

You have to be bold, and I am bold. And I'm willing to take that stand and happy to be the next mayor of the city of Lansing.

I also think that we need to have somebody in that office with vision. And right now, I don't see vision. I see a rudderless ship. I feel that the current administration goes with the wind, and we need somebody that's willing to take a direction and move forward. Make decisions, you might not make decisions that everyone likes, but you don't get to be everyone's friend when you're the mayor. You have to make decisive decisions, decisive decisions (laughs). You have to be bold, and I am bold. And I'm willing to take that stand and happy to be the next mayor of the city of Lansing.

Saliby: Kathie Dunbar is running to be Lansing's next mayor. Thank you for joining me.

Dunbar: You're welcome, Sophie.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

WKAR Politics & Civics Reporter Sarah Lehr contributed to this web article.

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