What Lansing, Jackson residents need to know before voting in November's election
Michiganders are heading to the polls in two weeks to weigh in on a slew of local races.
WKAR's All Things Considered host Sophia Saliby sat down with WKAR politics reporter Sarah Lehr to break down Greater Lansing races on the Nov. 2 ballot.
On what Lansing's primary results could mean in the general election race for mayor between incumbent Andy Schor and Kathie Dunbar
Schor was the clear front runner in August. He got 48% of the vote compared to Dunbar’s 20%. But Schor’s popularity seems to be eroding compared to where he was when he was first elected mayor. Four years ago, he won the mayoral primary with nearly 68% of the votes cast. And he ended up winning the general election very decisively against City Council Member Judi Brown Clarke.
On the political leanings of the candidates for Jackson mayor
In the race for mayor, that's a nonpartisan race, but Democratic County Commissioner Daniel Mahoney is facing retired corrections officer John Wilson and I would say Wilson has a more conservative approach to many issues. The incumbent mayor Derek Dobies is not running again.
Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR, I’m Sophia Saliby. Michiganders are heading to the polls in two weeks to weigh in on a slew of local races. I'm here with WKAR’s politics reporter Sarah Lehr to break down what mid-Michigan voters need to know ahead of Nov. 2. Thank you for being here, Sarah.
Sarah Lehr: Thanks for having me.
Saliby: Lansing voters are deciding who to elect as Lansing’s next mayor. Tell us more about who's running in that race and what their backgrounds are.
Lehr: Incumbent Andy Schor is running against Kathie Dunbar, who's giving up her at-large City Council seat in order to run. Schor is as a former Democratic state representative. He’s spent pretty much all of his career in politics. He's been a lobbyist. He's been an Ingham County commissioner. Dunbar is a four-term City Council member and she leads a nonprofit in south Lansing. Dunbar is a member of what I would call, kind of, the more progressive wing of the City Council.
She has been critical of Schor on issues like retiree health care. He worked outside of union bargaining to advance health care changes that the city said would save about $8 million annually. But there was massive backlash from the City Council as well as former city workers who said Lansing was going against what retirees were promised. Schor ended up reaching a compromise with unions for less drastic changes that the city says will save about three and a half million dollars annually. Policing has also been a hot button issue between the candidates.
Saliby: So, how do Schor and Dunbar differ in their approaches to policing?
Lehr: Schor has made it clear he doesn't want to cut police officers. And he says he's backing reforms like instructing police to cut down on traffic stops that don't directly relate to public safety. He created a task force to look at diversity, which includes racial diversity issues related to the police department. Dunbar, in her interview with WKAR this summer, criticized Schor by saying he has what she called a “Dilbert” approach to government where, according to her, he creates committees and panels to make recommendations but they don't make substantial changes.
A big, sort of, litmus test in Lansing politics recently has been whether candidates will support divesting or cutting police funding to redirect that money to things like anti-poverty programs or mental health care. Dunbar did back a budget priority item last year that would have recommended cutting the police budget by 10%. She was a minority on the council in supporting that and it was ultimately voted down.
Saliby: So, these two candidates got the top votes among six candidates during the August primary. What did the results in that election tell us about how things are going to go in November?
Lehr: Well, Schor was the clear front runner in August. He got 48% of the vote compared to Dunbar’s 20%. But Schor’s popularity seems to be eroding compared to where he was when he was first elected mayor. Four years ago, he won the mayoral primary with nearly 68% of the votes cast. And he ended up winning the general election very decisively against City Council Member Judi Brown Clarke.
Saliby: Now the other key races to watch in Lansing will be the City Council elections. Who are the candidates there?
Lehr: There's two at-large seats coming open and those are elected citywide. Peter Spadafore is the only incumbent in that race and he's running against Rachel Willis who's on the Lansing school board, as well as Jeffrey Brown and Claretta Duckett-Freeman. In the second ward, which is southeast Lansing, incumbent Jeremy Garza is being challenged by Oprah Revish. In northwest Lansing, Elvin Caldwell is trying to unseat Brian Jackson. WKAR actually reached out to all of the Lansing candidates running for City Council seats this November to survey them about key issues and you can find those questionnaires on our election guide which is on wkar.org.
Saliby: Going south now, the city of Jackson also has several races on the ballot who is running there?
Lehr: Well in the race for mayor, that's a nonpartisan race, but Democratic County Commissioner Daniel Mahoney is facing retired corrections officer John Wilson and I would say Wilson has a more conservative approach to many issues. The incumbent mayor, Derek Dobies, is not running again. There's also two council seats that are contested in the city of Jackson. That's Ward 1, which is south central Jackson, and Ward 3, which is northeast Jackson.
Saliby: And just to remind our listeners, what should people know about how to vote?
Lehr: If they haven't registered to vote yet, it's not too late. They can do that until 8 p.m. on Nov. 2 at a local clerk's office. They don't need to vote in person if they'd rather not go to the polls, but absentee ballots must be turned in by mail, drop box or at a clerk's office by 8 p.m. on Election Day. They have to be received by that time in order to count.
Saliby: Sarah Lehr is our politics and civics reporter. Thank you for joining us.
Lehr: Thanks for having me.
Saliby: You can find more information about Greater Lansing issues and candidates by checking out our election guide at wkar.org. I’m Sophia Saliby.