By Tom Travis
Five candidates running for Flint City Council met at Kearsley Park on Memorial Day to “show what it means to work together, to show the community that a city council can work together,” according to 5th Ward candidate Joe Schipani.
Schipani, along with write-in candidate Tanya Rison (1st Ward), Ladel Lewis (2nd Ward), Allie Herkenroder (7th Ward), and write-in candidate Steven Barber (9th Ward) scraped paint, pushed brooms, and then grabbed paint rollers and painted the floor of the pavilion at Kearsley Park.
Schipani said Keep Genesee County Beautiful provided floor paint for the project.
East Village Magazine (EVM) spoke to each candidate to get a glimpse into why they’re running to represent their ward.
Tanya Rison, candidate for the 1st ward, is the niece of Vera Rison, a respected “stateswoman, public servant, champion of people and mentor” according to Vera Rison’s obituary. Rison said, “I come from good hands. My family has good hands.
“We have time right now to change. That’s my message — ‘Rise up with Rison – be a part of the change’ for the better. It can’t be worse. Well I guess it can be worse, but I really don’t want to see it get worse.” At one point as Rison spoke she wiped away tears rolling down her cheek, saying, “This is my passion.”
“The First Ward people do not want to see it get any worse and I don’t see anyone else stepping up to the plate and so if you’re tired of seeing it [the city council in its present state] then people should vote for me. If you’re tired of having nothing done for you, then vote for me. Rise up with Rison.
Holding a paint roller in her hand, Rison continued, “And I promise you whether you vote for me or not I am gonna still embrace you and still help you as much as I can. This is not personal — this is about community. This is humanity.”
Rison estimates she has logged more than 5,000 volunteer credit hours in the City of Flint. She remembered helping her grandmother with her campaigns. Rison said she is an ambassador for UM-Flint and believes this gives her qualifications to run for council.
“Flint has the potential to come back. But you have to have strong council, strong leadership, strong leaders, and strong political ties so that things can get done. The ties between the community and the heads of government at city hall — those two things have to work together.
“City Hall can’t just do what it wants to do. They have to communicate together. This has to be a unified effort, not just one person.”
Speaking about why she wants to run for 1st Ward councilperson, Rison said, “1st Ward is burnt up, boarded up, abandoned, blighted up, gunshots with no response from police, no business, no new business activity, no new revenue to that part of the city. The closing down of the schools and a collection of bad habits. Bad, abnormal behavior. It’s just horrible.
“I’m tired of explaining to my granddaughter that we gotta hurry up and run inside because someone is shooting. I’ve never ever seen Eric [Mays, First Ward councilperson] in my neighborhood and I live in that ward.”
Rison said she hopes to “bring in new business, new revenue. Be a part of the redistricting to make sure we’re being counted. I want to know about the Flint water crisis money again. The 1st ward needs to come together with me so we can clean up the areas, get the abandoned and beat up properties, and work with the [Gensee County] Land Bank to see if these properties can be bought and built up.”
“I don’t want to see the cash pocketed anymore. It should go into the community and build it up. We want our young people to be proud of where they live. And they can’t be if it’s all beat up, burnt up, and run down. It doesn’t give you inspiration and the older folks just getting upset and fuss, fuss, fuss about it. I want to change this. It’s my passion. My passion is more than my anger. ”
“I’m not bringing problems. I’m trying to bring solutions.” – Rison
Rison said about the the council’s present behavior, “I live by this: the devil is the author of confusion. So he’s always in the midst of it. Well, I’m not bringing the devil with me. I’m not bringing problems. I’m trying to bring solutions.
“I’m willing to agree and come together and comprise and be empathetic and not sympathetic because we need to work together to build that. The young people of Genesee county need this. If they see us acting like this they will be more behooved to respect us and follow rules.”
Rison added, “You can see that by begging them to stop and act different, it’s not working. The easy way isn’t working. We have to show action. Not just always lip service. I don’t want to go into city council arguing. I want to hear about solutions. I don’t want to start with problems. Let’s start with a clean slate, not preconceived notions of who they are or who I am.”
“Everything that’s going on there [at City Council meetings], there’s too much name-calling, too much discord. That is not even in my personal life. That behavior is unacceptable to me,” said Rison.
Rison wanted to tell council members, “You are a professional adult, you are not a child. You should be able to defend your position without becoming angry about a city hall that does not have your personal name written on it. It don’t say Eric Mays, Kate Fields, Tanya Rison it says c-i-t-y, City of Flint. Which means a group of people, a whole bunch of us. So it’s the city of Flint, not just one person. So you can’t just go and do what you want to do, you have to come together.”
“You’ve never seen my face anywhere else so you know I ain’t bad. And I can’t be much worse than what’s already there. I don’t need to destroy someone who is destroying themselves.
“I’m not going to step on Mr. Mays to get to where I need to go. Hopefully Mr. Mays won’t try stepping on me to keep his position. And that’s all I’m going to say on that.
“I know how to hit a homerun. My last name is Rison. I don’t run for something and not win. I would never even stick my neck out for this race if I thought I couldn’t win. We got good hands in my family.”
Rison said that her campaign will begin holding events in the second week of June. “It’s gonna be picnics, campaigning, meet and greets. I want to know the constituents in the ward. I want them to know me. I want them to trust me.
“I’m going to be doing a lot of events so we can meet, greet, and give me suggestions. I need to know what the people want and what do we need. Let’s go for what we need and some of what we want and then we’ll get more of what we want later. I’m going to be out pounding the pavement. I’m going to run a strong, hard campaign.”
Rison, 59, said she feels 29 in her heart. She lost her mom three years ago and calls herself the “matriarch” of her family now. She has an eight-year-old grand daughter and an eight-month-old granddaughter.
Rison remembered attending 1st Ward school Gundry Elementary. The school is closed and is now home to Cathedral of Faith Church. She is a graduate of UM-Flint with a degree in Psychology and proudly stated that she was on the dean’s list five times.
Ladel Lewis is running to represent the people in the 2nd Ward and said, “It’s not the ward I remember when I was growing up there. From my house I can see a man-made dump site. A lot of neighbors feel unsafe. When I found bullet casings in front of my house, that’s my safety. So we got engaged with law enforcement.”
Lewis said that economic growth and development in her ward is not as plentiful as it is in other parts of town. “We do have a new hookah shop on the Clio Road,” she said. The hookah shop sits in Mt. Morris Township, which is the border of 2nd ward, and she says many of the residents from 2nd ward patronize it.
Lewis said she is hearing from the constituents in the 2nd ward that they want change. “They want something different, so I’m here to give them that difference,” she said.
Ladel has a Ph.D in Sociology from Western Michigan University and has lived in Washington D.C. Lewis said that having lived outside of Flint she’s had the benefit of seeing how other parts of the county are doing things. She hopes to bring some of that change that she’s seen elsewhere to Flint.
Lewis edits a magazine called Courageous Woman but adds, “my primary job is to be Jackson’s mom,” referring to her 6-year-old son.
Lewis explained she plans for her campaign to be involved in clean-ups like the one at Kearsley park and also to have programs at Sarvis park, near Clio Road and Myrtle Avenue. She also plans on going door-to-door and making phone calls.
She said 2nd ward constituents have told her that they don’t usually even vote but “they’re coming off the bench for this one.”
Speaking to the present behavior of city council and how she might act if elected Lewis said, “I don’t take things personal. This job on city council isn’t personal. It’s politics. So I don’t take things that are geared towards me as a threat and I don’t have to retaliate whenever someone gets smart.
“I hear a lot of ‘baiting’ in the meetings. There’s a lot of baiting going on. I stick to the facts and the issues. I don’t have six hours to waste on a council meeting. I have a life and a family and a job and we need to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Joe Schipani, 49, is running to represent the people in the 5th Ward and was the organizer of the project to paint the floor of the pavilion at Kearsley Park. Schipani explained that Keep Genesee County Beautiful donated the floor paint. He bought some roller pads and already had the extension rods for the rollers.
Schipani said that the walls had already been painted. An artist will finish painting the ceiling and add art work at the pavilion this summer.
“I think Flint deserves better. It deserves a council that works together and I think that I can be that person,” said Schipani.
Schipani said he looks at the city council and wonders, “Why aren’t the people that are running for city council really qualified? I have a masters degree in Public Administration and I’m almost finished with a masters degree in accounting. So I know finance. I know how to make a lot out of a little.”
Referring the present behavior of the city council Schipani said, “A lot of the problem is people need to listen. And everybody should stop arguing, not wanting to listen. If we listen maybe we can have a better city.”
Schipani said that the number one issue for 5th ward and all the city is to create new avenues for revenue. “This ward and all the wards need to come together and work as one city,” he said.
Schipani added some suggestions he had for spending the $94 million American Rescue Plan stimulus money coming into the city. He suggested setting up a forgiveness fund for residents who have fallen behind on their water bills
or fallen behind on property taxes due to Covid 19. He also suggested setting up a fund for people to be able to do work on their houses in lieu of paying taxes.
Schipani, a graduate of UM-Flint, grew up in Detroit and moved to Flint 15 years ago after meeting his partner. Kearsley Park is half in 5th ward and half is in 7th ward.
Allie Herkenroder is running to represent the people of the 7th Ward. Herkenroder said that she has been hearing “so many residents express that nothing is getting done and no follow-up and no communication from the present city council person. The residents deserve so much more.”
She referenced the Court Street corridor being “cut-off” this past year with delayed construction. “No one was getting any answers. No one knew what was going on. I repeatedly heard from residents, any time they would reach out to their current council person, they did not get answers and no response, no nothing. We deserve better than that. I’m hoping to bring a new perspective to spark change.”
Herkenroder explained, “I actually plan on following up, responding to community members, being out in the community.”
Herkenroder, 26, is not married and has no children. She is originally from northern Indiana and moved to Flint in 2012 to work for Americorps Community Initiative. Graduating from Spring Arbor College in 2017, she presently resides in the 7th Ward and works for the Flint Housing Commission managing resident services.
Herkenroder adds that she has a lot of student government experience and experience working in civic groups. Asked how she would deal with the present behavior of the city council, she said, “I have a background in parliamentary procedure. I was the chairperson for an organization called Model Arab League for 4 years in college.”
Herkenroder explained her understanding of a “point of order” and a “point of information” stating a point of order is literally this rule has been broken and a point of information is can we do “this” [a request to do something] in whatever motion is on the table. She said that the present city council has turned point of order and point of information into something else. She said that they use these privileged motions more along the lines of “I want to talk now.”
Steven Barber, 33, a write-in candidate for the 9th Ward said he is running because, “I feel like Flint needs a better representation. Not just the 9th Ward but for the city as a whole. We need someone with less ego and more will to get things done.” Barber then said, “Several of us wanted to come together to show what community building is. How a council can come together.”
About the recent debacle of behavior on city council Barber said, “The debates turn to pettiness. I’m a firm believer in that there’s always a happy middle to be had. So we can get things in-line for our city.”
EVM asked Barber how he believed he could “get things in-line”? Barber replied, “I don’t think that our current council person or most of the council members — they aren’t in it for the community. I don’t see the pride. Getting things done in the community and building unity to drive projects and have a better city.”
Barber added that top concerns for his ward are development, crime, and blight. “People try to separate blight from crime. Blight is crime. It’s dumping. We need to hold people accountable.”
“My hope is to bring some transparency to those who are in charge. The ninth ward has gone down hill. It has steadily declined. The development has left. It’s turned into abandonment and decay. Human trafficking is another issue and very prevalent,” added Barber.
Barber attended the International Academy, graduated college from UM-Flint, and now teaches K-5 Physical Education at the International Academy. Barber is not married, has no children, and lives in the 9th ward.
Primary election August 3, 2021
The primary for the November election will be held Tuesday, August 3, 2021. The two candidates that win the primary will face each other on the November ballot.
According to the City Clerk’s office the approved candidates that will appear on the August primary ballot are:
1st Ward: Eric Mays (incumbent). Candidate Tanya Rison’s application was not certified, but she is still running as a write-in candidate.
2nd Ward: Maurice Davis (incumbent), Ladel Lewis, Arthur Woodson, and Audrey Young.
3rd Ward: A.C. Dumas, Quincy Murphy, and Kerry Nelson. (Incumbent Santino Guerra is not seeking reelection.)
4th Ward: Kate Fields (incumbent), Michael Doan and Judy Priestley.
5th Ward: Jerri Winfrey-Carter (incumbent) and Joseph Schipani.
6th Ward: DelTony Burns, Chris Del Morone, Terae King Jr., and Claudia Perkins-Milton. (Incumbent Herb Winfrey is not seeking reelection.)
7th Ward: Monica Galloway (incumbent), Allie Herkenroder, and Shannon Searcy.
8th Ward: Allan Griggs (incumbent), William Harris Jr., Dennis Pfeiffer, and Thomas Ross.
9th Ward: Eva Worthing (incumbent). Candidate Steven Barber’s application was not certified but is still running as a write-in candidate.
EVM Managing Editor, Tom Travis, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.