By Paul Rozycki
They typically have eight- or ten-hour meetings that often last until dawn.
They spend hours bickering and attacking each other personally.
They failed to approve the current city budget on time, a violation of the city charter. Only after the city faced the prospect of a shutdown was the budget finalized.
Some have faced personal threats.
They have become the poster child of dysfunctional local government in Genesee County.
And yet, in spite of all this, or because of all this, more than 40 people took out petitions to be elected to the Flint City Council.
Of the initial 43 potential candidates, 25 had their petitions certified to appear on the Aug. 3 primary ballot. Several of those whose petitions were not approved are running as write-in candidates as well.
Who is running?
In seven of the city’s nine wards, incumbents are seeking reelection. Two incumbents, Eric Mays (1st Ward), and Eva Worthing (9th Ward), won’t face an opponent on the ballot in either the primary or the general election, though write-in candidates have emerged in both cases. In the Fifth Ward, both Joseph Schipani and incumbent Jerri Winfrey-Carter will advance to the November election.
In all the remaining wards there are more than two candidates, and the top two will face each other in the November general election.
The candidates are:
Ward 1: Eric Mays, incumbent, is unopposed.
Ward 2: Incumbent Maurice Davis faces Ladel Lewis, Arthur L. Woodson, and Audrey F. Young.
Ward 3: A.C. Dumas, Quincy Murphy, and Kerry Nelson are running to replace Santino Guerra, who is not running for reelection.
Ward 4: Incumbent Kate Fields, faces Michael D. Doan and Judy Priestley.
Ward 5: Incumbent Jerri Winfrey-Carter and Joseph Schipani will run against each other in the November election.
Ward 6: DelTonya Burns, Chris Del Morone, Terae M. King Jr., and Claudia E. Perkins-Milton are competing to replace Herbert Winfrey, who is not running for reelection.
Ward 7: Incumbent Monica Galloway is being challenged by Allie L. Herkenroder and Shannon A. Searcy.
Ward 8: Incumbent Louis A. Griggs is opposed by William C. Harris Jr., Dennis A. Pfeiffer, and Thomas W. Ross.
Ward 9: Incumbent Eva Worthing is unopposed.
In addition to those on the ballot, several candidates are Lak write-in campaigns. So far, they include Tanya Rison (1st ward), Richard Jones (3rd ward), Lakeisha Tureaud (7th ward), and Steve Barber (9th ward).
The August primary
If it’s typical, the Aug. 3 primary will probably be a low turnout affair, where we’ll be lucky to see a 20 percent turnout. Because it’s an off-year election, the city council primary is likely to get less attention than it might have if it were held during a normal election year. That’s one of the reasons the new city charter will hold future city council contests during the years when we elect a governor.
Yet for voters in the city of Flint, the choices for the city council are critical, not only because of the need to end the discord and conflict in the council, but because of the new city charter, this council will serve until 2026. After that, the council will be elected for four-year terms, in the same years as the governor.
Voters in Fenton, Linden, and Birch Run will also be voting on school millage proposals.
The voter’s responsibility
The unusual nature of this year’s election gives the voters an even greater responsibility.
First, be sure to register and vote. It’s easy to forget about voting when summer vacations are on the horizon, and we’re all itching to break loose from the pandemic. Even if you are going to be gone, voting is easier than ever, either in person, or with a mail-in absentee ballot, in spite of attempts to make it more difficult.
Second, learn about the candidates. There will be a number of opportunities to find out who deserves your vote in the weeks to come. The League of Women Voters (LWV) will be posting candidate information on their Vote411.org website. Though it’s not certain yet, they may also host candidate forums in the future. FlintBeat.com is running a series of articles on each ward in the city, and the candidates running in those wards. The Tom Sumner Radio Program may also invite candidates for interviews. The program is broadcast on WFOV, 92.1 from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday, and programs are available on Sumner’s website, tomsumnerprogram.com. Many of the candidates have their own websites where voters can learn their views and contact them.
Several of the candidates have already become involved in their communities by leading neighborhood clean-ups or similar activities. Recently East Village Magazine covered an event at Kearsley Park where five candidates worked together on Memorial Day to clean up the park. Others are likely to be scheduled in the future. Joining with any of those efforts will not only clean up your neighborhood, but will also give you an opportunity to meet the candidates. Many will be going door-to-door, to meet voters over the next month.
Key questions for the candidates
However you do it, take the time to learn about who is running in your ward. Each voter may have their own concerns and questions, and there are a thousand questions that any of us could ask, but here’s a short list of some issues that all of the candidates should be willing to address.
- What personal skills do you bring to the role of councilperson?
- What solutions can you offer to end the division and conflict in the city council?
- What do you see as the major problem facing the City of Flint today?
- What do you see as the major problem facing your ward today?
- Do you see yourself primarily as a voice for your ward or the whole city?
- How much do you know about the city budget? Where does most of the money go? Where does most of it come from?
- How should Flint work with other governments in Genesee County?
- Are you familiar with the Michigan Municipal League and the resources they can offer to local officials?
- And finally, how can your constituents contact you?
What to expect and what to hope for
Whoever is elected to serve on Flint’s next city council, we should hope for the best, but we should also be realistic. Some of the same problems that we face today will still be there. There will be personality conflicts. There will be racial conflicts. And most significantly there will be the challenge of dealing with Flint’s shrinking population and tax base, as many of our problems continue to mount. It’s easier to govern when everything is growing and there is plenty of money. It’s a lot tougher when a council is trying to deal with a shrinking city.
Let’s hope the next city council can face the problems realistically and honestly, and step back from the rancor and conflict that we’ve seen in recent years, and begin to lead the city of Flint in a positive direction.
To make sure that happens, take the time to learn about the candidates, and get out and vote on Aug. 3.
EVM political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.