GR City Commission candidates on the issues

Elections

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There are a number of firsts in the races for two open Grand Rapids City Commission seats.

Probably the most hotly contested race is in the 2nd Ward, where the first Latina candidate in recent history, political newcomer Milinda Ysasi, faces former Grand Rapids Board of Education member Wendy Falb. One of them will take over for Commissioner Ruth Kelly, who is being term-limited out.

In the 1st Ward, incumbent Jon O’Connor will face off against the first openly LGBT candidate in a ward race, Allison Lutz.

Below, see how the candidates answered questions on the challenges they’ll face and the policies they’ll decide on if elected Nov. 5. Under each set of transcribed responses, you can watch extended interviews with each candidate.

MILINDA YSASI

Why she’s running:

“I’m running to make sure that the growth and prosperity of Grand Rapids reaches all the neighbors across the ward and the city. I’ve lived here my whole entire life and have seen a lot of change and a lot of investment. And I want to make sure no matter where people live, they have access to that opportunity.”

Police and community relations:

“I would go back to the deployment study that was done a few months ago that really focused on the opportunity the police department has to say how can we move different positions that are more administrative or clerical, which are good jobs, how can we get more civilians into those jobs and move our sworn officers into roles that are more focused on community policing. I’m very supportive of that.”

An effort to expand the city commission:

“At this point, I support the action of the individuals (a citizens group seeking to expand the commission). I’m not sure what the outcome will be at this point. I think the reality is the role of the city commissioner is … a part-time role; however, people like the current incumbent Ruth Kelly and it’s a full-time job.”

Affordable housing:

“When we look at housing, we also have to look at wages and income. And income for most people, particularly in Grand Rapids in the last 20 years, has really been compressed and in some cases has been declining. So I want to focus on how we can bring up income for individuals. How we can create better quality of life, and that people can hopefully move into the homes that are being built.”

WENDY FALB

Why she’s running:

“If there’s a crime issue or a parking issue or a park needs help, then I’m that neighbor who kind of organizes things and gets things done. And because I was that person, I helped out at my son’s school, and I ended up on the Grand Rapids public school board. I kept just kind of working and found out I was pretty good at public office. I was pretty good at problem-solving, having a lot of backbone and managing taxpayer dollars through a lot of constraints and getting a lot done.”

Affordable housing:

“We have a housing issue in Grand Rapids, which comes in part from some very great things. We have a lot of millennials moving back to our city because there’s a lot of vibrancy and economic boon going on in our community. But we want to make sure that that’s not excluding people to be able to live in our communities. It’s a real crisis. And I think we need to treat it as such and look at every single tool and opportunity we have to ensure that we have housing for everybody.”

Police and community relations:

“There’s a lot of issues at hand. I’m here to get in and lead. I’m not afraid of difficult conversations. And I believe with new police chief that we have an opportunity to heal some of those trust issues, to put really good policy in place, and to get some young people of color to join the police force and really make it the best public safety Grand Rapids could possibly have.”

Expanding the city commission:

“I’m in full support of asking the questions and doing an explanation of what it would look like to have more city commissioners or to have more wards. … I was glad it wasn’t on the November ballot because I think there’s opportunity to do a little bit more explanation about whether the current proposal would actually accomplish what they’re attempting to accomplish.”

ALLISON LUTZ

Why she’s running:

“I know that there’s a trope of politicians just being lip service and that’s never really been how I function. So that, as well as increasing representation: There’s never been a woman elected to the 1st Ward and there’s never been an openly queer city commissioner and I think that that’s important.”

Police and community relations:

“There is no silver bullet. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But what I think is important is making sure that we go based on the data that we have. There have been studies on the Grand Rapids Police Department that shows that we don’t need to hire more officers. And there’s also been a program presented to the city commission called Cure for Violence that the city hasn’t acted on. They gave multiple different suggestions that we just haven’t followed through with. And I think that will help, as well as increased accountability, because if people feel like they are safe when they call the police, then everyone is safer. The police can do their job in a more effective way.”

Affordable housing:

“There might be a single mom out there that is trying to find affordable housing but what’s deemed as affordable is actually three times what she can actually pay. And so I think really taking charge and looking at what we need or define affordable housing as and then going from there, making community partnership.”

Expanding the commission:

“I am firmly in support of the work that the Grand Rapids Democracy Initiative is doing. I think that the current system is outdated. Also, the wards are huge. As someone who doesn’t have a car, ’cause cars are expensive, and I have to go and canvass, I’ve been knocking doors since probably June, and it’s hard to get around this entire ward. So how can one person or even two people adequately represent the amazing diversity and different neighborhoods in the 1st Ward? We can’t.”

JON O’CONNOR

Why he’s running:

“I love this town. I really want to make sure we see continued success in Grand Rapids. Provide opportunities for people. Create opportunities for people that want to call home in Grand Rapids, that want to start a business here, to have the ability to do that. I think I bring a valuable perspective as a small business owner, as an entrepreneur and someone one who’s committed to Grand Rapids for the last 20 years to have an important voice at the table.”

Police and community relations:

“I think our men and woman in the police department have stepped up to the plate at every opportunity to hold themselves accountable, looking at their policies at their procedures at the way they do their business. But I think ultimately, for me, if you want to change the way you do business, you make continued investments. And so I’d really like to see a further emphasis on investing in more community police officers for our community.”

Expanding city commission:

“At this point, I’m really trying to figure out what problem we’re trying to solve here. I’m proud to serve on what is probably the most diverse city commission that’s ever been elected in Grand Rapids. …Our elections are free, they’re fair and they’re open to anyone, and people can exercise their right to vote if they choose. And the door’s open.”
 
Affordable housing:

“I continue to say, additional supply of housing doesn’t solve the problem necessarily. There might be other things that need to be done. But the problem doesn’t get solved unless we increase the supply of housing in Grand Rapids. And so that means we need to increase density. We need to look for ways to build additional capacity in the system, and then layer on other affordable housing opportunities to help people along the way that need that help.”

You can find your polling place and check out a sample ballot online at the Michigan Secretary of State’s Voter Information Center.

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