Meet the Kalamazoo City Commission candidates

Elections
kalamazoo city commission candidates

The eight candidates running for the Kalamazoo City Commission. Top, L-R: Jacob Andrews, Andrew Argo, Emily Demorest and Patrese Griffin. Bottom, L-R: Jeanne Hess, Pete Kushner, Chris Praedel and Benjamin Stanley. (Courtesy photos)

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Kalamazoo will elect three city commissioners Tuesday.

A new mayor, who is a voting member of the commission, will also be elected.

Eight candidates will be listed on the ballot for commissioner. News 8 reached out to all of them and asked them to answer three questions concerning their experience, motivation to serve and what they hope to accomplish for residents. These are the responses we received:

JACOB ANDREWS

Why are you running for city commission?

I believe city residents are ready for new leadership, fresh ideas, and innovative thinkers on the Commission. I am running because I love this city. I love the diversity and uniqueness of each neighborhood. This is a crucial time for our City, as it’s growing at an unprecedented level. I’m running to ensure everyone, not just the well-connected, benefit from the growth and prosperity.

What makes you qualified to serve in the role of commissioner?

I’ve worked for various nonprofits and organizations, like the Human Rights Campaign. I also chair the Kalamazoo County Democratic Party, and for my day-job, I work for a nonprofit that advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For the past couple of years, I have served on the Citizens Public Safety Review Advisory Board for the City of Kalamazoo. But, I think my willingness to listen and collaborate is what sets me apart. We need leaders who want to listen, while tirelessly advocating for equitable policy and processes. I hope to earn your support.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the residents of the city?

This could be a long list, but with limited space, the top priority in the city is housing. Too many people are spending well over 30%, closer to 50%, of their income on their housing. We must find ways to build more affordable homes, assist low-income homeowners and renters make renovations to improve our current stock, and build broad coalitions to adequately address the homeless situation in our city. I also want to fight to ensure everything we do addresses the disparities between income, race, gender, sexual orientation, and other marginalized groups. I will fight for every resident of our city.

ANDREW ARGO

Why are you running for city commission?

I am running for City Commission to represent and organize the city’s working class. I want to push for a Kalamazoo where average people have Democratic control over their workplaces and communities. This requires not only working class leadership, but unprecedented grassroots organizing and mass mobilization. I will push and organize for a city run by working people, not the billionaires.

What makes you qualified to serve in the role of commissioner?

I have organized and volunteered with many groups in the area focused on equity, justice and building political power for working people. I was a primary organizer for Kalamazoo For Revolution, a group formed out of the Bernie Sanders movement that served as a community watchdog and advocacy group involved in local city and county politics.

I’m the current chair of the Socialist Party of Kalamazoo, which has included organizing community teach-ins, direct action, mutual aid and solidarity efforts with other anti-capitalist, anti-racist groups in the city.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the residents of the city?

My top three priorities are Housing-For-All and Tenants Rights, Worker’s Rights, and Preparing for the Climate Crisis. We can look at other successful housing first programs and implement them here, create a tenants bill of rights and support a renters union, encourage unionization and invest in democratically run Worker co-operative businesses, and make Kalamazoo a safe haven for all current and future residents in the coming decades as the climate crisis intensifies- and not just a safe haven for the rich. You can find my full policy platform at “Andy Argo for City Commission” on Facebook.

EMILY DEMOREST

Why are you running for city commission?

I’m running for city commission because I believe that we can be a city that puts the needs of children, working class people, and our environment first. As a long time social worker and community advocate, I spend every day working directly with marginalized communities and have dedicated my life to service. As a commissioner I will work to implement progressive policy solutions that reduce racial and wealth inequities, removing barriers to all members of our community to thrive.

What makes you qualified to serve in the role of commissioner?

My years of experience working in schools, community centers, and service agencies, both in Michigan and abroad, have prepared for me the challenges of working collaboratively with partners that have competing goals and interests. During my 7 years as the Senior Site Coordinator at Communities In Schools, I coordinated partnerships with over a dozen organizations annually to meet individual, and school wide needs in a building of 900 students. I have worked with many immigrant rights and youth leadership initiatives. I know what it takes to find common ground and move forward towards a larger shared community vision when dealing with high stakes issues.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the residents of the city?

I hope to create a culture of transparency around the Foundation for Excellence and ensure that funds are used to create equity between neighborhoods by supporting affordable housing, well paying jobs, and improving infrastructure. We must set goals for carbon neutrality, protect our watershed, and build up our public transit system. I want to increase home ownership in communities targeted by redlining, and end involuntary homelessness. I want to dramatically increase our support for daycare programs to ensure every family has a great start. I want to fund our police oversight board, and increase police training in deescalation.

PATRESE GRIFFIN

Why are you running for city commission?

I am running for city commission because I want to continue to have a roll in and have an impact on what happens in this community. I am a voice for the people. I believe in equity and a Kalamazoo that does not just speak to that, but actually exercises that actively through policies, programs, initiatives, funding, and resolutions. Our commission should reflect the community at large. I have a track record of success and I represent the diverse perspectives in this community.

What makes you qualified to serve in the role of commissioner?

I was appointed in June 2019. My connection to the community, leadership, track record of successfully impacting residents lives for the better, passion for equity, and the ability to affect change are among some of my qualifications. I understand how to create and drive policy and I have a lens, voice, and perspective that is needed in local government.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the residents of the city?

If elected I hope to continue the work I started before and since being appointed; actively building an equitable and just community where residents voices are lifted and listened to, a local government that communicates, engages people, and is transparent, as well as intentionally creating opportunities for all of our residents to thrive.

JEANNE HESS

Why are you running for city commission?

I am running for city commission because I believe in Kalamazoo. Having recently retired from Kalamazoo College, I have the time to devote to the position, to the committee meetings and the events associated with being a commissioner, in addition to finding time to listen to the people of Kalamazoo on a regular basis. As commissioner, it would be my job to both enable, and hold the city accountable to achieve the goals of Imagine Kalamazoo 2025, Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo, and to use the Foundation for Excellence endowment in a just and equitable way.

What makes you qualified to serve in the role of commissioner?

As an intercollegiate coach for 35 years, I recruited students, prepared them to compete, and taught lessons that sport demands. I understand that to achieve goals, we need to prepare, communicate, unite, and inspire. I have served on two boards of directors where I committed to my full term; leaving each organization functioning well. As a tenured faculty member, I participated fully in the campus: classroom teaching, strategic planning, faculty governance, and assessment. I volunteer extensively in our community. Lastly, as a connector, a creative thinker, and a collaborator, I have the skills, time, and talent that this position demands.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the residents of the city?

My victories will be when the people of Kalamazoo feel heard, feel safe, are willing to participate in civic life, neighborhood associations, and city events, and when they are proud to live here. When Kalamazoo is a destination city that attracts and retains entrepreneurs, employers, jobs, students, and talent; and when barriers fall so that all the children in Kalamazoo can realize the Promise, I will have done my job. Finally, when we are able to see progress in eliminating generational poverty, that will be our city’s greatest success. All of us, together.

PETE KUSHNER

Why are you running for city commission?

To advocate for, and lead the Commission to accomplish, those identified citizen and business priorities (Imagine Kalamazoo) that will ensure Kalamazoo’s prosperity and improve the lives of all our citizens. To change the culture of our city government so it is responsive; by listening and having genuine two-way communication between all parties. Increase our economic vitality, improve our infrastructure, and connect our citizens to the services that they need. The City Commission must set the direction of how our government works – not just for us, but with us!

What makes you qualified to serve in the role of commissioner?

I have the experience and leadership qualities needed to guide Kalamazoo forward:

GOVERNMENT Nine years as Oakland Drive/Winchell Neighborhood Association President

  • Neighborhood initiatives completed include:
  • Neighborhood Plan
  • Natural Features Protection (NFP) Ordinance
  • Safe Routes to School grant
  • Zoning initiatives to insure appropriate neighborhood development
  • Consumers Energy tree cutting practices

BUSINESS 40 year-businessperson; from opening and managing multi-million dollar businesses to being a small-business entrepreneur.

NON-PROFIT I’ve served seven local non-profit organizations over 21 years, from board member to volunteering:

  • Greg Jennings Foundation
  • Kalamazoo Humane Society
  • Pretty Lake Vacation Camp
  • Kalamazoo Animal Rescue
  • Festival of Trees
  • Complete Streets Coalition of Kalamazoo

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the residents of the city?

I will focus on City issues first:

  • Insure our long-term economic vitality
  • Improve our infrastructure (and make it safer for all users)
  • Increase the quality of life for all our residents

My goal is to implement Kalamazoo’s Master Plan by:

  1. Insuring meaningful two-way communication between the city and its neighborhoods, businesses, and organizations to better identify and find solutions that work for everyone and increase our prosperity.
  2. Improving our infrastructure, and making it safe for ALL users by implementing our “Complete Streets” policies
  3. Connecting all citizens to the services they need, whether government-based or not.

CHRIS PRAEDEL

Why are you running for city commission?

As a young father of two pre-school age boys and a third baby on the way, I want to be a part of creating a future we can be proud to hand over to the next generation. I also believe that now more than ever we need people who can work together to solve complex issues and seize on the opportunities before us. We need pragmatic leaders who are focused on proactive solutions that will spur generational change.

What makes you qualified to serve in the role of commissioner?

My roots run deep. I’m a lifelong resident of Kalamazoo. Almost every major facet of my life has occurred here. After graduation, I enlisted in the national service program, Teach for America, where I taught in one of the most underprivileged schools in America. Many of the challenges my students and their families faced are taking place here in our very own community. I’ve served on several area boards, including serving twice as president of the Kalamazoo Literacy Council during a rapid growth period. I also served as an appointee on the Revenue Panel to examine our city’s impending structural budget concerns in 2015.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the residents of the city?

Housing is my highest priority for city. Both equitable housing practices and affordability will be key in the foreseeable future. We need to work together to reduce barriers to access and to provide more housing stability. Investment in our young people is an investment in our future. The city serves a vital role in supporting youth when school is not in session. This is the most proactive investment we can make in our future by doubling down on funding for youth programs, including: employment, training, camps/clubs and mentorship opportunities. Small business ownership is an economic and generational game-changer. The city’s staff and partnerships can leverage resources to invest in expanding and first-time small businesses in our neighborhoods.

BENJAMIN STANLEY

Why are you running for city commission?

Little things need to change, I LOVE Kalamazoo, but wouldn’t it been cool if our roads were not ridden with potholes and out sidewalks were smooth sailing, how about if had more activities for young people to do year round that didn’t leave parents with low income from being able to let their kids participate… lets make it happen.

What makes you qualified to serve in the role of commissioner?

I’m not a zombie… okay well Halloween has me confused with some folks so… I have read the city charter and code of ordinances through (for fun) and I read through the books that teach people how municipal law works. I enjoy listening more than bossing others around but I also like making sure people in authority know that people look up to them as an example.

If elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the residents of the city?

FREE PUPPIES FOR EVERYONE!!!!! not really, but I would like everyone to be able to feel like that just got a puppy to hang out with for a day when they live in Kalamazoo. I’d love to see more attention to aesthetics (but not at the cost of function) I’d like to see people work together (but not to take advantage of the less fortunate) and I’d like to see at least some direction taken towards cleaning up our city (including the river which is state land technically but it runs throughout city).

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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