Endorsement stirs 'hornets' nest'

Analysis

This is the third article in three days about the “controversy” over GR City Commissioners endorsing a Democrat for a Kent County Commission seat. Ask yourself how this article helps voters in the November 7 election? What information did you get about the two candidates running for the seat in question?

Article Text

Members of the Grand Rapids City Commission have poked a stick into a Republican hornets’ nest with their collective endorsement of a Democrat for county commission.

The episode raises the question of what it means to be a nonpartisan politician and the line of propriety — and the law — that should be drawn in picking political buddies.

Kent County Commission Chairman Roger Morgan, a Republican, called the endorsement “short-sighted” and said it is “absolutely going to have a chilling effect” between the city and county.

Mayor George Heartwell said he is “disappointed” by GOP reaction to Tuesday’s Calder Plaza endorsement by all six city commissioners and himself of Kent County Commission candidate Brandon Dillon. Democrat Dillon is seeking to unseat Republican Commissioner Dan Koorndyk, who represents Northeast Grand Rapids.

Republicans never objected to his past backing of GOP candidates, said Heartwell, who has endorsed U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, state Reps. Jerry Kooiman, Kevin Green and Tom Pearce, as well as County Commissioners Art Tanis and Tom Postmus — all Republicans.

An unusual event

Heartwell acknowledged the mass endorsement is “unusual,” but he said it’s essentially no different than each member taking the action individually.

The Kent County Republican Party has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city to see if city e-mails were used for political purposes. Morgan and other Republicans have suggested that perhaps the Open Meetings Act was violated, either in the event announcing the endorsement or beforehand.

Heartwell said that if city e-mails were used for a political cause, they should not have been. Heartwell received an initial city e-mail from Dillon asking for an endorsement and redirected Dillon to a different e-mail account. Dillon arranged the endorsement meeting among commissioners, Heartwell added, so no City Commission gathering was called for that purpose.

Heartwell called the charge the press conference violated the Open Meetings Act “nonsense.”

Party ties

City commissioners are elected on a nonpartisan ballot, but many are identified with parties. Former City Commissioner James Kozak ran as a Republican for state House after he left the commission. Third Ward City Commissioner Jim White previously ran as a Republican for County Commission.

Other commissioners have clear Democratic ties. First Ward Commissioner James Jendrasiak is allied with normally Democratic labor unions and worked on the campaign payroll of former state Rep. Steve Pestka when he ran for state Senate. First Ward Commissioner Roy Schmidt is actively exploring a run for state House as a Democrat. And 2nd Ward Commissioner Rick Tormala was once an aide to U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, and currently is employed by state Senate candidate David LaGrand, a Democrat.

Former Mayor John Logie — who always proudly brandished his credentials as a political independent — thinks it unwise for commissioners to bait GOP power brokers in a town filled with them.

“I think my Democratic friends are more ecumenical about this kind of thing from somebody like me,” Logie said. “The Republicans are more parochial. They take it more personally. Knowing that, why are you sticking your finger in their eye?”

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org