Who Will Be the Next Mayor of East Lansing?

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Friday, November 8, 2019, 7:30 am
Alice Dreger

(Photos by Raymond Holt)

The news came late yesterday that the Ingham County Board of Canvassers has certified Tuesday’s East Lansing City Council election results, confirming that the winners are Jessy Gregg, Lisa Babcock, and Mark Meadows.

The three will be sworn in next Tuesday evening at a meeting that starts at 7 p.m. Immediately after that, the three of them, along with Ruth Beier and Aaron Stephens, will decide by majority vote who among the five of them will serve as the next Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem of East Lansing.

Meadows has been serving as Mayor, with Erik Altmann as Mayor Pro Tem (substitute mayor). Meadows beat Altmann by only two votes in this election to win the third available seat. Altmann has not responded to questions about whether he will ask for a recount, but it appears unlikely.

There seems little chance Meadows will be made mayor again next Tuesday.

Meadows trailed Gregg and Babcock by about 20 percentage points in this Tuesday’s election, and there are other signs that he is not at his strongest political position at the moment.

A survey opened by ELi the morning after the election found that, among 168 respondents, 75 percent said they hoped Altmann rather than Meadows would prevail for the third spot. There were also many negative comments offered about Meadows in the final open-ended question.

The survey is not a scientific sampling of the electorate but, when taken with the election results, there are signs Meadows has fallen in popularity. In 2015, 66 percent of voters cast a ballot for Meadows. This year, the percentage of voters casting a ballot in his favor fell to 43 percent. (There were six candidates in both of those elections.)

By comparison, in 2013, when presented with four candidates, 63 percent of voters cast a ballot for Ruth Beier, and four years later, presented with three candidates, 57 percent cast a vote for Beier. In both of those elections, she was the top vote-getter.

Stephens, Gregg, and Babcock have only been through one election each, earning votes from 49 percent, 65 percent, and 64 percent of voters, respectively.

Here’s a brief look at the five members of the new Council, beyond their election results:

Lisa Babcock is 53 years old and is an attorney with a background in energy and regulatory law. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan and a J.D. (law degree) from MSU in 2005. This is her first time in elected office.

Ruth Beier is 58 years old and is an economist for the Michigan Education Association (teachers’ union). She earned a bachelor’s degree from MSU in economics and a master’s degree in economics from Duke University. She is now completing a bachelor’s degree in education at Ferris State University. She will retire from MEA in June 2020 and plans to be a teacher starting next fall. Beier has been on the East Lansing City Council since 2013 and served as Mayor Pro Tem from 2015-17.

Jessy Gregg is 42 years old and is the owner of a recently opened downtown fabric shop, Seams. For years before she opened the shop, she had a career as an artist and in retail related to art and craft. She also worked for two years as a reporter for ELi. She earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., and this is her first time in elected office.

Mark Meadows is 72 years old and has had a long career in Michigan law and politics. His degrees include a bachelor of science from Western Michigan University with a dual major in technical engineering and English, and a J.D. from the Detroit College of Law. Meadows was on East Lansing’s Council from 1995 to 2006 and served as Mayor from 1997 to 2006. He has been on the Council again since 2015 and has been Mayor for the last four years. He also served in the Michigan House of Representatives as an elected representative from 2006 to 2012.

Aaron Stephens is 23 years old and earned his degree at MSU in political science and pre-law. He has worked in campaigns and advocacy work, most recently for the organization For Our Future MI, a progressive political advocacy organization. Stephens is currently not employed except as a member of the East Lansing City Council, and his term began in November 2017.

A seat on East Lansing’s Council, including the mayorship, is not intended to be a full-time job.

East Lansing’s City Charter calls for a City Manager form of government, in which the City Manager serves as the chief executive of the municipality and is advised (and hired and fired) by City Council. The Council’s primary job is to act as the legislative branch of local government.

Four of East Lansing’s City Council members are currently paid about $8,200 per year, with the fifth member paid $9,600 to serve as mayor. (Read more about Council compensation here.) By comparison, the city manager of East Lansing, George Lahanas, currently earns about $167,000 per year.

East Lansing’s system of municipal government stands in contrast to the mayoral form of government, like that which exists in Lansing, where voters directly elect the mayor and the mayor’s job is full time. In Lansing, being mayor currently pays Andy Schor about $130,000.

What do citizens of East Lansing think about who should be the next mayor and mayor pro tem?

We asked readers in our survey to tell us who they would want to see as the next Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem. The most popular choice was Gregg for Mayor and Babcock for Mayor Pro Tem (19 percent of respondents chose this option) and the second most popular combination reversed those roles (16 percent). You can see the aggregated survey results here.

If you want to weigh in on who should be elected Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem of East Lansing, there is not a simple way to do so.

Historically, the public has not been given a chance to comment at the Council meeting before they vote to elect the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem. And writing to the Council via the email address council@cityofeastlansing.com won’t reach the new members until after the swearing-in.

However, writing to council@cityofeastlansing.com along with the two new members via their email addresses (jessyhenderson@gmail.com and lisa.babcock.jd@gmail.com) should reach all members of the incoming Council.

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