Special by Rina Risper
President and Publisher
The New Citizens Press
LANSING, MI — Residents will have the opportunity to hear first hand, candidates’ ideas and opinions. It is important if a candidate is endorsed by certain groups but we are individuals and individual choices should be made.
I personally do not care if a candidate was endorsed by a group. A group is made up of individual minds.
Again it is important that we have organizations, groups and church involvement but we need to assess what we need personally. If a politician can go to a church and believe he has the vote of the entire congregation, there is a serious issue. Usually, there is no real dialogue between the political individual and church members. The politician is allowed to come and speak. Call the politician who visits up after the service and tell them what you want to see and what changes you want to happen. What laws or services are important to you and your children?
Register to vote. The idea that “we” don’t vote because it won’t make a difference is a dirty trick.
We need to have someone in office who will really deal with the issues that are going to deal with the issues and provide stability to a profession that has become far removed from the people.
On Wednesday, August 2, 2006, at Black Child and Family Institute at 6:30 pm there will be a 2006 Election Candidates featuring candidates for 68th District. We need honesty and integrity and no one can take away your right to vote. Hear what they have to say. Go to different meetings in different neighborhoods and see what they are saying at those events. Wake up, politics affects you and your future, which includes the people you love the most.
Here is a look at how the various 68th District candidates answered questions about some of the issues that were brought to the attention of The New Citizens Press by our readers. Many were concerned about candidates just providing lip service and not really keeping promises. The power to vote is one that you have even if you know someone who does not have the right to vote. The people have the power to choose and to hold candidates responsible. I love America.
I plan on being at the debate and at that time I will decide who I am voting for. I hope to see you all there maybe we can all go for coffee and discuss the issues among ourselves. There needs to be a think tank in Lansing. Political bullying should not be accepted and when it happens our elected leaders to stand up for the people.
Just in case anyone was wondering, we chose the order based on when we received the response.
1. The City of Lansing turned down a proposal by Magic Johnson to purchase and revitalize the downtown Board of Water and Light building three years ago. What is your vision for the building and how would your vision enhance Lansing as a diverse and multicultural community?
2. What is your plan to facilitate more multicultural and diverse programming/entertainment and events in Lansing?
3. What is your plan to address the need for affordable housing in Lansing?
Harilaos (Haris) I. Sorovigas
First, it is difficult to form and provide an educated opinion regarding the Johnson’s offer, because I do not know the details of the offer and development plans. However, I believe it was a mistake for the city of Lansing not to be able to work with someone like Magic Johnson to help in the development of the city and contribute to the economic development of the community in general.
Second,I would work very closely with the city’s government to develop a number of programs that will be towards the economic development of the community. Perhaps the BWL building can be a second hotel in the community. Other options may be to develop an upscale mall center with shopping stores, a movie theater, restaurants, etc. Further, I will maintain a close relationship with various local organizations to develop an economic plan that will serve everyone; such organizations will include the MI Economic Development Corp., Lansing Department of Planning and Development, Principal Shopping District, MI & Lansing Chamber of Commerce, LCC, Thomas M. Cooley, etc. Finally, we need to make Lansing, more particularly downtown, a destination for its residents and the residents of the neighboring communities. As the capitol of MI, it should be able to offer everything that any other capitol around the nation of its size offers.
Harilaos (Haris) I. Sorovigas
First, the city needs to develop and promote various folk festivals and other cultural activities in downtown. It needs to diversify its restaurant selection with ethnic type restaurants that will serve dinners and other entertainment. Second, it needs to develop a more diverse entertainment environment by introducing a downtown movie theater and perhaps some type of an athletic complex, i.e., civic center, ice ring, performing art center, etc. The existing theaters need support and development. Perhaps develop a cultural center and a museum. Lansing needs to follow the good example that Providence, Rhode Island has exercised. Finally, the river needs to be developed and become an attraction like the river in downtown Providence. I will work closely with local and state government to help fund, implement and develop the programs needed to achieve the desired results.
Harilaos (Haris) I. Sorovigas,
First, I will work with the city to rehabilitate older homes in the city and enforce the housing ordinances. I will work with various entities and developers to develop new affordable housing. Develop financing plans with local lenders that will provide affordable and accessible mortgage options. I will work with city officials for property tax and other incentives for first time, low income, home buyers to promote home ownership. Form a plan with the city to help existing property owners of larger vacant properties to develop them into housing for sale or rent. Second, I will review options available or create new through state and federal grants and other financing for new housing developments and existing redevelopment that it can be available to existing property owners or prospective new home owners.
The centerpiece of my vision for the Board of Water and Light building is the Grand River. This waterfront property must not be developed piecemeal. This great natural asset, together with the River Walk and the BWL building make a natural Cultural, Arts and Humanities center for education, performing arts and museum displays, dining and entertainment.
An after school learning center that offers mentoring for any student and provides a core of MSU student mentors working, for credit, will enhance the quality of life and promise for our children. The height of the building offers potential for a wireless internet hub for all of the Capital Region.
Our Greater Lansing Region enjoys a wonderfully diverse mixture of races, cultures, nationalities, languages and religions. We also are blessed with one of the highest percentages of bi-racial families. It is my firm belief that the more we understand both what we share in common as members of the human race and the more we celebrate the differences that we have in expressing our many backgrounds, the more our Greater Lansing Region will thrive. The State budget must therefore allocate more funding for the Arts and education.
I believe that arts and other entertainment avenues for encouraging a deeper appreciation for our common humanity expressed in profoundly diverse ways must be supported by an increase in state funding as well as providing incentives for private giving. As Representative Baker, I will be advocating for increased funding for the arts and for an expansion of the types of agencies that may qualify for tax credit contributions and an increase in the amount that can be given to them. Just as you get a tax credit for giving to WKAR radio programming, we ought to create incentives to taxpayers to give to the arts and cultural entertainment and diversity learning opportunities in the same manner.
Michigan property values will likely be seeing a downward trend over the coming years due to the contraction in our economy. While this may seem to provide some hope for affordability, it is also a sign that many will be without the means to pay for affordable housing. Michigan can not afford to leave the poor behind. Too many of our children live in poverty. I advocate for more governmental funding and incentives for homeownership to lift our fragile families and individuals out of poverty.
Tax cuts for business and the economically strong have resulted in budget cuts that hurt the economically weak. After more than a decade of budget cutting to become more lean and competitive, we have left behind those that cannot fend for themselves: our seniors, the disabled, the poor, and our children. A modest return to 2003 income tax rates will return over $1 billion that can be used, in part, for city housing revitalization in our urban cores. The average cost to our taxpayers for this investment will be less than a 6-pack of coke per week. We must unite together around the values we share in helping the downtrodden by passing the hat.
My vision is that the Ottawa Street Power Station be transformed into an entertainment hub for downtown Lansing. For instance, “The Bob” in Grand Rapids is a similar type of venue that could serve as a model. The power station is a unique building that should be a destination spot for Mid-Michigan residents. Since the building’s future is under the control of Lansing government (City Council and the Mayor,) I would work closely with local government to identify tax and grant opportunities for potential investors.
Given that Lansing is a multi-cultural community, further downtown development will undoubtedly attract additional residents and visitors to the area, therefore increasing the vibrancy, diversity, and multi-culturalism of our community.
What is your plan to facilitate more multicultural and diverse programming/entertainment and events in Lansing?
The first thing that I will do is to continue to support the local programming and entertainment that exists. I attend and support numerous Lansing events, including Juneteenth, Jazz Fest, the African American Parade and Family Festival, the Cristo Rey Festival, Nu Poets, Festival of the Sun, and various neighborhood picnics and festivals. Secondly, I will always make myself available to local event organizers to assist in any way possible. I believe that part of being a public servant is to lead by example, and I will work tirelessly within our community to help promote diversity.
While Lansing has a good supply of affordable housing (especially when compared to neighboring communities,) two issues that must be addressed in order to provide better, more affordable housing to Lansing residents is 1) our local and state economy and, 2) strategic land use.
Our poor economy is prohibiting many of our residents from taking advantage of everything that Lansing has to offer. As everyone knows, the problems facing our economy (both in Lansing and in Michigan) are incredibly complex. I would immediately lobby the state legislature to reapportion funding back to adult education. There are numerous jobs available within our economy (health care for instance) that simply require training and education. As we all know, education is the great equalizer within our society. Those without the skills to compete will be left out, with no chance of purchasing a home within Lansing.
Long term, I will work within the legislature and with all area governments to address the issue of sprawl. Urban sprawl and improper land use hurts everyone. Farmers lose farmland, existing real estate values drop (especially those in urban centers such as Lansing,) and the incentive to invest in affordable housing within our cities (including Lansing) is negated.
Diversity and multi-culturalism grows when communities are built through economic development. When everyone has equal opportunity to achieve, earn, learn, and live…that stimulates diversity. My vision for the Board of Water and Light building would be a multi-use facility. Included in it should be businesses, entertainment venue(s) and some type of housing. If the developer proposes condos, those should be single floor and more reasonably priced than many of the other condo developments and new rental housing units in the downtown area. Single floor condos would be especially attractive to individuals with disabilities and senior citizens.
Lansing is slowly developing a range of annual entertainment events, but many of the audiences tend to be predominantly one racial or ethnic group. Community dialogue on this issue would be a good starting point to try to determine the types of venues and programming that would be appealing across race and ethnic groups, age groups and for persons with disabilities. A strategic plan must be developed including municipal leaders, and multi-cultural community representation. With all the groups working together a calendar of events should be developed. So many times there’s nothing to do, or several activities are planned for the same day.
Efforts by the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition to renovate existing housing stock and sell it at affordable prices should be looked at as a model on how to proceed. As a City, we need not only affordable housing but also habitable housing. Achieving this combined goal would require more effective building code enforcement by the City.
The Board of Water and Light building has wonderful potential for the development and revitalization of downtown Lansing. My vision is that it would be a mixed use building with housing on the upper floors, commercial on the mid-floors, and retail/entertainment on the ground level. The ground level would include restaurants, coffee shops, small grocery store, art gallery, and small shops. I did an “informal survey” regarding how to appeal to a diverse and multicultural community which said the following would be important: outdoor dining, ethnic restaurants, live entertainment featuring diverse performers, poetry readings, small retail establishments that are locally owned, and mixed income housing availability.
We know that an important component in the economic future of Lansing and the state of Michigan is the revitalization of our cities so that they are magnets for the knowledge workers of the 21st century. Equally important to the revitalization of cities is the availability of multicultural and diverse entertainment. To accomplish this, we can do the following:
– Earmark state grant monies available to cities through the Governors’ Cool Cities initiative specifically for multicultural programming and entertainment
– Ensure that current entertainment programming like Common Ground reflects the diversity of our community
– Hold ethnic/multicultural festivals and events throughout the year
– Encourage local theater to do multicultural performances and events. Sponsor events such as Lansing’s Poetry in the Park series which promote diversity
– Ensure that all city programming reflects the diversity of the community. Create an environment and culture that celebrates and embraces diversity and multiculturalism
Through my ten years on the Lansing City Council, I have a great deal of experience in promoting affordable housing in our community. We must continue to: support the rehabilitation of our housing stock by working with housing non-profits like Habitat for Humanity and the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition. Our efforts in these areas have resulted in providing low to moderate home ownership opportunities for first-time home owners as well as stabilizing our neighborhoods.
Lansing has had great results and can be used as a model in encouraging businesses to establish down payment incentive programs for their employees who purchase a home in Lansing. A number of businesses including Ingham Regional Medical Center, Sparrow Hospital, Lansing Community College, the City of Lansing, and the Board of Water and Light have established such programs. It is a very positive way to help new home owners secure the necessary down payment for a home.
Advocate for the funding of Community Development Block Grants through the federal government which include funds essential for the support of programs that promote affordable housing.
I was a former Director of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, and currently serve as Cooley Law School Special Projects Manager, working on downtown development projects in Lansing, so when presented with questions like this I always think: what will be best for downtown Lansing and what will create the most jobs. I think the building will most likely need to be mixed use, with at least a portion of the building housing extremely unique destination entertainment venues that attract people from miles around.
It will be practically cost prohibitive for a developer to revitalize the BWL building without a guaranteed long-term tenant occupying the space. So, many developers want at least a portion of the building to be used for state government offices. That is a pragmatic choice.
However, Lansing’s downtown will not be revitalized with more state offices alone. Lansing needs venues that attract people from surrounding areas in a portion of the BWL building. Only with destination entertainment that draws non-residents to visit and spend money here will we see a rebirth of downtown. Downtown Lansing should be the entertainment capital and the revitalization of the BWL building can help us achieve that.
As Special Projects Manager for Cooley Law School, one exciting project I am working on is a new entertainment facility that will house plays, concerts and a variety of other performing arts. This new center will be jewel in Lansing’s crown and a cornerstone of our downtown development efforts. As part of the team creating this new center, I am already helping to ensure that Lansing expands residents’ opportunities to be exposed to the arts, and that we increase the amount of multicultural and diverse entertainment options in Lansing.
I am also very pleased that Lansing will finally construct the long overdue Southside Community Center that so many of us have wanted for so long. This should also be a location where fantastic multicultural events can be held.
As former Statewide Director of Habitat for Humanity’s Jimmy Carter Project, I have more experience working with affordable housing than any candidate. As Director, my business was creating affordable housing. In fact, I coordinated 20,000 volunteers to build an unprecedented 238 homes in 75 cities across Michigan and Ontario. Nothing like this had ever been done at Habitat before, but when an ex-president calls on you to deliver, you have no choice but to get the job done!
As a representative, I will work with developers, non-profit organizations and realtors to strengthen efforts to assist first-time homebuyers, particularly in Lansing’s minority communities, by connecting them with organizations such as MSHDA and agencies that offer low-interest loans, low down payments and other buyer assistance programs.
I will also accelerate residential conversion of excess Class B office space to develop a wider variety of downtown housing options to meet demands at all income levels to accommodate LCC and Cooley students, state employees and city workers, senior citizens, young families and others.
I will also work to pass legislation that helps property owners fix-up red-tagged homes whenever possible, and gives cities the tools to demolish delinquent, absentee landlords’ red-tagged homes when necessary.
Melissa Sue Robinson
Question 1 & 2
I propose that we restore the Downtown Board of Water and Light Building and convert it into a multicultural center that will make life worth living in the Greater Lansing area for people of all cultures The center would provide each new immigrant and existing citizens access to the knowledge needed to become active citizens in Lansing and to celebrate cultural diversity and heritage on every day of the year through educational programs and a large multicultural Museum that represents all of Lansing’s diversity. This building would have restaurants, stores, and shops that would also represent the diversity mentioned above.
The Multi Cultural Center would have an auditorium and conference room to support groups that encourage active participation of people of all cultures in civic life. These groups would have members of each cultural group that would pursue knowledge to raise their individual standard of living and quality of life for the community at large. Groups would have a commitment to work toward financial security of individuals and families. The goal would be for people of all cultures to live, work, and play in environments that are conducive to mental and physical well being and to gain respect for all cultural beliefs and practices that preserve human rights and the right of every individual to pursue his or her dreams. Last of all the center would have a name that would reflect its purpose and be a model for worldwide attention. In this center multicultural groups would lay the groundwork for many more multicultural and diverse programming, entertainment and events in the Greater Lansing Area.
We could even name it the Ervin "Magic" Johnson Center for Multi Culture Development.
Melissa Sue Robinson
Pertaining to affordable housing I propose that we form yet another nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Lansing’s older neighborhoods by providing historic quality affordable housing, home repair, credit and housing education and supporting neighborhood businesses. We would assist people by informing them of the many advantages of owning their own home and assist those citizens all the way through the process. Property tax breaks up to five years of reduction would be given to any homebuyer that returns to Lansing from the suburbs.
The Non Profit would provide credit and homeowner counseling, and find the right projects for prospective buyers. We would also offer emergency home repairs, referrals to other agencies, information on tax credit advantages, and tax abatements listed above. Every neighborhood would have a contact and information would also be placed on the web. Best of all this 501c3 Non Profit would be housed in the new multi cultural center in Downtown Lansing.