Story by Ty Smith, Managing Editor
Photo courtesy pexels.com
Voters in Grand Rapids went to the polls Nov. 5 to vote for a new mayor, but that wasn’t the only thing at stake in the 2019 election. Citizens also voted for new commissioners as well as a proposal to fund city park improvement and make a millage permanent. In total, just over 56 thousand citizens voted, a turnout of 20.2 percent.
Running for mayor were incumbent Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and Daniel Schuette, a local pastor.
Bliss, age 44, was elected for her first term in August 2015, and served nearly a decade as Second Ward commissioner before that. She is also an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University and holds a master’s in social work as well as a bachelor’s in psychology and criminal justice.
Schutte, age 63, has spent almost 40 years as the pastor for The Inner City Church Planting Mission. The church has two locations in Grand Rapids and more than 30 others across the world. His political experience consists of an unsuccessful run as the Republican candidate for the 75th District of the Michigan House of Reps in 2018.
The campaigns of the two candidates could not be more different. Schutte ran a faith-based campaign focused on the issues of religion and abortion. Perhaps his campaign is best summed up in his own words. When asked by WGVU why he was running for mayor, Schutte replied his number one reason was to “proclaim the gospel and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ because he is the only answer to all our challenges, issues, and problems.”
In contrast, Bliss’ campaign focused on infrastructure, economy, and the improvement of Grand Rapids. When asked in an article by MLive and the Grand Rapids Press, the incumbent mayor said that her number one priority would be infrastructure and mobility.
On Election Day, Bliss won a clear victory. She pulled in 83.9 percent of the vote, while Schutte received 15.8 percent. A total of 28,275 people voted in the election. Mayor Bliss will continue in her office until 2024, when term limit laws will prevent her from running again.
Jon O’Connor and Allison Lutz both ran for the chance to represent Grand Rapids’ First Ward.
O’Connor, 37, is the incumbent commissioner and was elected in 2015. Previous to his election as City Commissioner, O’Connor had served a single term on the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education and co-founded the real estate broker Long Road Distillers. He holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration and had the endorsement of Mayor Rosalyn Bliss.
Lutz, 22, works as a customer service representative at a local marketing agency. She has attended Grand Rapids Community College and has studied biopsychology at Grand Valley State University. She has not previously served in elected office, but she has volunteered with several organizations, including Tri-City Ministries and Dog Story Theater.
On Election Day, voters re-elected O’Connor to represent them as City Commissioner for the First Ward. The election was decided by less than 1,000 votes, with O’Conner receiving 53.1 percent of the votes and Lutz receiving 46.5 percent. In total, 7,329 people voted in this election.
In the race to represent Grand Rapids’ Second Ward as City Commissioner, Milinda Ysai ran against Wendy Falb. Falb, 54, and Ysasi, 39, were both vying for the seat held by Commissioner Ruth Kelly. Kelly is term-limited, and cannot run again.
Falb has previously served nearly a decade on the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education, and currently is the executive director of the non-profit organization Literacy Center of West Michigan. She was endorsed by Commissioners Nate Moody and Jon O’Connor, as well as former mayor George Heartwell.
Ysasi is the executive director of The SOURCE, a non-profit employee support organization. She also serves on several boards and committees, including the Grand Rapids Public Safety Board and the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative. She was endorsed by Kelly, who currently holds the seat, as well as current commissioners Senita Lenear and Kurt Reppart.
On election day, Ysasi won with 56.3 percent of the vote, whereas Falb received 43.2 percent support. In total, 11,299 citizens voted in the election.
Nathaniel Moody ran unopposed for the seat of City Commissioner for Ward 3. He received 99.09 percent of the vote, with .99 percent going to support write-in candidates. 7,701 people voted in that election in total.
Finally, citizens voted on the Parks, Pools and Playgrounds Proposal. In 2013, Grand Rapids voters approved an extra property tax to support parks, pools, and playgrounds throughout the city. This tax was approved for a seven-year period, set to expire in 2020. The Parks, Pools and Playgrounds Proposal would provide continued funding for parks and playgrounds in Grand Rapids, and ensure that all Grand Rapids pools and splash pads are able to be open and staffed every summer. This millage would be permanent, rather than temporary as its predecessor was.
The millage passed with strong support, with 70.4 percent of voters casting their ballots for the proposal and 20.6 percent of voters casting their ballots against it.
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