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Candidates answer citizen questions on economy, talent retention, Airbnb, transportation

With just four days before local citizens vote for their choice in the next mayor, we have candidates answering questions from local citizens.

Get ready to vote

Local polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, August 4.

Rules and rights regarding voting can be found here.

Your local polling location can be found here.


For more answers to citizen questions, read this article addressing candidate perspectives on their role as mayor and the question of understanding City finances. 


With local citizens headed to the polls on Tuesday, August 4 to select their choice for Grand Rapids’ next mayor, we’re bringing more responses from the candidates to our citizen questions.

Many citizens had questions about the local economy and talent retention, with one citizen asking the candidates to talk about their top three economic priorities.

Rosalynn Bliss identifies her priorities as supporting neighborhood business districts, safe and strong neighborhoods and a responsive City Hall that views business as a partner for the future. 

"Much like economic development, I have a 'gardening' philosophy rather than a 'hunter' approach," says Bliss about talent retention. "What that means is we should start with supporting STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS, and Math) innovators that are already here rather than trying to lure them here. That works in almost all sectors. As you grow the companies or culture, you reach a critical mass that becomes self perpetuating or has its own momentum."

John George would focus on reducing regulations, creating tax incentives and emphasizing education of our workforce. He says he'd love to lower taxes.

"I’m the only small government, low tax candidate running. I write about this in a post called Want Better Roads? Here’s One Way to Do It," he says. "I would hope to leave the foundations in place for future mayors to enact tax cuts, if they were of the same mind as me in that area.”

Robert Dean’s top three priorities, he says, would be to create a business friendly City Hall, stop raising taxes and emphasize Grand Rapids as a culturally diverse and wonderful place to raise a family.

One local citizen asked candidates' thoughts on the Economic Growth Office adding an Arts and Culture office within it, as cities like Toronto and Austin have done.

"Clearly Arts and Culture are an asset that can help drive economic investment in our city," says Bliss. "I will note one intriguing practice Austin has was to commit a given amount (2%) of construction projects budgets to art. The result was a city full of public art, active art education and events, and a true commitment." She says though she has taken a preliminary look at Austin's practices, without a specific proposal she wouldn't be able to determine whether this development should be handle within the City or with another organization, such as the Right Place or the Chamber of Commerce.

Another point of interest to local citizens is the sharing economy, such as Airbnb. 

“Modern technology has allowed the development an opportunity for small entrepreneurs to participate and the great American tradition,” says Dean about sharing economy platforms. “As long as everyone operate within the rule of law on a fair playing field, competition is a very healthy thing that services customers well.”

Bliss, part of assessing and determining the recent regulations determined regarding Airbnb, says that no government policy should “smother innovation or competition.”

“However, we do have a role in ensuring public safety and fairness to other businesses operating in the same sectors,” she says. “Balance can be achieved and we are watching other cities and also monitoring the experience here in Grand Rapids.”

When asked what candidates would do to encouraging surrounding cities and townships to participate in the Interurban Transit Partnership, candidates varied in their assessment of the City's and mayor’s role in making this happen.

“We have to demonstrate it is a good value for their residents and business owners,” says Bliss. “That begins with highlighting the benefits we are experiencing and looking for ways to produce a similar experience in their community.”

George says he would lean on others’ expertise.

“I would use the experience and recommendations of the Rapid, work with members of the city commission, and determine the best course of action in that manner,” he says.

Dean, in comparison, sees any change as resident-driven.

“When any mass trans system is perceived by the customer as a value proposition,” he says, “it will then be adapted by surrounding community’s public ridership will increase.”

When it comes to specifically supporting and retaining young adults of color, George says he would encourage all young people, regardless of race, to get an education in the medical field.

"It’s a wide spectrum employer," he says. "If you have the education, show up for work, and do a good job while you’re there, you will be a considered a valuable employee regardless of race.”

Dean says a sense of welcome and quality education are keys to retaining young adults of color. 

"The key to a diverse community just to make everyone feel welcome no matter what there or race gender,” he says. “Ensure that every child departs our school system prepared to function in the new economy. This means emphasis on reading, language, math, science, critical thinking and appropriate social behavior.”

Bliss says there are several areas which need improvement in order to support young people of color.

“I think we start with making this a place where all can receive a quality education, live in a safe and secure neighborhood, support the continued growth of our economy to produces jobs,” she says, “and ensure that our culture and community embraces diversity."


Willard Lee was not available for comment.

Local polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, August 4. If any of the four candidates garners 51% or more of the votes in the Primary on Tuesday, they will be elected mayor at that point, and will not continue on towards the November elections. All registered voters are encouraged to go out to vote. Rules and rights regarding voting can be found here. Your local polling location can be found here.

For more answers to citizen questions, read this article addressing candidate perspectives on their role as mayor and the question of understanding City finances. 

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