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Meet the candidates: 2024 Grand Rapids mayoral election

Get to know the four candidates running for the seat of mayor of Grand Rapids before the Aug. 6 primary election!
Top row from left to right: David LaGrand, Senita Lenear. Bottom row from left to right: Hailey Lynch-Bastion, Steve Owens.

Top row from left to right: David LaGrand, Senita Lenear. Bottom row from left to right: Hailey Lynch-Bastion, Steve Owens. /Photos courtesy of Hailey Lynch-Bastion and Senita Lenear (credit: Executive Visions) and the official campaign websites of David LaGrand and Steve Owens.

Disclosures and additional information

In the interest of transparency, The Rapidian is disclosing that one of the candidates is a relative of the board chair of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center. However, the board has no involvement or input in any facet of this article, including the questions asked.

The responses provided have only been edited for minor corrections, such as spelling, punctuation, missing words and general readability.

This article is a component of The Rapidian's Democracy Project. 2024 is a major election year and will have significant impacts on Grand Rapidians as we elect a new mayor. Our goal is to make information about local government, local elections and civic engagement accessible, digestible and engaging. For more information about voting, download The Rapidian's 2024 Grand Rapids voter guide.

Grand Rapidians are in for a major election year in 2024. Not only will there be an election for president of the United States, but several local offices. Among those is the mayoral seat for the City of Grand Rapids.

There will be four mayoral candidates on the ballot for the primary election on Aug. 6—David LaGrand, Senita Lenear, Hailey Lynch-Bastion and Steve Owens.

The Rapidian reached out to all four candidates and asked them to provide answers to seven questions via an online questionnaire. Their answers can be found below:


Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and some of the work you have been involved in.

LaGrand: I served as a Kent County assistant prosecutor, founded Four Friends Coffeehouse, the Wealthy Street and Hall Street Bakeries and Long Road Distillers. I also served as a GR city commissioner, school board member and Michigan State Representative from 2015-2022. [I] am currently an attorney. I worked in 2023 to create and get funding for a Michigan Sentencing Commission, legislation which has passed the Michigan House and is pending in the Michigan Senate. My areas of legislative focus have been in criminal justice reform and environmental initiatives.

Lenear: My name is Senita Lenear. I am a wife, mother, business owner and civic leader who has been elected to and completed terms [as a] Grand Rapids Public School Board [member] and Third Ward commissioner in the City of Grand Rapids. I moved to Grand Rapids at nine and have lived here ever since. I am a Creston Polar Bear, Cornerstone Eagle and have served on a number of non-profit boards. I have union experience and later corporate experience at the largest healthcare insurance provider in the state of Michigan, where my experience in human resources, management and community relations have been beneficial as I have served in public office.

Lynch-Bastion: I'm an artist, philosopher and occultist who specialises in Deleuzo-guattarian theory and practice as viewed through a Thelemic lens, with an emphasis on Taoist and Sufic interpretation. I know that sounds like nonsense.

I have fought a forest fire and won. I have fallen into a waterfall and lived. I have crossed a chasm 'pon fallen tree. I have climbed atop mountains during thunderstorms.

Owens: I graduated from West Catholic High School in 2007. After high school, I enlisted in the Marine Corps and was honorably discharged in 2011. After my military service, I received a Bachelor's from GVSU and a Master's from The University of Tennessee. After graduation, I worked in the federal judiciary before transitioning to the private sector.


Q: What are your top priorities and why?

LaGrand: 1) Better justice and policing outcomes in Grand Rapids, working with law enforcement and stakeholders since safety and justice are always a top priority for citizens. 2) Progress on affordable housing and homelessness as we have a nationwide problem and Grand Rapids is not exempt. 3) Better infrastructure design and neighborhood investment since citizens deserve a well designed livable city with unique vibrant neighborhoods. 4) Clean government initiatives since we have a current crisis of trust in government at all levels in the US.

Lenear: While serving on the Grand Rapids [City] Commission, I was able to accomplish several initiatives that continue beyond my tenure. As mayor, I would like to continue the work on the SAFE Taskforce anti-violence strategy.

Innovative Development - As commissioner, I advocated [for] addressing housing needs and increasing economic development by creating an economic plan dubbed A2P or L2P.  Alpine, 28th Street and Plainfield or Lake Michigan Drive, 28th Street and Plainfield. There are stretches of land on these streets that have the capacity for creative development, which could include housing and businesses. As mayor, I will make the research surrounding the needs a priority for the Commission.

SAFE Taskforce - Commissioner Lenear served as the chairwoman for Mayor Heartwell’s Safe Alliance for Everyone (SAFE) Task Force, an innovative and system-based violence reduction strategy, in 2015. Since the inception, and continuing to this day, SAFE has supported over $600,000 in grants to grassroots organizations and individuals who lead anti-violence strategies in Grand Rapids. As commissioner, Senita Lenear championed this work, which also includes police and community relations, and continues to serve on the task force advocating for proven results and increased funding.

Third Ward Equity Fund - The City's economic development data shows the lack of financial investments within the Third Ward. As a result, households and businesses have missed opportunities to thrive at the same level as other wards. Before the city's data was published, Commissioner Lenear was championing funding for the Third Ward Equity Fund, which had a number of initiatives that it funded. Commissioner Lenear was able to secure $50,000 the first year and upon her departure as commissioner, the annual allocation had increased to $1 million. While championing funding for TWEF, she highlighted the need for funding for Plainfield and 1st Ward. Her goal is to address inequities and they exist across the city's wards. The TWEF has contributed to the MLK Lodge project, a "keeping people in their homes" foreclosure prevention initiative, and lead awareness campaign, along with funding for facade improvements in business districts outside of the Southtown CIA.

Good Government - It is important that as these priorities and ideas are implemented, they are accessible for the community to utilize. Supporting the current, effective administrative staff of the City and encouraging policies and procedures to provide excellence in the services we provide to all parties who engage with the city, is a value for Senita Lenear. Building on the high-level service that comes through our 311 system and continuously spreading that throughout the organization will allow for consistent, timely and thorough responses, in addition to accessibility of services online.

Carbon Neutral Plan - The City of Grand Rapids has embraced a community-wide carbon neutral [plan] and Commissioner Lenear has interest in learning more about this plan and encourage implementation with the City and broader community.

Lynch-Bastion: To assist the homeless, the starving, the poor, the disabled and the exhausted—we all know why, or used to as children. Further, to combat climate change and its effects, the reason why being that many people still aren't taking their heatstroke seriously—to the point of denial! Wherefrom does the global effort to, literally, save the human species from dystopic barbarism eek out, insufficient. Immediate action is needed. Plus, I'm sensitive to temperature fluctuations.

Owens: Ensuring no tax dollars are spent on politicians’ vanity projects. Even though there is no need for a new maintenance facility, the city is spending almost $150 million to relocate the maintenance facility to make way for the amphitheater. As mayor, I will do everything to stop tax dollars from being directly or indirectly spent on needless projects such as the amphitheater, soccer stadium and aquarium. Taxpayers deserve to have their money spent on things that benefit the entire community, such as road and sidewalk maintenance, schools, plowing and more.

I am also concerned about the price of childcare. It has gotten so expensive that it often makes more sense for women to leave the workforce and take their expertise with them instead of enrolling their children in childcare. We can lower the price of childcare by incentivizing businesses to provide on-site, subsidized childcare.

I am also frustrated by the lack of plowing in the city. It shouldn’t take days for the sidestreets to get plowed.


Q: The City is currently in the process of updating its Master Plan. What is your vision for the City of Grand Rapids over the next 20 years?

LaGrand: I want Grand Rapids to grow well—with good paying, rewarding jobs, room for new citizens and a City that leads the nation on policing policy, housing initiatives, green investments and good city design.

Lenear: I am currently hosting Neighborhood Connections, where I have already spent time in each of the three wards hosting gatherings for the community to come and share their ideas about the future of our city. My vision will include the priorities I mentioned, coupled with the input of the citizens of our city. I am eager to see the outcome of the Master Planning process because it will include the perspective of the various sectors of the community.

Lynch-Bastion: I would see edible plants and shade producing trees adorn the city as opposed to auditoriums and stadiums. I would see the homeless housed and our most vulnerable in a place of safety. I would see the work week decreased to no detriment and the worker's quality of life improved, their leisure time no longer dedicated to laundry. I would see the smog dissipate and the weather reports' color no longer red. I would see the buses filled and the bike lane busy. I would see my community as family and friends, and no longer strangers—even when strangers. I would see my community feel the same.

I would see the loss of young life decreased. I would see depression and anxiety addressed properly. I would see safe use locations used and rehabilitation offered. Further, I would see that the conditions that cause one to indulge vice—poverty and trauma—taken seriously and solved.

Finally, I would see what I will see and adjust accordingly.

Owens: The City needs to think longer-term. It needs to look at problems in other cities and take action to avoid them. One of the biggest complaints in larger cities is traffic. The City needs to start making plans for mass transit today if it wants to avoid the problem in the future. Even if the City never uses the plans, we should remember what Dwight Eisenhower said, “plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”


Q: How will you work to maintain and/or improve transparency in local government?

LaGrand: First, I want to enact policy that requires financial disclosure by all City elected officials, mirroring legislation I wrote at the state level. Second, I intend to make performance and fiscal department audits public, not private. Third, I intend to institute a rolling weekly town hall discussion moved around the city to discuss major policy areas for the City.

Lenear: Transparency is important and should be valued by the elected body. As mayor, I will foster an environment where we are transparent.

Lynch-Bastion: If you follow my Facebook/Instagram, I post like the depths of my entire life lmao.

Like, I post every step taken on this silly little journey, my thoughts, the details of the process, etc., so at least from my position I will be able to continue and increase this form of engagement.

Owens: The City needs to improve the City’s website. It’s hard and time-consuming to find the simplest information. The City also needs to stop having public meetings during working hours.


Q: There have been comments made about inequitable economic opportunities in the City, particularly as it pertains to the BIPOC community. How do you plan to address this?

LaGrand: The US has a legacy of inequality that will not vanish quickly, and needs a lot of work. One of the biggest drivers of that inequality is the working of our justice system and the aftermath of justice system involvement. I intend to tackle that at the city level and the state level. Another driver of inequality is the tendency to focus on big projects, which have large funding sources. I intend to focus on lowering the barriers to smaller projects, and focus on those projects for investment support. I also intend to work with the many organizations working on funding for access to capital for historically disadvantaged groups.

Lenear: I am proud that I was a part of the expansion of the Madison Square Corridor Improvement District Authority’s expansion into six business districts across the south side of Grand Rapids. It is now called Southtown and we have been pouring [resources] into many BIPOC businesses to help with façade improvements and other corridor approved initiatives.

While on the Commission, I also championed the expansion of the “Monday Group” to broaden the scope of the businesses that are doing business with the City. As mayor, I would continue to encourage this type of engagement. I have also studied models for equitably engaging BIPOC businesses in larger projects that are on larger scales.

Lynch-Bastion: Frankly, a system controlled by a massively white catholic and evangelical class is never going to willingly cede power to people of color, save for the minimal amount they can give away without losing any of their personal wealth and status—or in the liberal guise of progressive charity.

To begin with, we must uplift BIPOC people through financial support of their businesses, congregate and consult with indigenous leaders & communities and connect these disparate communities—all engaged in the same struggle to survive—that they might uplift each other en masse. However, it is not so simple as replacing the people atop the system in play, it is a question of instituting and maintaining a more democratic structure entirely.

Owens: If equitable outcomes are a desire of the community, there’s no better way to assure they aren’t addressed than by taking millions of taxpayer dollars and hurling it into the endless pits that will be the amphitheater, soccer stadium and aquarium.


Q: How do you plan to balance urban/economic development with the needs of the community? For example, how will you mitigate potential negative impacts on neighborhoods by redevelopment projects?

LaGrand: The first and most important way to achieve balance is a robust listening and discussion process. Second, I intend to explore mechanisms for benefit agreements, where a defined portion of the value of a development flows to the neighborhoods affected and the city in general. Third, we need to put careful agreements in place around development that ensures compliance with promised benefits, such as a percentage of affordable housing in a project.

Lenear: Addressing housing needs is a complex issue that needs complex solutions. Housing needs should be addressed regionally. We have to be creative in our approach in Grand Rapids because of our limited land available for building large scale projects. I will continue to engage and encourage developers to get involved in increased housing developments. I will encourage diverse housing stock, because each neighborhood should have housing options for all price points. I will work further on the ASP project I spoke of earlier, to look closely at streets that have empty commercial spaces that are underutilized. I will respect the desires of those that are challenged by housing that encroaches on their property. I believe having dialog[ue] is an important way to address the[se] concerns. We could also look at some of the other policies that allow for engagement with neighbors prior to making changes to neighborhoods, [which] is also important.

Lynch-Bastion: I will literally shred and eat any bill that prioritizes profit over people. Hell no. The fact that this is a valid question to ask somebody is horrifying to me. If the development doesn't benefit the people around it/within it, then what is the bloody point of calling it development? Growth doesn't inherently imply health—it is oft a sign of cancer.

Owens: I will engage with residents prior to any redevelopment projects so I have a good understanding of their needs and concerns. Afterward, I will inform them of the timeline, goals and potential impacts. After getting feedback, we can work together to come up with a solution to mitigate any negative effects.


Q: Many residents at City meetings have expressed feeling like they are not being heard by local government. How do you plan to engage with and involve the community in decision-making?

LaGrand: City Commission meetings are very scripted and not the best format for discussion. We need a different format for real discussion and dialogue. I am provisionally naming these planned rolling town halls "Mayor's Mondays." I hope to gather citizen experts to form standing core participants and make the conversations accessible to everyone.

Lenear: As a commissioner, for a couple years as things heated up at the Commission meetings, I arrived half an hour earlier to meetings to give people access to engage with me directly. I will continue that practice as mayor. I have also enjoyed the Neighborhood Connections and I will institute something similar as mayor.

Lynch-Bastion: I will make a point to be available to the public for consultation as much as possible, both through the internet and by going around the city irl as much as possible. I believe frequent meetings with community-based interest groups both geographical (neighborhoods, wards, etc.) and cultural (Muslim & minority religious groups, indigenous communities, immigrant communities, etc.) will be beneficial and enjoyable for all parties involved.

I also genuinely feel like floor pillows would really help at the City Commission meetings.

Owens: First, establish regular community forums, town hall meetings and online platforms for feedback. Second, conduct surveys to gauge priorities and concerns. Third, establish advisory committees composed of community members to provide input on key decisions. Finally, prioritize transparent communication, providing clear information on decisions and their rationale.

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