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Mayoral candidates answer citizen questions on their role as mayor, representing young voices, City finances

With just one week left until the Primaries, we’re bringing more questions from our local citizens that were sent to us on July 15 at the Mayoral Debate.

/Tiffany Szakal

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/Tiffany Szakal

/Tiffany Szakal

With just one week left until the Primary elections, with four mayoral candidates on the ballot and the possibility of our next mayor being chosen that day, we’re bringing more questions from our local citizens that were sent to us on July 15 at the Mayoral Debate held at Wealthy Theatre

The conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #2015GRmayor that night amassed quite a large number of questions. The hashtag continues to be used as the debates and discussions continue, but we’ve requested answers from questions asked on July 15. Below are answers to a few of our local citizens’ questions. More responses will be shared in days to come.

Lourdie Clark, 9 1/2 year old Grand Rapids resident asked why each of the candidates wanted to be mayor. Willard Lee says he wants to influence changes, as he hasn’t seen much change in quite a while. 

“Little one, I wish you to have a better upbringing than we had,” he says.

Robert Dean says he was inspired by his grandchildren to run for mayor. 

"We're in trouble here," he says. "And I thought it would be unfair for my grandchildren to bear the burden of unfunded mandates, if you would- so I got into the race."

“Grand Rapids is a bright spot in Michigan and I want to keep it that way,” says Rosalynn Bliss. “In addition to continuing to move us in the right direction, I want to be a part of addressing problems that need to be solved…I want to be Mayor to make sure Grand Rapids is a diverse city where families want to live and raise their children – and can afford to live and raise their children.…where people who feel excluded have a seat at the table and trust their voices will be heard.”

Bliss says her first days as mayor will focus on building a strong foundation. 

"I will be focused on meeting with people, listening, building relationships, learning and getting acclimated to the new position," she says. "I believe that a strong foundation is critical to being successful.

John George, who joined the race to encourage fluoride out of the water, encourages Clark to educate herself on the subject of the dangers of fluoride on his website.

“I know you can’t vote, but you should ask your parents if they approve of putting poison in the water supply, and if they’re not voting to take it out, why not?” he says.

Another question, originally by text, came from a first-time voter who wanted to know what the candidates would do to ensure that the voices of the youth of Grand Rapids would be heard and taken seriously.

Dean says he has prided himself in being involved and listening to others, whether he agrees with them or not, and bringing their concerns to the table.

"I've prided myself on that because I don't like being ignored," he says. "So how do other persons feel...I value humanity. I guess having gone to 39 countries and growing up in what I tell people is the barrio- it was us, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Cuban and Puerto Rican and white, right there in that little block. So I had to appreciate other cultures at an early age."

John George encouraged the young voter to get active and stay active, reaching out to City officials and representatives. He also encouraged research and education.

“Read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand,” George says, “which I read at your age, to understand the proper role of government and what happens when government power gets out of control.”

Questions of the financial state of the City and the data backing up a variety of claims were also challenged. When asked where they are sourcing their data, Bliss and George cited two different resources.

Bliss says she sources data and facts from the City’s dashboard which shows 2014 fiscal year with total revenues at $340,267,428 and total expenditures at $319,439,940.

George cites the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report City of Grand Rapids Michigan, which was submitted by Sara Vander Werff, City Comptroller and independently audited by BDO International.

“For more than a decade, the financial position of the City had been deteriorating, but with a temporary income tax rate increase, rebounding taxable incomes, substantial staff reductions, and changes to the City’s health insurance and pension programs, the City’s financial position appears to have stabilized, although many of the newly available resources are restricted to support specific activities,” says the report, concluding: “At June 30, 2014, the City is able to report positive balances in all three categories of net position.”

Dean says he gathered his conclusions from perusing the City's website.

"From my experience, from the state and then the city, going backwards as well as the school board, you begin to look at these financials and begin to look at their budgets and begin to analyze them, I think I have a much greater understanding just looking at the budgets and the projections and understanding what's really there or what's not there, and so that was the eye that I began to look at those things with and began to pull some things out," he says, saying there was no specific report he was using to gather his information. "Nope- it was just my perusing and just really looking at it, like I say, with the experiences that I've had."

When asked about their takeaways from the July 15 debate by the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Eta Nu Lambda chapter, @GRAlphas, the two self-described underdogs say they’ve learned from the process- but each walked away with opposite perspectives.

“I realized from the audience response that I am running against two political machines, so am therefore an underdog,” George says. “[But] If all the people who voted for term limits did so just to put a political retread in the mayor’s office, then why did we bother?”

Lee, in contrast, says he’s encouraged by the process. 

“I lack plenty of political know-how, and I should ask questions about what is asked of me before I reply. My biggest takeaway was that even though I'm doing poorly, the people of Grand Rapids still support me and motivate me to keep doing what I'm doing,” Lee says. “And that makes me happy."

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