Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero — Democratic candidate for governor — has been involved in politics since high school.
At that time, he helped campaign for his aunt to win her incumbent position as county commissioner. And his personal political career soon followed, first as a state representative for two years, then a position as state senator and finally taking the reigns in Lansing.
As mayor of Lansing, Bernero takes pride in his accomplishments while in office, like not raising taxes while maintaining his campaign promises of increased public safety and youth services.
Though Bernero says he appreciates how far Lansing has come as a city, he said he thinks he would be able to spark positive influence on a much larger scale — across the state — if he were elected governor.
“I feel as mayor a little bit like the guy in the engine room of a big ship,” he said. “No matter how much fuel I put on the fire, I can’t control the effect so much which direction the ship is going.
“I just think if I could get up on the deck and get my hands on the wheel I could do more to really turn the whole state around,” he added.
As part of his campaign platform, Bernero wants focus on making universities in the state more affordable.
“I intend to bring back the Michigan Promise,” he said. “It will not be easy. But it is a priority.”
With this in mind, Bernero emphasized the role students could play in the outcome of this election. Student votes could impact the outcome of an election with many student concerns at the heart of it, he said.
“Well, what’s at stake is the kind of Michigan that they want to grow up in and graduate into,” he said. “Do they want a Michigan of opportunity for everyone, an opportunity for folks on Main Street, or a Michigan of opportunity for only people at the top?”
Bernero, like his opponent Republican Rick Snyder, thinks one of the key aspects of maintaining this level of opportunity is to reduce Michigan’s brain drain — the phenomenon of students leaving the state after they graduate from higher education institutions to seek better opportunities elsewhere.
However, Bernero says, keeping college graduates in Michigan goes beyond creating economic opportunities because graduates are often looking to go to, as he puts it, “cool cities.”
“It starts with economic opportunity, but some people, even if they had a job offer here [and] a job offer in Chicago, they would take Chicago because of the city that it is,” he said.
Because of this desire to develop more interesting destinations after graduation, one of Bernero’s goals is to focus on making Michigan cities more attractive to graduates and young adults.
“Our cities need to be the hub of the wheel instead of the hole in the donut, I know what that means, that’s more than a slogan,” he said.
With all of these goals, Bernero said he recognizes the difficult road that lays ahead if he wins the election. But he is eager to tackle those difficult tasks.
“I’d love to have the opportunity to lead,” he said. “If I get this job, it’ll be a big challenge. I like a big challenge.”
But before he gets there, Bernero has a big fight ahead. Recent polls show him trailing Snyder by a significant margin. The fact that he is clearly behind hasn’t defeated the current mayor though.
“I’m going to work damn hard until the minute the polls close, until 8 p.m.,” he said.
Moreover, Bernero said he refuses to throw in the towel because elections are historically volatile.
“Elections have turned very quickly in other races,” he said. “It’s still anybody’s game as far as I’m concerned.”
Despite his conviction that he could still pull out a win, Bernero said if he is unsuccessful, he would definitely return to his position as mayor of Lansing. On the question of whether or not he would consider running for governor again if he loses, he answered that it is “impossible to say.”
Brenda Lawrence, Bernero’s running mate and current mayor of Southfield, said she thinks Bernero is the ideal candidate for governor, even more so because of the challenge that running Michigan in its current state will bring.
She said Bernero’s vast experience would help him succeed in office, particularly during these tough economic times.
“When you’re in a crisis, and Michigan is truly in a crisis, you don’t put someone in that position who does not have experience,” Lawrence said. “Experience does matter.”
Lawrence added that Bernero’s “driven” personality would help him propel the state in the right direction. She said he is the type of person who doesn’t simply talk about taking action, but actually does it.
His running mate is not the only person who thinks Bernero is qualified. The candidate has received support from a wide-range of groups and leaders, including the UAW, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the University’s chapter of College Democrats.
Granholm wrote in an e-mail to The Michigan Daily that she thinks Bernero is the right man to lead Michigan going forward.
“Virg Bernero has a Main Street agenda that is the right agenda for Michigan,” she wrote. “I support him and remain hopeful that voters will look at his plan for Michigan before November 2.”
Brendan Campbell, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said the student organization backs Bernero as the next governor because he represents ideals important to students.
“We’re proud to support Virg because we recognize he represents students views,” Campbell said. “He knows that we need to bring back the Michigan Promise scholarship so that more Michiganders have access to higher education.”
In fact, Bernero’s commitment to making college a reality for Michiganders strikes a personal nerve for the candidate. Though he didn’t attend either university, as the father of both a Michigan State student and a University of Michigan graduate, Bernero said he is “always rooting for one or the other.”
As the election’s close quickly approaches, Bernero said the race itself has been a hectic, exciting ride.
“It’s been an incredible adventure, from a personal perspective for myself and my family,” he said.
— A. Brad Schwartz contributed to this report.