On Tuesday 2nd Ward City Commissioner Rick Tormala declared that he is running for mayor of Grand Rapids.
In his announcement there was some indication that he is willing to break the code of silence on the de facto right of first refusal and special tax breaks city officials give the River City oligarchs, namely Rich DeVos and Peter Secchia, on large downtown real estate deals. The city manager’s office under Kurt Kimball is the center of this corruption, and Tormala railed against Kimball’s usurpation of the City Commission’s role in setting policies and priorities – albeit obliquely – and incumbent Mayor George Heartwell’s acquiescence to this diminution of the people’s elected representatives – more pointedly.
That’s a start. Until Tormala or some other candidate for city office defines the crimes against the public trust and names the names of the perpetrators, the reform message will not resonate with the voters and its messengers will not win the election.
The voters need to be informed about how the city government has become a tool for DeVos and Secchia to use either to get control of downtown deals or to wet their beaks in the them. The voters need to be informed how they got their hands upon the levers of government power by anointing themselves as kingmakers, as the men who claim they can either make or break the ambitions of city officials, and nothing more.
For example, consider the girlish giddiness of Heartwell over the prospect of Secchia endorsing his re-election as mayor or the chastening of 1st Ward City Commissioner Jim Jendrasiak who opposed a taxpayer-subsidy for DeVos’s ritzy J.W. Marriot hotel project and was then challenged in the next election by a DeVos-Secchia backed candidate. Even four years after exiting three terms as mayor carrying water for DeVos and Secchia, Logie still pushes their agenda with the hope that these Republicans will back his Democratic run for the U.S. Congress once Vern Ehlers retires. Then there are the rumors that City Manager Kimball and his assistant Eric DeLong have been promised cush jobs after they leave their posts.
The voters should be shocked at how cheaply their public servants go for these days. Look at what DeVos and Secchia got in return for some kind words, a few promises, a couple of bucks, and the occasional excoriation behind closed doors. Public funding of the arena and convention center (which boosted the value of nearby DeVos and Secchia properties like the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel which climbed $20 million or more), the nixing of a Monroe North parking ramp needed by a competing developer in favor of a ramp DeVos wanted for his project, the bargain Secchia got on the City Center, the legal defense of the Toxic Towers developers (financed by Secchia’s bank and assisted by DeVos’s property management firm), taxpayer subsidies to DeVos for the Marriot hotel project and the Chrisman medical complex on Michigan Street, and so on.
Then again, maybe not so shocked. Going along to get along is Logie’s legacy from his long reign as mayor of Grand Rapids. Over a dozen years Logie accumulated personal power by holding several board and commission seats tied to real estate development and didn’t hesitate to bully and intimidate the weak sisters among our public servants on behalf of DeVos and Secchia. People got used to doing what was expected of them by Boss Logie to avoid confrontation. Old habits die hard, and it’s no help that a phony progressive like Heartwell has tried to carry on the Logie oligarchic tradition for the past four years.
It’s well past time for a shake-up at City Hall. The old guard at the city manager’s office must go, as well as the politicians like Heartwell who abet their corrupt agenda.
A shake-up won't happen if no one calls them to account. The media’s not going to do it, especially with the newspaper of record run by a publisher who wants to be DeVos’s pal. Even the brave new world of the internet has plenty of old-fashioned cowards. For instance, the message board on UrbanPlanet.org that was critical of Secchia’s designs on downtown Grand Rapids disappeared into the ether. Of course, we’ll bark, but we’re not the big dog.
To get this job done it is up to politicians like Tormala and other candidates for city office to name the names of those who have abused the public trust.
The sixteen-year-long code of silence must be broken.