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MLive editorial says elected officials should be held accountable, yet their coverage of Inequity in the 3rd Ward gives elected officials a free pass

October 21, 2019

Last Thursday, the editorial staff of MLive wrote a piece about the lack of equitable funding and investment into the 3rd Ward of Grand Rapids. The opinion piece states earlier on: 

Yet the city government has failed – time and again – to invest equally in the Third Ward. And that needs to change now.

However, the editorial piece from MLive doesn’t offer up any conclusions as to why this inequity has occurred, nor do they offer any examples of how it could be fixed. Last Wednesday, we wrote that much of the problem in the third ward stems from the fact that structural racism is deeply rooted in this community and that Neo-Liberal Capitalism is also to blame.

MLive has also published several additional articles about the 3rd ward and the lack of resources and investment going to that part of the city. On October 16, MLive posted a story headlined, Southtown aspires to be ‘secondary downtown’ in Grand Rapids’ oft-ignored ward , which focuses on the Southtown Corridor Improvement District. The Southtown Corridor Improvement District is primarily made up of business owners or representatives of business districts in the third ward, a fact that demonstrates that the city thinks that only business people know anything about investment or community empowerment. MLive repeats the notion that business knows best by suggesting that the 3rd Ward follow the examples of what has happened on Leonard Street, Bridge Street and Wealthy Street. Granted, these areas have been invested in by numerous business people, but we rarely asked who has been the primary beneficiaries of this investment. White people have been the primary beneficiaries, particularly white people who already had class privilege, while people of color and some poor working class whites have been displaced by increased rent costs in those areas or because the places they were living in were bulldozed to make room for new development projects.

Additional articles by MLive were also written last week, articles that came out after the initial piece that pointed out that the 3rd Ward of Grand Rapids was not getting the same kind of government and private investment that the rest of the city was seeing. However, the rest of the MLive pieces tended to focus on what those with power will do and not on what the public, or in this case, what the residents of the 3rd Ward might want.

The October 15th MLive story focuses on what City Manager Mark Washington is planning on doing, partly based on his experience as City Manager in Austin, Texas. The other MLive piece (Oct. 16) is essentially a video tour of the 3rd Ward, narrated by 3rd Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear. The video shows us people from the 3rd Ward, but we never hear from them, instead Commissioner Lenear gets to frame the issue as she sees it. This MLive piece was not what journalism should look like. Reporters should not be sending out video-graphers to films what those with political power want them to see and provide them with a voiceover opportunity. The function of journalism should be to hold those with political and economic power accountable. In fact, in the editorial piece from MLive on October 17, the editorial staff writes:

At the end of the day, it is our elected leaders who we must hold accountable for ensuring that all residents of Grand Rapids are treated fairly and granted equal opportunities, and that includes getting their fair share of parks and city-induced economic development.

Sadly, the reporters who wrote the pieces last week about the lack of equity in the city’s 3rd Ward, did not hold elected leaders accountable, instead they provided them with an uncritical forum to say what they wanted.

But what would accountability from the news media look like? First, MLive could have looked at all of the City Budget discussions since Senita Lenear was elected in the fall of 2014, to see what the 3rd Ward Commissioner did to fight for more equitable funding for the ward she represents. Second, MLive could have looked at the commissioner’s voting record as it related to funding issues or development projects. Lastly, MLive could have looked at who have been the major campaign funders backing Lenear as she has run for the 3rd Ward seat. There are campaign finance records that are easily accessed from the County Clerk’s office. One section of Commissioner Lenear’s 2014 campaign finance reports tells an interesting story about who back her first campaign. 

Almost every contributor in that 2014 document represents individuals or entities that have tremendous power in Grand Rapids and the State of Michigan. The first contributor listed is Charlie Secchia, the son of Peter Secchia, who contributed $500, followed by Stephen Van Andel, who also kicked in $500. Then there are 12 separate contributions that all come from 126 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 500. This address belongs to the DeVos Family and RDV Corporation. The 12 separate contributions total $2,850, all coming from DeVos family members or personnel that works for them. Therefore, we have to ask, does this amount of funding from the DeVos family provide them with unlimited access to Commissioner Lenear? Does the 3rd Ward Commissioner seek their counsel? More importantly, which interests does Commissioner Lenear really represent, the residents of the 3rd Ward or the people who pay for her to get elected?

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