WEDNESDAY, Nov. 15 — The East Lansing City Council elected George Brookover last night to fill the mayoral seat once occupied by his father.
After newly elected members Kerry Ebersole Singh, Mark Meadows and Erik Altmann took their oaths of office, Meadows nominated Brookover. It went uncontested.
“The mayor is sitting in the seat that his father filled, which I think is fantastic,” Meadows, a former mayor himself, said. Brookover’s father, Wilbur Brookover, served from 1971 to 1975. The senior Brookover was an expert witness in Brown v Board of Education, in which the U.S. Supreme Court desegregated public schools, and “spent four years here during some very, very difficult times as the city moved away from what was its racist past, and went forward.”
Ebersole Singh, the wife of another former East Lansing mayor, state Sen. Sam Singh, was then elected as mayor pro tem, 3-2 vote. Brookover nominated his fellow incumbent, Dana Watson, for the position, while Altmann nominated Ebersole Singh. Meadows provided the tie-breaking vote.
After the vote, Rebecca Kasen, a resident who ran in the recent election and finished seventh out of eight candidates last week with a 6% voter share, stood up and spoke out against the decision.
“This is just racism. No one deserves it more than Dana,” she said, taking a brief pause. “I’ll see myself out. A bunch of racist, old white men.”
The incident went unacknowledged in the immediate aftermath, and Watson left the room for a moment before returning during the Council-member communications portion of the agenda. She thanked Meadows “for that reminder that we are supposed to be an anti-racist city.”
“We did pass some resolutions to speak to that as well. Hopefully, the current Council will get some familiarity with that,” Watson said.
From there, Watson offered a summary of her background, including how she was a student at MSU in 1997 and lived two blocks away from the site of what she referred to as the Gunson Street Riot, when a crowd of 500 burned a couch and set out to damage several police cruisers.
She didn’t say what should already be well known: that she was first appointed to fill a vacant seat in 2020, and in 2021 shared the distinction of becoming one of the first two Black representatives elected to serve on the East Lansing City Council with Ron Bacon, who was the city’s most recent mayor through last week’s election.
“I briefly served as mayor pro tem, and I would have loved to serve as mayor pro tem. But respectfully for the majority that rules in this vote, I also note that I did not reach out to my fellow Councilmembers to ask them to vote for me,” Watson said, seemingly addressing Kasen’s critical comments.
The new Council members each thanked their supporters and opponents in the recent election. In the eight-candidate race, Ebersole Singh finished first with 23%, while Meadows and Altmann, both former City Council members, carried 16% each.
“I thought we had a very good race. It was great to get to know some of the other candidates, people I hadn’t really had contact with previously, who I think will, at some point in the future, be back sitting on this end of the table,” said Meadows, who quit the Council in 2020 over the termination of the city attorney.
Said Altmann: “I thought we had a clean and thought-provoking campaign. The candidates did a great job of putting their issues on the table and keeping them there across the various discussion forums that we had. I think some of the issues they raised are going to be part of the conversation in the coming years.”
Ebersole Singh said that she "really enjoyed getting to know all the candidates and their families throughout the campaign season."
She said she decided to run because women in the community encouraged her.
“The reason that I got over that decision hump was the women of the community. It was the women who said, ‘You can do this.’ You can navigate being a mother, being a professional and servicing your community on council. Without their support and those early words, I would not have decided to move forward,” she said.
The meeting also saw the Council vote to accept a recommendation from the Elected Officers Compensation Commission to give themselves each a $400 pay raise over the next two years. It passed 4-1, with Watson opposed.
City Council members receive $8,760 each per year, and the mayor earns $10,200. The raise will boost those figures to $9,560 and $11,000, respectively. Meadows said he hopes the small boost will encourage residents from working backgrounds to seek a Council seat in future elections.
After the meeting, Brookover smiled and said it felt “great” to occupy a seat formerly held by his father. On his election, he said: “That’s a decision the council makes. I didn’t really know one way or the other.”
Brookover is the city’s fifth mayor in just as many years. Meadows served as mayor twice, from 1997 to 2005 and again from 2015 through 2017. Altmann served on the Council from 2015 to 2019, but lost his reelection bid.
City Hall is coming off a tumultuous year that began with the city firing former City Manager George Lahanas. City Clerk Jennifer Shuster and Deputy City Clerk Kathryn Gardner resigned the following month, and Deputy Police Chief Chad Connelly did the same in March. Many more have resigned in a recent staffing exodus, and ethics at City Hall were one of the most discussed issues on the campaign trail this fall.
However, as people began filing out of the Hannah Community Center, Altmann was in an optimistic mood about the city's future.
“I’ve learned a bunch of stuff through this campaign, and it really feels like knowledge is power. I’m really optimistic about this Council,” he said. “The big thing is making sure that all our staff positions are filled, making sure that there’s a cohesive city workforce. And that’s going to require some trust-building. And then there’s just a whole laundry list of things we heard about during the campaign we want to address.”
“You know, it’s great,” Meadows said about serving again. “It’s not about the money, it’s about the things that you can accomplish. I think that in this group we’ve made some great decisions in the past, hopefully we’ll be making great decisions on this council.”
“It’s exciting and humbling,” Ebersole Singh said. “But I very quickly turned the focus to the work. I was fortunate to have lunch with our city manager today. I’m just really looking at how we build rapport among the council, how we build a strategic plan in East Lansing, and how we move it forward."
“I look forward to doing that with my new colleagues who have been sitting members, to spend more time with them, get to know them and their backgrounds. We’ve had some conversations thus far in terms of issues we want to concentrate on, but I just look forward to deepening those relationships,” she added.
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