This week, FOX 17 is sitting down with each of the four candidates vying to be the next mayor in Grand Rapids to find out where they stand on issues facing the city and why they ultimately chose to run.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- It was roughly 15 years ago when Robert Dean first ran for city commission. He would eventually win the seat which had been held by then-commissioner George Heartwell.
Now, after a political career spanning nearly 20 years, Dean could once again wind up filling a seat that will soon be left empty by Mayor George Heartwell due to term limits.
Dean, who has served two terms in Lansing as a state representative, told FOX 17 he decided to jump into the race to address what he's referred to as a 'looming' budget deficit due to unfunded liabilities, an issue he said is being ignored by current city leadership.
“I began looking at it, and thought maybe I’m perceiving this wrong, maybe I’m not looking at this right. But I’m looking at the numbers off the city’s website and started questioning," Dean said.
"You can’t keep playing this shell game, you can’t keep borrowing to balance the budget, that’s what’s been done the last four years.”
Reducing debt, is one of four key policy statements Dean has built his campaign on. He said he also wants to balance neighborhood and business development, pave and maintain the city's streets, and ensure public safety in every neighborhood.
“We have to bring it all together and be fair and equitable in what we do," Dean said, while discussing why he wants to focus more attention on viability within the neighborhoods.
"It’s not really a redistribution of wealth, but it’s about opportunity. Give people opportunity to make it better for themselves and the city can help persons to make it better for themselves.”
Campaigning as ‘the people’s mayor’, Rev. Robert Dean is a life-long Grand Rapids resident who has served on the local school board, city commission and as a state representative in Lansing for two terms. He's been a pastor for 34 years.
So far, Dean has been outspent 5-to-1 by the candidate many consider to be his closest competitor: Rosalynn Bliss.
The campaign to elect Robert Dean has raised $16,937, according to campaign finance records from the county clerk's office. Dean's campaign has spent just more than $10,000, compared to more than $50,000 spent by Bliss' campaign.
Dean said he never sought to make a career out of politics, contending he always chose to run based on specific issues and personal callings.
A number of inner city killings of young teens in the late 1980s, in which he presided over nine funerals, was his first calling into politics. Seeking to change the system, he ran to become a school board member and won.
Following two terms with the city commission, Dean ran for and won a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives, where he served two terms.
“I keep quoting from the third ‘Godfather’ movie, Al Pacino, when I’m out they pull me back in," he quipped. "
I thought, you know, we have a massive debt that’s looming and it’s coming quick and what are they doing about it? So, here I am again.”
Watch an extended interview with candidate Robert Dean below.
When asked about his assessment of the current relationship between the city's police department and the community, Dean said he viewed police as having an adversarial role.
"I’ve always been an advocate for our police officers… but let’s have our officers interacting, putting them on bicycles, in the neighborhoods, they’re walking the beats, not just them driving through," he said.
Dean said he's seen significant improvement in police-community relations, following several policy changes in recent months, but adds the department needs more funding to be more effective within the community.
"There’s such limited resources. For the 2016 budget that’s proposed, six more officers have been added. Wow we still need more than that.”
The self-described pro-life Democrat, now a grandfather to seven, says he has the right relationships in place to run a successful administration in a city he's chosen to stay in his entire life to raise a family.
“I’ve seen the heyday, I’ve seen it go up and down, and seen it flourishing again and yet I’m seeing those gaps and as persons we want visitors to come but don’t forget those who are here," he said.
The primary mayoral race is set for Aug. 4. If a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote they will become the city’s next mayor. If not, the top two vote-getters will compete in a run-off election in November.