GR mayor-elect: ‘A lot of issues we need to tackle’

Mayor-elect Rosalynn Bliss. (Dec. 16, 2015)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Community leaders, residents and business officials gathered in Grand Rapids Wednesday evening to say goodbye to Mayor George Heartwell and three other city officials who are retiring.

The retirement party was held at the DeVos Place and was meant to not only honor Heartwell, but also recognize Third Ward Commissioner Elias Lumpkins, First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski Jr. and Secretary Jane Bush for their service. The retirement of Heartwell, Lumpkins and Gutowski comes after voters approved a city charter amendment in November 2014 that instituted term limits for the mayor and commissioners.

During the event, the community recognized some of the accomplishments in Grand Rapids during Heartwell’s three terms as mayor.

Mayor George Heartwell at his retirement party. (Dec. 16, 2015)
Mayor George Heartwell at his retirement party.

“It’s the end of one era and the beginning of another and I feel very good about it,” Heartwell said. “It’s a time to sort of reflect back over things that we’ve been able to accomplish. I suppose I could tick off a number of projects, but I think maybe what I’m most proud of is the way the community has embraced the idea of sustainability and has moved in such a positive direction in a relatively short period of time — 12 years. Since I started talking about sustainability to where we are today, we’re business and nonprofit organizations, public institutions, colleges, universities; everybody accepts the fact that sustainability is the way we have to act and the way we have to go as a community. I’m very proud of that.”

He also said there are some things he wishes he had more time to work on.

“There are 50 things I wish I had done differently, but I guess if there were things that I wished I had more time to do, it would be some of our environmental initiatives, our energy initiatives. I wish that I had been more successful on our racial reconciliation initiative in this community, racial equity in this community. We’ve got a long way to go in both of those fields, and I’m confident that new leadership will take us there,” Heartwell told 24 Hour News 8.

The job will soon be in the hands of Mayor-elect Rosalynn Bliss. Heartwell believes the first challenge she will face is affordable housing.

“Downtown right now, downtown development is pretty evenly balanced between market rate and affordable housing that is some kind of tax credits or subsidies to reduce the rate, but all the new housing that’s coming on is market rate, so we’re going to have to find a way to keep those in balance and that’s not easy to do. That’ll be a real challenge for her and the next commission,” he said.

That’s just one of the issues Bliss is preparing to face.

“I think there’s probably a number of challenges. I think it’s hard to identify one,” she said. “We want to keep moving our city in the right direction. We have a lot of momentum but then we also have a lot of issues that we need to tackle, so there’s issues around land use and affordable housing and eliminating racial disparity and making sure that we are still an environmental sustainable city.”

The first thing on her agenda will be finding the person to fill her soon-to-be-vacant Second Ward seat on the city commission.

“We will take a couple months and hopefully find a really incredible candidate to fill in for the Second Ward City Commissioner and then I’ll have a commission that’s back to full force,” Bliss said.

She is following the footsteps of Heartwell and his predecessor, Mayor John Logie, but plans to make the job her own.

“I am who I am and I’ll bring my own personality and style and skill set to the position, and I know I’ll make it my own just as they both did,” Bliss said.

Now, the community and city officials are focused on what’s next for the city of Grand Rapids.

“When you have a great city, you have to address multiple issues at once and as well as keep it moving in the right direction,” Bliss said.

“It’s a very exciting time to look ahead to and with the leadership that Rosalynn Bliss is bringing to the office as mayor, I think we’re in for a great ride in Grand Rapids,” Heartwell said.

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