For the first time since 1961, the people of Battle Creek have the power to directly elect their mayor after it was approved voters March, replacing the previous system which had city commissioners vote for the mayor.
Candidates up for election on Nov. 3, 2020, include incumbent Battle Creek Mayor Mark Behnke, Battle Creek City 2nd Ward Commissioner Lynn Ward Gray, and political newcomer Jerry Steiner:
Behnke has been the city's mayor for six years, but not consecutively. If reelected, it would be his 30th year on the city commission. Behke said he's the most experienced candidate.
“I love our community. I love working with the people. And I think that with the business climate we’re in today, economically, it’s important to provide prosperity, and provide good jobs to our citizens of the city of Battle Creek," Behnke said.
He said he had pushed the idea of a direct mayoral election for years.
“When I first got elected to the city commission, I just said, 'why do a bunch of old grey haired guys get in a back room and decide who’s going to be the next mayor.' And I said we’d have a more transparent form of government and more responsive form of government if we had a mayor that was elected by the people," Behnke said.
Behkne said his top issues are economic development and affordable house.
“We have three affordable housing developments in the Battle Creek Housing Commission right now, and I’d like to see a fourth one built," he said.
Lynn Ward Gray
Economic development would also at the top of Lynn Ward Gray's list.
She's a community activist, and has been a Battle Creek city commissioner since 2009.
“Economic development and entrepreneurship, small business, large business, is really a key economic driver, and a way for individuals in our city to really be able to self sustain," Gray said.
Gray said she wants to bring more community involvement to the city's government process, and provide equity in everything the city does. Housing and health needs in the midst of the pandemic are areas Gray said she'd address as mayor.
“Everybody can see that I’m a woman and an African American. The thing that I really want to drive home, is that I am ready to lead. Because that’s what I’ve been doing," she said.
The only candidate with no political background is Jerry Steiner.
Steiner said he's a man of change. He said change is exactly what the city needs.
“The mayor is in touch with the people. That’s why I’m running for mayor, because they need to have someone who feels their pain, who understands the frustration of being left behind in the political process," Steiner said. “If I don’t run, it’s mayor Behnke, and Lynn Ward Gray. Two members who’ve been on the city commission for over 10 years.”
Steiner said he wants to help the disenfranchised in Battle Creek.
“The homeless, the disabled veterans. The single parents, the elderly. Hey, how can I leave anybody behind? We have to include everybody, even people we may not like. We’re not gonna get through this pandemic, the racial strife, the police, the government, unless we all come together," he said.
All candidates said they're happy the power is finally in the hands of the people of Battle Creek to make the decision on Nov. 3.