GR mayoral candidate Rosalynn Bliss: ‘I’m not Mayor Heartwell. Period.’

Posted at 4:54 PM, Jul 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-30 16:54:52-04

This week, FOX 17 is sitting down with each of the four candidates vying to be the next mayor of Grand Rapids, to find out where they stand on issues facing the city and why they ultimately chose to run.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- She boasts nearly a decade of experience serving the city as a commissioner for the second ward, but now Rosalynn Bliss says she's ready to serve everyone as the city's next mayor.

Winningthe endorsement of outgoing--and now term-limited--Mayor George Heartwell, Bliss has been faced with critics who argue a vote for her would be a vote for another Heartwell administration.

“I’m not Mayor Heartwell. Period," Bliss said when asked about the criticism she's received from some.

"Have I learned a lot from him? Absolutely. Do I think that a lot of great things have happened in our city under his leadership? Absolutely."

But Bliss said her approach and focus as mayor will vary greatly from the only mayor Grand Rapids has known for more than a decade.

“My leadership style is different. I really enjoy getting involved and being a part of solving problems and working on local issues, so I think my style is a little different," Bliss said.

Part of Bliss' differing focus will center on giving more attention to neighborhoods, in what she calls being 'hyper' local about issues she chooses to take on and address.

“Even with all the great things happening in our city and the economic growth we’ve experienced, not everyone has experienced that same benefit. There are a lot of neighborhoods that still need to be revitalized, that are still struggling," she said.

"We cannot just have this cookie cutter approach. Every neighborhood is different, every neighborhood is unique."

Growing up in Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan's upper peninsula, Bliss has now lived in Grand Rapids for the better part of 20 years. With a background in social work, Bliss currently works as the director of residential services with the  St. Johns Blodgett home. She said she's be prepared to scale back her duties to part-time if elected.

The second ward commissioner could wind up being the first woman ever elected as mayor in Grand Rapids. While a point of pride, Bliss said it's not what she wants voters to focus on.

"I want people to vote for me because they think I’m the best candidate, because they trust me, because they know I’m going to put my heart into this," she said. "And if I happen to be the first female, that would be a huge a responsibility and I would take that seriously.”

When asked about the city's long term financial stability, Bliss is quick to counter claims made by other candidates declaring 'looming' budget deficits due to unfunded liabilities, saying it just isn't true.

"We’ve made significant adjustments to our benefits and reduced long-term liability, and we’ve also made a lot of changes in city hall to be more sustainable operationally," she said. "That was really tough work and I learned a lot from that."

When it come to evaluating the current relationship between the city's police department and community as a whole, Bliss touted new policy changes the commission was able to work toward with the department to implement body cameras and evaluate hiring practices, among other recommendations.

“We’re working on those things right now, but it takes time," she said. "It’s not going to change overnight but there is an absolute commitment to improve community and police relations.”

Bliss had managed to outpace other candidates when it comes to fundraising. Records from the Kent County Clerk's Office show her campaign has brought in more than $92,000, with more than $30,000 raised during a single fundraising event held at Harmony Brewing in June.

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.