The Rapidian

Two 3rd Ward community leaders race for City Commission seat

Voters have a choice between two 3rd Ward city commissioner candidates whose goals are aimed at economic opportunity, equitable housing and safety. The winner will replace term-limited Elias Lumpkins.
Dave Allen (left) and Bryan Blakely

Dave Allen (left) and Bryan Blakely /Courtesy of Allen and Blakely campaigns

How to Vote

  • Polls are open Nov. 3, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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As Grand Rapids 3rd Ward Commissioner Elias Lumpkins reaches his term limit, two new candidates are on the Nov. 3 ballot to replace him. Each hopes to emphasize community safety and economic opportunity for one of the city’s most diverse populations.

“The city of Grand Rapids is great, but it’s not great for all people,” says candidate Dave Allen, whose four-point plan as commissioner would include providing equitable services across all wards, ensuring the safety of citizens, targeting job opportunities at low-income communities and providing stable housing. 

Allen’s opponent, Bryan Blakely, has called the 3rd Ward home his entire life, where he is Executive Director of Bates Place Ministries. He says that over the past five years, he has used the church as a place to foster better relations between the community and law enforcement.

“I invite them in and we have coffee and pastries, and I invite the community and we express our views and concerns,” he says.

Improving relations with the Grand Rapids Police Department is the first of three points to Blakely’s plan for the city. The other two include providing better opportunities for low-income and minority populations, as well as bringing broad economic development projects to new parts of the city.

“I want to ensure that all of our children are provided every opportunity to live a successful life,” Blakely says.

Allen, who has lived in the 3rd Ward since 1993, has founded the nonprofits Oakdale Neighbors, City Vision and Lighthouse Communities. He has served on the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) Board of Education for seven years, including two years as president.

Allen has also served as Executive Director of Lighthouse Communities and the Kent County Land Bank Authority, which has overseen the redevelopment of 850 properties under his direction.

“I think that gives me a really strong view on community transformation,” Allen says. “I’m very comfortable with complex budgets.”

Allen says one of his main goals as commissioner would be to ensure community safety.

“We need to be sure that our police and our fire are properly funded, properly trained and properly equipped,” he says. “And most importantly are working really well together with the community – the entire community.”

As GRPS board member, Allen says he helped pass a bond issue that opened “huge doors of opportunities” for large-scale contractors to work with minorities. He says the city can make a requirement for developers who are getting large tax breaks to partner with local suppliers in order to get those tax breaks.

“There’s no requirement on what types of jobs are being created,” Allen says. “The jobs have to be targeted toward the demographics of the communities so that people are getting jobs that actually need them.”

If elected, Allen says he hopes to connect voices across the 3rd Ward.

“Those are very divergent issues, needs [and] voices,” he says. “That’s something I’m going to be working very hard on so that I hear all the voices of the 3rd Ward.”

Allen encourages community members to continue to reach out to him as he seeks to represent them.

“People know where I live; they knock on my door,” he says. “I would continue to hope to carry on that level of accessibility.”

Bryan Blakely says his candidacy isn’t about politics, but about passion.

“I love people; I love my community; I love the city I live in,” Blakely says. “I especially love the 3rd Ward.”

As an African-American community leader, he says, he understands the issues that face his ward, specifically a disparity of economic opportunities for minorities.

“We’ve got to talk about the big elephant in the room,” he says. “Grand Rapids has a lot of potential moving forward toward those things, but we’re talking about a 3rd Ward that is very highly minority.”

Commissioners need to reflect the communities they serve, Blakely says.

“How is it morally right to not have everyone at the table?” he says.

Blakely says he wants to promote entrepreneurship whiles providing affordable housing, which he calls “gentrification with justice.” He says he wants to promote diversity in the 3rd Ward, which he says he values in his own life and for his own family.

“I don’t want my kids to grow up in a community where it’s just African-Americans, because that’s not what the world looks like,” he says. “I think a certain way, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right way. If I can push for diversity, that’s what it’s about.”

His candidacy for City Commissioner is built on a life of service, Blakely says, which is reflected in his work as a pastor. He hopes to be accessible and to be able to reach out to impact more of the Grand Rapids community.

“The next step is the commission,” he says. “The position on commission does not define me. This is what I do. The only thing it does is expand my boundaries a little more.”

Blakely says his goals going forward are to be “accessible, aware and authentic.”

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