Heartwells Last Stand


    GRAND RAPIDS — Mayor George Heartwell said it is fine with him if fighting for his belief over a contentious issue turns into his Waterloo

    Heartwell calmly cast his opposition to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative as personal last week when he addressed commissioners at their Committee of the Whole meeting. He revealed then he has received 180 e-mails criticizing his criticism of Proposal 2, the ballot measure that 58 percent of the state’s voters approved last month that ends affirmative action programs from being enacted in the public sector.

    Heartwell said those who took him to task for the position he first expressed a few weeks back — possibly having the city legally challenge the measure’s outcome —  called him a despot, an emperor, a king and an idiot, and added that those names were the “nice ones” he was called.

    The mayor said the condemning messages told him the people had spoken and he had no right to challenge their decision. But Heartwell said city voters defeated the proposal and he represents city residents. He also said some e-mail writers told him the measure bans racial, gender and ethnic preferences in the hiring and awarding of public contracts, and anyone who opposes that view is a racist.

    “I have been labeled a racist in the past two weeks for standing up for minority rights,” he said, while adding that he has spent most of his career fighting for civil rights.

    Heartwell said Proposal 2 pretends to be a civil rights initiative, but it actually opposes civil rights and will eventually lead to the re-desegregation of society. He remarked that the Constitution contains built-in protections for minorities and going to court is one of those.

    “I believe Proposal 2 is a nail in the coffin of civil rights,” he said.

    Heartwell said every public official has an issue that he or she won’t bend on and this is his, even if it means he becomes a one-term mayor because of that stance.

    “This is it for me,” he said.

    But the mayor added he wasn’t ready to take the next step, yet.

    “It’s premature to take action. We must move forward with adjustments to our own programs. We won’t break the law,” he said in reference to the city’s hiring and contracting policies.

    City Manager Kurt Kimball said Equal Opportunity Director Ingrid Scott-Weekley was putting that information together. City Attorney Philip Balkema said his staff was reviewing the city’s programs to ensure those are in compliance with the new law, which amended the state’s constitution. Balkema plans to file his department’s report with commissioners on Dec. 19, a few days before the law becomes effective.

    Heartwell said before the city takes any legal action, the commission needs to know how much such a move will cost the city, who else is going to court, and what are the city’s chances of winning such a lawsuit.

    Balkema said the University of Michigan is considering a court challenge and a group known as By Any Means Necessary has filed a lawsuit in federal court. BAMN is arguing that Proposal 2 is illegal as it violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the equal protection clause regarding race and gender.

    But a similar lawsuit filed in California a decade ago after voters in that state ratified a similar proposal was rejected by a federal appeals court that Balkema characterized as the most liberal in the nation. Balkema also said he had a 40-minute conversation with a noted civil-rights attorney in trying to evaluate the city’s next step.

    “We have to be careful we don’t polarize the community,” cautioned Rick Tormala, a 2nd Ward commissioner.

    “You’re not a racist because you do something you believe in. The people who voted for Proposal 2 aren’t racist,” he added.

    Tormala reminded the board that the city spent $500,000 a few years ago to create a race- and gender-neutral goods and services program, and the city has to examine that program in light of the election results.

    “Since the public was involved in this, we need to include them,” he said. “We have to do our homework before we go ahead with a lawsuit.”

    But 3rd Ward Commissioner James White, an African-American, said majority rule has misled this country before and identified the war in Iraq as an example.    

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