By Max Johnston
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter
When it was announced that Stuart Dunnings was charged with 15 criminal counts including soliciting the services of prostitutes, it shook Lansing to its core. Dunnings’ controversial departure from the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office left many, like Lansing resident Nate Enstrom, with a sour taste in their mouth.
“I think it shows how important integrity is. What are they doing if they’re not honest and open with their voters?” Enstrom said.
Enstrom may have a point. A recent poll done by Harvard University found that integrity was the most valued attribute in a candidate according to millennial voters. Now that a special election is scheduled for August, the next prosecutor must regain the public’s trust, which according to Public Policy Consultant Tucker Eskew, could be very difficult.
“Rebuilding trust nationally, something driven by the mood regarding crime and punishment, is far more difficult than doing so locally,” said Eskew, who served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Media Affairs and Global Communications under President George W. Bush.
“If elected, a respected individual with a clean record in public and financial life could win the support of voters and take confidence building measures that overcome negatives left by her or his predecessor and begin restoring trust,” Eskew said. “So much will depend on the quality of candidates who choose to run, and the caliber of the ultimate winner.”
The candidates for Ingham County Prosecutor come from a variety of legal backgrounds and experience. What they all have in common is a desire to restore trust in the prosecutor’s office, yet they all have different plans to do so.
Brian Jackson is a longtime Lansing resident, lawyer, and former Eaton County assistant prosecutor. Jackson has a history in activism and reform, he’s worked with the ACLU and his platform features such progressive concepts as community policing, and restorative justice. Jackson says it’s this progressive and activist mindset that will bring back integrity to the prosecutor’s office.
“I have a fresh perspective and progressive ideas that someone who has been entrenched in the system, that some say is broken, is less able to adapt and bring in ways to change it,” Jackson said. “I think I have enough experience to know the system and see the flaws but I’m young enough and new enough to bring in and implement new ideas to an office that needs to be cleaned up.”
Assistant City Attorney Billie Jo O’Berry has spent over 30 years in Lansing legal circles. O’Berry is no stranger to elections, she’s ran for Ingham County Circuit Court along with three attempts at a seat on the 55th District Court in Mason. O’Berry insists her longtime commitment to Lansing is what makes her the most trustworthy candidate.
“I’ve lived and worked in the Ingham County community since I was 12 years old. For me the focus is on that community, what can I give back to the community where I’ve lived, where I’ve known the people for over 3 decades,” O’Berry said. “I’ve always felt the calling to serve this public, especially now that their trust has been broken.”
Retired Administrative Law Judge Thomas English is a Ingham County Resident with a background in law enforcement and the military. English said that he felt a call to duty when Ingham County suffered this setback.
“I think it’s important to help Ingham County get out the predicament it’s in and restore trust to the prosecutor’s office. I’m a proud Ingham County resident and I think it’s time for someone to step up,” English said. “I was happy to retire from my lifetime tenure appointment in the federal government and go with my passion and that’s to go back to my community to help out when they need it.”
Lansing area lawyer Patrick O’Keefe actually worked for Stuart Dunnings in the prosecutor’s office for six years. O’Keefe says he can restore trust in the office by learning from the mistakes he saw the office make while working there, and from witnessing Dunnings’ questionable leadership firsthand.
“I learned that for 6 years Mr. Dunnings was an absentee prosecutor. I intend to roll up my sleeves and actually be involved as an active member of the office,” O’Keefe said. “I left because of Mr. Dunnings’ lack of leadership, and I’m coming back because of my desire to institute some effective, quality leadership to that office.”
Ingham County voters like Linda McKenzie will ultimately decide who they trust most in the August primary. McKenzie said that trust in her elected officials is more important now than ever.
“I think it’s really important now, not just with [Dunnings] but with all of them,” McKenzie said. “It’s about time that the people we elect can be trusted and have integrity.”