East Lansing council-elect Stephens prepares for first actions
As Aaron Stephens paced back-and-forth waiting for results from the East Lansing City Council election Tuesday night, he nervously told his supporters at his HopCat watch party to strap in.
“By the way, this is gonna be close,” Stephens said, followed by a room full of uneasy laughter.
But then each precinct reported the election results in real time. Stephens took an immediate lead on incumbent Councilmember Susan Woods.
He never trailed Woods. Ruth Beier, also an incumbent, took first place with 37 percent of the total vote, but Stephens finished second with 33 percent — five points and 336 votes more than Woods — and became the second current MSU student to ever win a seat in the city council election.
The win for Stephens was also a realization his work is nowhere near done yet. He’ll be sworn-in today, giving him a few days to address city council on East Lansing’s biggest issues.
“Not only is this a testament to the fact young people will, and can, get involved but also a testament to the amount of work and drive you can put into any endeavor you can do,” Stephens said. “We knocked on thousands of doors, made thousands of phone calls and talked to thousands of people. That is not insignificant.”
Stephens said one of his first actions will be to help establish a bystander intervention program to make sexual misconduct easier to report. The council member-elect thinks sexual assault incidences among students and residents happen at bars and parties, and that needs to change.
Stephens also wants to improve the city’s relationship with MSU. He said he’s had conversations with “numerous” ASMSU officials to develop an off-campus code of conduct for students.
"That’s something that would save the city a lot of money and give the university a sense of accountability when it comes to their students doing things in the community,” Stephens said.
As developers nearly walked away from the Center City District project last month, Stephens said he also wants to sit down with developers that have failed in East Lansing and developers that have been successful and understand why those businesses either succeeded or failed, and what deters other developers from city projects.
Stephens said the success of the Park District project is crucial to the city’s financial standing, especially as voters rejected a proposed income tax and reduce property taxes.
“It’s across the street from the university, thousands of students and residents live all around it, it’s by large amounts of foot traffic and in another city it would be done in a year,” Stephens said. “We’re at 20 now. We need to understand the issue, we need to identify it and then we need to address it.”
Campaign manager Andre Brown, also an accounting and Arabic freshman at Lansing Community College, thinks Stephens will carry out his campaign promises one way or another, despite Stephens’ lack of experience as an elected official.
“He’s very dedicated to the people," Brown said. "He listens to what they want and he’s more than willing to sit down with anyone and listen to them."
Alan Fox, the only other person to win a seat for East Lansing’s City Council as an MSU student, thinks Stephens ambition may have been what gave him the edge to win a seat.
Fox, an East Lansing native, won his seat as a junior and served as a council member from 1977 to 1981. Until recently, Fox served as a consultant for Practical Political Consulting in Old Town but is now the chief deputy treasurer for Ingham County.
“I’m happy he decided to run,” Fox said. “I gave him whatever advice I could. I recognized things weren’t the way they used to be so he had to find his own way, but I’ve been very excited about this.”