BENTON HARBOR — The race for the four open Benton Harbor City Commission seats in the November election was made more competitive with the introduction of three write-in candidates.
For the First Ward seat, incumbent Commissioner Sharon Henderson now faces write-in candidate Jamie Davis, who lost his bid to be mayor in the August primary.
In the Second Ward, newcomer Jerry Edwards now faces write-in candidate Lisa Gorman-Burton.
Four people are vying for the two open commissioner-at-large seats.
The two incumbents – Commissioner MaryAlice Adams and Edward Isom – are being challenged by newcomer Jennifer Nesbitt and by write-in candidate Second Ward Commissioner C.F. Jones, who ran for the mayor’s seat and lost in the August primary.
Sharon Henderson, 47, is seeking her third term as the First Ward commissioner. She was first elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2015.
She said she is running because she wants to continue to play a role with the city as it moves forward.
She and her husband, Marvin Henderson, have three adult children. She works as a student advocate at Benton Harbor Charter Academy.
Jamie Davis, 48, is running as a write-in candidate for the First Ward.
He said he still wants to be the city’s mayor and the commission seat will be a stepping stone towards that goal.
Davis’ four-point platform includes making sure residents have clean drinking water, food, shelter and security, and knowing that they have all four of these things.
He said he also wants to address the unsolved murders in the city.
Davis, the father of one adult child and four teens, works as a property maintenance supervisor, musician, author, farmer and is a former welder. In addition, he was a television show host in Chicago from 2007 to 2015 and served in the U.S. Army during the first Gulf War. He sits on the city’s communications/public relations committee.
Jerry Edwards, 65, said he wants to be the Second Ward commissioner because several residents asked him to run, and he wants to lead by example.
“A visible commission is what they need,” said the veteran of the U.S. Navy. “... I’m not afraid to leave the suit in the closet and get my clothes and hands dirty.”
The 1972 Benton Harbor High School graduate said he was a community activist in Chicago for many years before returning to his hometown in 2014 to start the Bracken Edwards Youth Organization Umbrella (BEYOU), which has been fixing up Hall Park. He said his volunteers have replaced bleachers, swings and picnic tables, along with installing grills. In addition, he said he has coordinated many clean ups in the park and has participated in clean ups throughout the city.
He is on the Benton Harbor Downtown Development Authority board, where he chairs the marketing and communications committee. He is also on the city’s cemetery board and has been on several other city boards in the past.
Edwards is married to Alfredia Edwards. He has seven adult children.
Lisa Gorman-Burton, 54, said she is running as a write-in candidate for the Second Ward because she wants to continue to help move the city forward.
The 1983 graduate of Benton Harbor High School lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years before returning a few years ago to care for her mother and grandmother.
“It just makes sense to plug back in to the community that reared, loved and nurtured me,” she said.
She is a minister at Freedom Life Church in Benton Harbor and former executive director of Lighthouse Ministries.
She said she is on the city’s cemetery board and brownfield redevelopment authority and is a former member of the emergency manager’s advisory committee when the city was under emergency management.
Gorman-Burton is married to Duane Burton. She has one adult child and a 12-year-old daughter.
At large – two seats
MaryAlice Adams, 60, is seeking her third term as a commissioner-at-large. She was first elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2015. Before being elected, she served on several city boards, including the Benton Harbor Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.
She said she wants to be re-elected so she can finish what she started.
“I worked hard to decriminalize marijuana and to get medical marijuana to people so they don’t have to travel so far to get their medicine,” said the licensed professional cosmetologist, who runs A Different Direction Beauty Salon from her home.
Another passion of hers is the My Brother’s Keeper/Girl’s Equity Network organization, which was started by former President Barack Obama in 2014. The MBK/GEN statewide summit will be held Nov. 1 at the Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College.
She said summits like this are important so children can mentor one another.
“This world has so much violence,” she said. “We need to hold hands (and) help each other. We should be trying to leave (the earth) better than we found her.”
Adams is married to Jesse Adams Sr. She has four adult children, plus two who have died.
Edward Isom, 57, was appointed twice to the city commission before being elected in November 2017 for a partial term as a commissioner-at-large. In addition, he serves on the Benton Harbor Library Board.
He said he has the experience to make positive change in city government.
“I’m fighting for the people in the city,” said the machine builder at Getman Corp. in Bangor. “... And I want to bring back the summer employment program for our youth.”
He said commissioners need to get more involved with the residents.
“City hall needs to be more transparent. There needs to be more communication,” he said.
Isom is married to Yvonne Isom and has five adult children.
Jennifer Nesbitt, 35, said she is a newcomer to politics and sees that as a positive in her effort be elected as a commissioner-at-large.
“I moved here about three years ago,” she said. “There needs to be a change in city government, and we need to start working towards a better future for the city.”
She said she never imagined that she would ever run for a political office but feels it is needed.
“We need new blood, new ideas, to make that change,” she said.
Nesbitt is an art teacher at Benton Harbor High School and sister-in-law to state Sen. Aric Nesbitt.
She and her husband, Aaron Nesbitt, have two boys, ages 1 and 4.
C.F. Jones, 49, is the Second Ward commissioner and is running as a write-in candidate for commissioner-at-large.
He said he made the switch because he has supporters all over the city, not just in the Second Ward.
“They believe I’m making a difference,” he said. “... They appreciate how I handle things for them.”
He said the biggest issue the city is facing is the lack of strong, long-lasting leadership, and he wants to fill that gap.
The U.S. Army veteran has two adult children and a 7-year-old son.
Voting hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. next Tuesday.
Due to passage of the Promote the Vote state constitutional amendment last November, voters can register to vote and vote on the same day, along with during regular business hours at Clerk Kimberly Thompson’s office at city hall, 200 E. Wall St.
In addition, Thompson said her office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
To register to vote or to update your voting information, residency verification is required. Acceptable documents include: driver’s license; bank statement; state ID card; paycheck; current utility bill; government check and other government documents.
People registering to vote in her office on Election Day will be given the choice of filling out an absentee ballot or going to the polls to vote.
Another change is that the state now has “no reason” absentee voting. Absentee ballots can be cast beginning 45 days prior to election day and can be picked up at the clerk’s office during normal business hours.
For more information, go to Michigan.gov/Elections or contact Thompson at 927-8408.
Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege