Heartwell Seeks Top City Post

August 15, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — George Heartwell wants to be mayor of Grand Rapids for a couple of reasons.

"I do love the city," he said. "I feel like it's an opportunity for me to be involved in shaping its future. It's the highest public service that I aspire to."

Barbara Sue Damore and Richa are candidates for mayor, as well. In the Sept. 9 primary, voters will determine which two of the three candidates on the ballot will vie for the mayor's seat in the November general election. If one candidate receives 51 percent of the votes cast in the primary, he or she wins the mayor's seat outright.

Heartwell, who served two terms as a Third Ward city commissioner in the 1990s, says the other reason he's running for mayor is that he misses being in on the action at City Hall.

He isn't content just reading about what's going on in the city, he said. He wants to be part of the team that makes things happen.

"More and more, I think, we're coming to see ourselves as no longer just a sleepy little Midwestern city," Heartwell remarked. "We talk about ourselves as a world-class city and are doing things that are world-class in nature."

He said if elected, his two major priorities would be public education and economic development.

Heartwell backs the idea of cost sharing between the school system and the city. One possibility, Heartwell suggested, is for the city to take ownership of some or all school buildings, use its bonding authority to fund capital projects for the schools and lease the buildings back to the schools.

As he sees it, additional possibilities include school busing provided by The Rapid (ITP) and city-facilitated partnerships with the private sector and higher education.

He believes economic development, the second plank in his platform, is closely connected to public education and of equal importance.

"I've watched as we've seen our entire tool and die industry virtually decimated. We have to be aggressive in trying to replace that sector with things like biotech. It's easy to get excited about biotech, but it's an investment today that's not going to begin paying off for us for a decade or more.

"We need to also pay attention to alternative energy and communications. There may be little niche industries that we can begin to attract and build."

If elected, Heartwell has vowed to make sales and retention calls to attract and retain job-producing businesses in Grand Rapids. He also endorses fully utilizing the tax incentives that are available, such as Industrial Facilities Exemptions, Renaissance Zones and the Brownfield Redevelopment Act.

Heartwell's career has revolved around politics and religion, and he believes his collective experiences have prepared him well for the mayor's job.

In addition to having served in local office, Heartwell's background includes 15 years in business as a mortgage banker for Heartwell Mortgage, his family's company, and 13 years in the ministry with Heartside Ministry in Grand Rapids, which advocates for and provides pastoral care to the poor and homeless.

His current career is in academia, team teaching in Aquinas College's Community Leadership undergraduate program and directing the college's Community Leadership Institute. He joined the administrative staff of Aquinas in January 2000.

Heartwell believes the variety of life experiences he could bring to the mayor's office would be beneficial to the city and thinks it's obvious others agree, given the diversity of his supporters.

"They are Republicans and Democrats; they are business and labor; they are African Americans and Hispanics — it's the spectrum of who Grand Rapids is as a people.

"I love the fact that I have a UAW endorsement and a (Grand Rapids Area) Chamber of Commerce endorsement. That says something about my ability to bridge, and I think I wouldn't have that if I had not had the array of experiences that I have had."

Heartwell views this moment in time in Grand Rapids' history as "exciting," with the opening of the convention center, the expanding medical and research community on Michigan Street hill, and the growth of Grand Valley State University downtown.

But he said in his excitement about downtown development, he doesn't want to lose sight of the needs of the neighborhoods and neighborhood business districts.

Grand Rapids represents a mixed bag of interests today, and the city is probably on the verge of some fundamental change, Heartwell said. He believes the change in who leads and how they lead is at that same critical juncture.

"The old style of leadership — where five white guys can get together in the board room of the Old Kent Bank building and make decisions for the community for the next 20 years— just isn't going to work anymore.

"You're starting to see new models of leadership emerge, and they're much more consensus building and much more inclusive, and it's different people that are providing that kind of leadership. They are younger and, more and more often, minority."

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