One-term incumbent mayor faces challenge from political newcomer

By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK — One-term Mayor Frank Vaslo faces a challenge Tuesday from political newcomer Joseph Baughman to lead the city for the next two years.

“I’m very proud of the fact that our budgets are in order,” said Vaslo, 50, who served on the City Council from 2003 to 2007 before being elected to his current post. “Not only have we produced budgets that are balanced, but we’ve also added a quarter million to our surplus. It’s at 15 percent, which our accountants recommend, and now stands at about $3.1 million.”

Baughman, 45, is a tool maker with Tifco Gage & Gear in Livonia. The six-year resident is single and has one child. He has been active in the Citizens Patrol Watch for many years, and now is a member of the board on Community Improvement Commission.

“I have no political aspirations beyond being mayor of Lincoln Park,” he said in an online video. “It has been disheartening to watch the city’s downward spiral.”

Baughman believes the mayor and council have been “disrespectful” to some residents who ask questions at meetings by making them come back three weeks in a row.

“As the mayor, if no one can answer your question the first time, I will take your number, find an answer and call you,” Baughman said.

“I’m very happy with the governmental team we have here in Lincoln Park,” Vaslo said. “We have been going into budgets with eyes wide open and addressed our labor costs.

“Eighty cents of every dollar goes to legacy costs and salaries, and we have been using collective bargaining to do that seriously. We’re bargaining in the taxpayers’ interest and not giving away the show anymore.”

Even a 1 percent raise for employees is difficult to consider with the current bad economy, Vaslo said. Wayne County has recognized that with furlough days for workers by borrowing $50 million on next year’s taxes.

Other nearby governmental entities have failed to do that yet, he said, “but they have choices.”

“We’ve made those decisions today from the word go,” Vaslo said. “We have been committed to not spending more than we bring in.”

Baughman noted that the city has asked its employees to take cuts and said he will ask to have his $14,500-a-year salary as mayor cut by 50 percent. He also would ask the council, city manager and elected officials to take pay cuts.

“A real leader must forge links with city employees, council members, community agencies, local businesses and residents,” Baughman said.

Vaslo, who is married with three children, said he is proud of the city’s recent success in landing a federal grant for $2.5 million for neighborhood stabilization $200,000 in brownfield money for remediation and identification of sites that can be redeveloped.

He also pointed to future improvements thanks to $250,000 in Community Development Block Grants that will be used to replace existing street lighting with high-efficiency light-emitting diode lights. Vaslo also is looking forward to renovating the downtown area with federal grant money, but admits the next few years could be turbulent for Michigan communities.

“Right now it is so hard to predict the future,” he said. “The state is in such a mess it is hard for us to get together a five-year plan. I’m having a hard time even committing to long-term public work projects.”

That said, however, he believes his experience and the fact that he grew up in the city give him an advantage over his challenger. Job satisfaction also plays a role.

“I enjoy the work,” Vaslo said. “I enjoy the interactions with my fellow mayors. I value their friendship and their input and enjoy working with county, state and some of the best federal representatives in the country.

“I just genuinely like the opportunity to serve the community I grew up in.”

Baughman believes the council needs to work with the Downtown Development Authority and city manager to get businesses into the city.

“We need to use ideas already proven in other cities to draw in business where all ages can work,” Baughman said. “We need to sit down with community around us to bring in new business and growth.”