Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero reflects on 12 years as mayor: “It was the greatest calling of my life”

LANSING, MI (WLNS) – In less than a week, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero will hand over the keys to the city after 12 years of serving as Lansing’s mayor.

6 News sat down with the mayor last week, as he reflected on the last decade in office.

“My first slogan, if you will, as mayor was “believe in Lansing,” Mayor Virg Bernero said.

He talked about the good times and the bad and said despite every challenge or mistake, being the mayor of Lansing has been an “extreme privilege and honor.”

“In this job, you are one with the people and I consider it the highest honor, it was the greatest calling of my life next to father and husband, the greatest calling I can imagine in one’s career,” he said.

Mayor Bernero said it was his belief in Lansing that got it to where it is today.

He reflects on some of his accomplishments since taking office in 2006.

Those include: leading Lansing through the Great Recession, bringing economic development to the area, strengthening regional partnerships with neighboring townships and collaborating with Ingham County to secure funding for Potter Park Zoo and the Lansing River Trail.

But the one he’s most proud of:

“Standing up for GM,” he said. “I didn’t do it for accolades or trophies. My dad is a GM retiree; Proud UAW retiree. They put food our table and when I heard about the auto industry being kicked around, I stepped up.”

Bernero said he called the U.S. Conference of Mayors to raise concerns about the issue but was told it wasn’t a “priority.”  So, he organized the Mayors Automotive Coalition, got busy, and went to Washington.

“We weren’t sure quite what we were doing, knocking on doors on Capitol Hill but we got through mayors and we got heard and I think we helped convince two presidents to invest in the auto industry and we did that all by ourselves.”

Despite his successes, Mayor Bernero has been at the center of controversy as questions still remain over payouts given to two former city employees, former Lansing City Attorney Jeanine McIntyre and former General Manager of the Lansing Board of Water and Light, Peter Lark.

But Bernero will be the first to admit that he didn’t always make decisions that were popular.

“I listened, but I didn’t necessarily do what people told me, that’s true,” he said. “I did what I thought was right. I did what had to be done to move this city forward. I make no apologies for it.”

“I’ve got to create jobs today, I’ve got to make progress today, I’ve got to answer 911 calls now and yes, fill pot holes with the money I have,” he said. “There’s never enough money and there’s never enough time. I can’t wait for unanimity.”

So, what’s next for Mayor Virg Bernero? He hasn’t quite figured that out yet.

“I’m not too worried about that and I haven’t been able to focus on it much and that may surprise some people,” he said. “I’m an outspoken person. Even though I think I’d be great for any company, I’m not sure I would work for any company, and not just any company would have me.”

Bernero said the thought of no longer being mayor is “scary and exciting at the same time.”

“It’s something that my family wanted for me. I love the city, I love people and I love politics,” he said. “I’m going to be consulting on a variety of issues, mostly municipal matters that I’ve learned; maybe there’s a market for it, maybe there isn’t, we’ll find out.”

Bernero has served in several different elected roles in the city, county and state legislature over the last two decades.

While he said this transition out of public office is bittersweet, he looks forward to “being ahead of schedule” when it comes to family gatherings and events. He’s also looking forward to spending quality time with those he loves the most.

Bernero’s last day in office will be Jan. 1st. He said he’s leaving Mayor-Elect Andy Schor in good hands.

“I think I’m leaving the city, as I said, poised for success,” Bernero said. “I get along very well with Mayor-Elect Schor and impressed with his team,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to work together. I’m available to him and I hope that he will be able to build on some things that I put down, just like I built on (former) Mayor Hollister’s.

When asked what advice he would give Schor, he said this:

“This is what was left undone; the greatest thing that was left undone is true regionalism. It is a truly metro government, a metropolitan government, a metropolitan approach,” Mayor Bernero said. “That’s what’s missing, that’s what’s needed and there’s no substitute for it.”

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