Arts & Entertainment
Holland Races Draw Partisan Response, Emails 'Corrosive'
By Jim Larkin
Originally printed 10/24/2013 (Issue 2143 - Between The Lines News)
A Holland City Council candidate is taking Mayor Kurt Dykstra and Councilman Brian Burch to task for injecting partisanship into the nonpartisan City Council election, but his harshest criticism was reserved for Burch's use of militaristic terms in an email sent to Hope College Young Republican group members.
Donald Martin, who is running against incumbent Nancy DeBoer for an at-large council seat, said the email sent out to about 100 people was "blatant, corrosive partisanship." Someone who received the email sent him a copy, he said.
"My primary concern was the militaristic and violent language used in the email," Martin said. "The fact that it came from a sitting City Council member is alarming."
The email contained an open letter from Burch, who is being opposed in the Nov. 5 election by Richard Burlingame, in which he encouraged a "quiet 'call to arms' so we can keep their numbers down, completely dominate the conversation and the tone" of Monday night's League of Women Voters' candidate forum.
"Take no prisoners. Accept no substitutions. TOTAL EFFING DOMINATION," Burch wrote.
The call to arms didn't quite work as planned. There were approximately 150 people at Monday's candidate forum and a Hope Young Republicans representatives told The Grand Rapids Press that "a little more than 10" people were from the Republican group.
Burch said the email was private and sent to four friends, not the Hope Young Republicans. In it he said "we need the ENTIRE group of Hope Young Republicans." He defended his use of the militaristic terms, saying those who were upset by his vote against a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT residents started the fight.
"There has been a coordinated effort to get me fired (because of my vote), so that gets me a little worked up," Burch said.
Leaders from PFLAG Holland/Lakeshore, Holland is Ready, Holland Area PRIDE and Hope is Ready said that they have made no attempts to get Burch fired and noted that is not the way any of the groups operate. Holland is Ready was awarded by the city's Human Relations Commission for its work trying to get an anti-discrimination ordinance passed, in part because of the respectful way it conducted itself.
Burch reiterated his opposition to an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT residents at the forum while his opponent, Richard Burlingame, said he would support it. Incumbents Todd Whiteman and Nancy DeBoer also said they would vote against such an ordinance once again while Martin, who is openly gay, gave his unqualified support. Whiteman's opponent, Darlene DeWitt, said she would vote the way her Ward 5 constituents wanted her to vote.
The email sent out prior to the forum also said that Mayor Kurt Dykstra was buying "free pizza and beer" for any members over 21 who attended a party tied to the candidate forum and added "the mayor is totally counting on us." Dykstra said he offered to host a post-forum pizza gathering as a way of expressing his appreciation for students who have provided help and assistance and to encourage turnout to the forum. He added that no city dollars were used.
Dykstra, who is unopposed for re-election and has contemplated seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Carl Levin, said although the election is nonpartisan, partisanship often sneaks into a contested race.
"Even in races for non-partisan offices, especially with contested races, partisan activity and partisan participants tend to get involved on both sides," Dykstra said.
Martin, however, said up until the email sent to the Young Republicans the City Council race had been nonpartisan. He said he sought the support of both Ottawa County Republicans and Ottawa County Democrats and said some of the Hope Young Republicans who received the email support his candidacy.
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