Scott Urbanowski: 'Government Belongs to All of Us'

Kentwood Mayoral Candidate Pledges to Give Everyone a Seat at the Table

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

Scott Urbanowski has noticed the growing disconnect between elected officials at every level of government and the people they serve.

"Unfortunately, that disconnect has become even more pronounced here in Kentwood," he said. "A lot of people don't feel like City Hall is listening to them."

If Urbanowski were to become mayor, he believes he can reestablish a connection with the residents in his hometown where he has lived, studied, worked and worshipped since 1988.

"Leadership is about making sure there is trust between those you lead and yourself," he said. "There aren't many good and capable leaders leading. We need people who are going to set forth a positive vision."

The 29-year-old announced his run in April against incumbent Stephen Kepley. When asked what distinguishes him as a candidate, he said, "I don't have a background of wealth or privilege."

Urbanowski graduated from East Kentwood High School before earning his degree in political science with a leadership minor from Central Michigan University in 2010. It took him almost two years to find a full-time job.

"It was a struggle so I know what a lot of people are going through," he said. "Having that kind of background in elected office is even more important than many of my other qualifications."

Urbanowski owns Humanoid Digital, a digital media company. He serves on the public relations committee for Grand Rapids Young Professionals. He was involved with Local First of West Michigan, the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, and Relay for Life. He is involved with the Kent County Democrats and is the administrative co-chair for the Michigan Democratic Party Justice Caucus.

Urbanowski said his experience working in a number of customer service and hospitality positions overs the years has enhanced his ability to serve Kentwood's growing, diverse population of more than 50,000.

"There is a lack of diversity in City Hall, which in many respects, isn't keeping up with the times," he said, pointing to five white men on the city commission out of seven members, for example.

The most recent Census data shows that non-Hispanic whites make up approximately 70 percent of the city's population in 2010, compared with 83 percent in Kent County and 80 percent in Michigan. Kentwood is home to refugees and immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Balkans, and elsewhere, along with their families.

Urbanowski is aware of a lack of LGBTQ visibility in politics on his side of the state. He is hoping to change that by working with other LGBTQ elected officials to organize the community politically so they can have their concerns heard and acted upon.

While working as a substitute teacher in the Kentwood public school system where he volunteers with the Kentwood Band and Orchestra Boosters, Urbanowski noticed that teachers are intentional about creating safe spaces for their LGBTQ students starting with the display of equality stickers on their classroom windows.

Urbanowski is committed to public safety, including police protection and traffic improvements. He will strengthen the economy by bringing businesses and good-paying jobs to Kentwood, will manage the city's resources responsibly and will proactively engage residents and businesses on major city projects and activities.

Unlike current leadership, he said, which makes decisions with little to no input from ordinary residents.

"Since Kepley's election, the city board and committee seats have remained open for months at a time. Meanwhile, bus drivers for the Interurban Transit Partnership - on whose board Kepley serves as Vice Chair - have worked without a contract," he said.

In 2013, several prominent conservatives - including five members of now-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's family - gave vast sums of money to Kepley's campaign for mayor of Kentwood.

Those are the same DeVoses, he said, who infamously acknowledged, "We do expect something in return...We expect a return on our investment."

Urbanowski said, "The DeVoses influence is really hurting people. They have made efforts to undermine the labor movement around here for some time." He notes that in June the city's defined contribution pension plan was amended to increase the city contribution for non-union hourly employees from 8-9 percent. A memo to city commissioners stated that the change was made in part "to improve the city's attractiveness to prospective non-union employees."

Urbanowski said there is some focus on local businesses, but a lot of the emphasis centers around trying to bring large national chains (such as Trader Joe's and Chick-fil-A) to Kentwood. A "local first" policy, he said, would prioritize local businesses for city purchasing and procurement.

"If you buy from a local chain, you're helping someone who is just a striving business owner from your community trying to make ends meet, trying to do the right thing for themself and their family. You're really helping your own neighbor and your own community members when you buy locally."

But all of the changes Urbanowski would like to see happen cannot if members of the community don't vote.

"Local office elections are just as important as if not more important than federal and state office elections," he said. "Unfortunately, not a lot of people vote in these elections. Those who do vote have more power. If more people voted in every single election, the impact at the ballot box would be incredible."

Volunteer to help knock on doors, do phone banks and the like for Scott Urbanowski's campaign leading up to the Nov. 7 general election. Visit https://scotturbanowski.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/ScottCUrbanowski/ for more information or to make a donation.
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