By Jeremy Martin
City residents re-elected Jay Peters to serve a second four-year-term as the 2nd Ward representative on its nine-member city council on Aug. 1. “My wish was that I would take 51 percent of the vote to avoid a November run-off,” Peters said of an election that he won by an overwhelming 60 percent of the vote. Peters was one of four council members this past June to vote in favor of amending Holland’s civil rights ordinances to include coverage for members of the LGBT community in matters of housing and hiring. Peters ran against former city councilman Victor Oroczo and the city’s Planning Commission Chairman Gerardo “Jerry” Tonini, who was backed by Gary Glenn and the Michigan chapter of the American Family Association and the Campaign for Michigan Families, a political action committee.
Glenn chairs the Midland, Mich. AFA chapter and the CMF, which on its Facebook page calls itself a “statewide political action committee committed to electing candidates who support traditional Judeo-Christian family values.”
“I had heard of that organization before,” Peters said. “I know that they unsuccessfully tried to involve themselves in an issue with the public library some years ago. It had to do with whether or not the library was going to put filters on the Internet. That organization came in, in a similar way and tried to enforce influence on the community and they were soundly defeated there as well.”
Peters said that he first learned of his opposition from Glenn and Tonini after a 2nd Ward resident saw a posting on the group’s Facebook page.
“(Tonini) did start using the term ‘family values’ and I’m not sure I had ever heard him say that before. It seems like he started picking up some of their lingo,” Peters said. “I’m assuming with that came some considerable support.”
Support that was given to Tonini in the form of automated campaign calls made to the citizens of Holland from the offices of the Campaign for Michigan Families.
“A lot of people told me about the ‘robo-calls’ that they received. And anyone that mentioned it to me, it seemed like a motivation to not vote that way,” Peters said. He did not believe that Glenn or any other member of the CMF physically came to Holland to campaign for Tonini.
The automated campaign calls against Peters may have actually had the opposite effect that Glenn was expecting. According to the Deputy City Clerk Anna Perales, the 2nd ward registered a 13 percent voter turnout, a drastic uptick from Holland’s citywide 8 percent turnout at the polls.
“Hope College is in the 2nd Ward, there are a lot of faculty and professionals that live in the 2nd Ward, and by nature I think that they are just a little more involved than the rest of the wards in the city,” Peters said.
Despite Glenn’s backing, Tonini took only 13 percent of the vote. Oroczo took 26 percent.
Peters will continue to push for legislation protecting Holland’s LGBT community from discrimination, but believes that lasting change will not come as quickly as many in the city hope.
“I think what’s going to happen is over the course of the next couple elections, the chemistry of the city council will change – so that in my mind, the change is probably going to come from a different combination of nine people making the decision,” Peters said.
“It is certainly an important issue to me, but it is not the only issue that we face in Holland,” he said, adding that the community also needs to lure business to the area and acquire enough electricity to support its population.