Grand Rapids Mayor Bliss addresses Student Senate on leadership, local affairs


GVL / Bri Conway

Payton Brazzil, Staff Writer

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss addressed the Grand Valley State University Student Senate at their Oct. 24 general assembly. Bliss was asked to share some of her insight on leadership and local government, but also touched on informed voting, local issues and the future of the city’s premier annual art event, ArtPrize.

Before entering the political field, Bliss worked as a social worker while also volunteering for campaigns. During that process, she got to know people active in politics, and through social work, she became active in the community by raising awareness about child neglect, violence against women and human trafficking. Through these connections with the community, she was encouraged to run for office.

When Bliss spoke about leadership and her time in office, she said a leader should surround themselves with a variety of opinions.

“Part of leadership is honing in on what kind of problems you are trying to solve, and then surrounding yourself with people who have different experiences and ideas to challenge you,” Bliss said. “I think the danger of today is that people surround themselves with people that think like them and don’t challenge them. We all make better decisions when we hear different opinions and voices.”

Bliss also talked about the importance of local government and voting on the entire ballot.

Senate VP of Diversity Affairs Larbi Al Moutaa said that it might be challenging to learn about the candidates’ issues and standings, especially when they are lesser-known, local candidates.

“What advice would you give to the youth to make informed votes for the smaller candidates that are on the ballot?” Al Moutaa asked.

“Call them,” Bliss responded. “Every single candidate has an email and a phone number, and I would call them.”

The mayor highlighted the stakes that each member of the Senate and the student body at GVSU had in the political process and encouraged their involvement while responding to the senator’s inquiry.

“Especially in Allendale, there are a lot of issues that affect all of you,” Bliss said. “There’s been an uptick in gun violence, there are traffic issues, there’s growth issues, a lot of issues with pedestrian safety with some of these streets outside of campus, so I would call them up and see their stance on local issues.”

Along with their email and phone number, Bliss highlighted that students can find information from candidates’ websites, which can give some insight into their thought processes.

In response to a question brought up by a senator on the uptick in crime, Bliss said that Grand Rapids is trying to be more proactive in preventing crime and safety.

“Whenever there’s an increase in violence, we want to find a core issue,” Bliss said. “The root of the violence, in my opinion, is that we have this proliferation of guns and they’re so easily accessible, but I can’t do anything about gun laws with my position.”

Bliss said that the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) is facing a staffing shortage of around 30 officers but is planning to recruit more staff. After they are fully staffed, GRPD plans to have an entire team of officers that will walk around downtown and be visible.

After Bliss finished responding to the question on crime, Senator Zuriel Johnson asked, “In regards to ArtPrize, how will you implement ideas around the Grand Rapids area and implement expansion over GVSU’s campus?”

Bliss responded that “ArtPrize 2.0” was just announced, including new aspects to the competition and festival that she believes will bring about an “evolution” of the annual and highly anticipated local event.

“We’re trying to expand ArtPrize to be more than just the art,” Bliss said. “We really think that ArtPrize will have music, tech – like TedTalks – and be more educational and intellectually stimulating, as well as the arts, and if we tie that together through the three weeks, we will create more of an interesting ArtPrize.”

Near the end of the discussion, Bliss also touched on being the only woman in the room when dealing with the city’s most high-level matters.

After running for city commission, she won in 2005 and was re-elected twice before running for mayor in 2015. Bliss became Grand Rapids’ first female Mayor when she took office in 2016 and is now serving her second term in the office.

“I read everything and was over-prepared for every meeting I went into, which helped build my confidence and it helped me earn the respect of people that may have doubted my ability,” Bliss said.

She also said her experience in social work helped her have difficult conversations with colleagues, by confronting the problem instead of the person.

The senate thanked Mayor Bliss for taking the time to speak with them as they aimed to take the mayor’s words of advice into their own futures.