Rev. Robert Dean Seeking to be ‘People’s Mayor’ of Grand Rapids

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Rev235Pastor Robert Dean said his plans for Grand Rapids if elected mayor includes reducing the city’s $1 billion debt, pave and maintain its city streets and ensure public safety in all neighborhoods.The Rev. Robert Dean, founding pastor of New Life Church of God in Christ in Southeast Grand Rapids, has served as a school board president, city commissioner and state representative. Now he's hoping to add mayor of Michigan's second largest city.

Dean is a mayoral candidate for the City of Grand Rapids. Contenders started to emerge when Grand Rapids voters passed a term limit measure for its mayor and city commissioners. Incumbent Mayor George Heartwell's third and final term ends this year.

Dean has three opponents seeking the same seat: incumbent Second Ward city commissioner Rosalyn Bliss, John George and Willard Lee. If any of the four Grand Rapids candidates gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the Aug. 4 primary election, that candidate will be elected. If not, the top two vote-getters would advance to the November election.

Dean founded New Life COGIC in 1980, served as a member of Grand Rapids Public Schools board, including as president, from 1990-96, served on the Grand Rapids City Commission from 2000-2006 and was a Democratic Michigan House of Representative from 2000-2006. He helped found Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Healing Racism.

People's mayor

Dean is running as "the people's mayor." He advocates fiscal responsibility, is pro-business and prolife in a city that has increasingly embraced diversity and inclusion. If elected he would be Grand Rapids' second African American mayor. The Rev. Lyman Parks, Sr. was the first.

To illustrate his point of making Grand Rapids a friendlier municipality to businesses, Dean recounts the story of the owner of commercial sign and graphics imagining company, Dimension Graphics in Southeast Grand Rapids. The owner was facing a $26,000 municipal bill when a water main ruptured at the street where his business is located. Dean said the contacts he made when he as a Third Ward city commissioner got the bill down to $1,600.

"We've got to make sure our city is viable and that people want to stay here," Dean said. "City hall is acting as if residents and businesses are working for them rather than city hall working for the people. You should want to be here and stay here."

Life-long resident

Born in 1954 to Henry and Little Dean, the 61-year-old minister is a life-long resident of Grand Rapids. It was a hardscrabble life growing up, he said, due largely to an alcoholic father who was prone to physical abuse. Racism was at the forefront of his young life as well. He remembers hearing stories from his grandfather who was a slave in Clay County, Miss.

Difficult as it was growing up, what he experienced helped to forge an empathy for the plight of people.

Grateful for opportunities

"Having someone see what it means to be poor and raised in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father who was abusive has made me grateful for the freedom and educational opportunities I've received," Dean said. "I want to make sure the windows of opportunities are open for residents' hopes and dreams. The prognosticators said I'd never amount to anything, yet my mother tells me a different story."

Dean said he witnessed God's grace in his father's life when he recited a passage in Philippians 2 that affirms in the name of Jesus every knee will bow and tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord. After confessing that passage, his father died that same night.

"That convinced me God was real," Dean said.

"I pray as God perfects Himself in me, I realized I've stumbled," Dean said. "I fell flat on my face. I'm grateful the love of God didn't treat me as a castaway. I desire to preach love and understanding, not hatred and bitterness, and bring persons together, to understanding."

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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