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Candidates vying for city commission seats lay out plans

League of Women Voters held public forum

Four Sault Ste. Marie City Commission candidates had the opportunity to explain what they thought the city's top priorities should be over the next four years.

Tuesday's forum, held at Bayliss Library, was organized by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of the Eastern Upper Peninsula. 

Candidates in the running for the three open city commission seats on Nov. 8 are Mayor Pro-tempore Kathleen Twardy, City Commissioner Ray Bauer, City Commissioner Andrew Rubinstein, Steve Habusta, and Scott Marble. 

Marble was unable to attend the event due to a conflicting work schedule.

LWV EUP Team Leader Linda Stoetzer moderated the public event. She also asked all guests to refrain from recording and taking pictures. 

According to its website, LWV is a “nonpartisan, grassroots organization working to protect and expand voting rights and ensure everyone is represented in our democracy.” Further, it strives to defend democracy through advocacy, education, and litigation at all levels of government. 

Prior to tackling the questions candidates provided opening statements, beginning with Twardy.

“I have been one of your city commissioners for the last nine years,” said Twardy, sure to thank everyone in attendance and credit LWV for hosting the event. “Prior to that nine years, I served on the DDA directors board for four years. I am running again because I love serving this community. I am very passionate about what we do. It does definitely take a lot of time, and a lot of sacrifice out of your life, but you don’t do it for the money or accolades. You do it because you serve your community.”

Twardy was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, MI. She has been married to her husband, Steve, for 27 years. They have three children together: Jenna, Ethan, and Dillon. 

“We moved back here in 2008 to get out of the corporate life," said Twardy. "We purchased Harmony Health Foods. That was our first endeavor. In 2009, I joined the DDA board of directors. Around six years later, we opened another little tourist store down on Portage Street called Cultured Pop. Everything in there is made in Michigan, except for the beef jerky. That is made in Wisconsin and we are attached to them.”

During COVID, the Twardys opened the Market on Osborn. 

 “I said to my husband, ‘If we are going to put a store in this building, we need to make sure the residents have access to the store from the inside without having to face the elements,” she explained. 

Today, residents can go downstairs and ring a doorbell to the store without ever having to step foot outside. 

“That has sort of been a labor of love,” Twardy said. “We work our butts off in there all the time, and we have not taken a penny out of there. I am running again because, like I said, I love to serve my community. As long as people continue to vote for me, I will continue to serve you.”

Rubinstein introduced himself next, recognizing LWV for hosting the event and thanking the residents in attendance. 

“I was recently appointed to the commission three months ago,” said Rubinstein, a transplant from Birmingham, MI. “I met my wife, Marnie, who is here tonight, about a decade ago.”

While working on the business side of professional sports, the Rubinstein family bounced around the country.  

“We always had a hankering to move back up this way,” said Rubinstein. “My mom always tells the story that she was pregnant with me on a Soo Locks boat tour. So, I was kind of meant to be up here. Probably six years ago, we started pushing to find a way to move up here.”

About three years back, Rubinstein accepted a position with Lake Superior State University (LSSU) to make his family's dreams come true. 

“Ever since we got here, even through COVID, we just tried to jump into everything we possibly could,” said Rubinstein, who volunteers and serves on various boards. 

He and his wife learned about the real estate market. They buy, sell, and invest in rental properties throughout the Sault.

“I love this community,” said Rubinstein. “For the longest time, I wanted to be up here. I have been ecstatic with everything. More than any place we have lived, the opportunities are endless to really make an impact in improving the community and area. In bigger cities, you don’t always have the opportunity to make impacts like this.”

E-Free Church Sault Campus Pastor Habusta introduced himself next, thanking LWV, Bayliss Public Library, and all in attendance. 

“Over the next few minutes, you will hear my voice,” said Habusta. “I am excited that you will get to hear my vision, and that you will get to hear what I want to see in Sault Ste. Marie. But I’m even more excited in the weeks to come, months to come, and hopefully as your commissioner in the years to come to hear your vision and hear your voice... what you want for this community. That is why I am running. I am committed to listening to your voice. Together, we can make Sault Ste. Marie a great place.”

Habusta has been married to his wife, Tiffany, for approximately 20 years. They have four children together, always staying busy as a family unit. 

“I currently serve as the director of operations for Lake Superior State University’s Norris Event Center, as well as the executive director for Chippewa County Community Foundation,” said Habusta.“In addition, I volunteer and serve the community in many ways including Joseph K. Lumsden Bahweting Anishnabe Public School Academy, where I have been on the school board for seven years, six of which I have been the vice president of the school board. I serve on the spiritual care team for Great Lakes Recovery, as a volunteer with Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office in the victims services unit, as well as many other things. I am running for city commission because I love serving this community. I think Sault Ste. Marie has all sorts of great things to offer.” 

Habusta referred to LSSU as an “outstanding public university.” He boasted about Sault Ste. Marie’s tourism and natural resources, along with its vibrant small business community and “unparalleled history.” Habusta was also sure to note the presence of the Sault Tribe within the community.

“What we lack is a visionary leader to bring those pieces together,” Habusta said. “That is what I want to do. That is why I want to serve this community so much, and continue serving this community in my next role as a city commissioner.”

Commissioner Bauer was up next to complete candidate introductions. 

“I was first elected to the city commission in 2005,” said Bauer, thanking LWV for the countless events its hosts throughout the nation. 

Bauer said he was especially proud of his two daughters in college, Trinity and Maggie. Bauer has been married to his wife, Joan, for 34 years. In fact, they will celebrate their first date just three days before the Nov. 8 election. 

“I am proud of the things I have done in the community over the past 29 years, since I have been living in it, including helping start the Music in the Park series in 1998,” said Bauer. “We never knew that it would still be here more than 20 years later. I have been hosting it for over 20 years. On the city commission, I am very proud of the reputation I have. It is a reputation for being someone of integrity; someone who is fiscally responsible; and someone who is always in favor of downtown development. I am definitely pro-Sault Ste. Marie in everything I do.”

Bauer said his proudest achievement as a city commissioner was casting the deciding vote to help form the Sault Ste. Marie Farmers Market.

With introductions out of the way finished, Stoetzer asked about what the commission’s top priorities should be. 

Rubinstein said he was concerned over the lack of housing. 

“With everything that we do, if we can’t grow our population, keep people here, and get people to want to move here, we are going to struggle to build and grow our community,” said Rubinstein. “That starts with housing and making sure people have good, quality, affordable places to live.”

Rubinstein then brought up everything else that comes with moving to a new location.

“One of the biggest things we struggled with, outside of finding a place to live, was childcare,” he said. “You get someone wanting to move to this community. They can’t find housing; they can’t find childcare; and they can’t find things to do with their kids. They are either not going to move here or chose to leave after a short amount of time. It is our biggest responsibility to make sure people want to be here because this is, truthfully, an amazing place to live.”

Habusta's answer revolved around childcare, labor, housing, financial stability, and recreational expansion. 

“To keep up with the paradigm shift that is happening within our culture, I think we need to really develop and continue to grow our broadband infrastructure,” said Habusta. “I think one of the ways we will attract remote workers to our community, which is the paradigm shift happening in our culture right now, is to have the very best broadband infrastructure we can in Sault Ste. Marie and surrounding it. That, I see as a priority.” 

Bauer answered next, bringing up the Carbide Dock. 

“You are talking about a $20 million project, and a lot of money that we have already had granted to us that we could possibly lose if we don't get enough funding to complete that project,” said Bauer. “When you are talking about sums of money for development, like $15 million, $20 million, and the fact that that may go away if we are not able to seal that deal. That would be terrible because the dock is not going to get better over the next four years.”

Bauer referenced the last regular city commission meeting on Monday, when commissioners reviewed change orders costing the city “thousands of dollars.” He continued only to be cut off by the time clock. 

Twardy picked up where her fellow commissioner left off. 

“I do think the most pressing thing the city commission is facing right now is the lack of funding for the Carbide Dock Project,” she agreed. “It’s all of Alford Park, along with all of Easterday from Portage Street all the way up to Ashmun Street, including two new roundabouts.”

Twardy said that when the approximately $23 million was received about five years ago, it was enough to complete the project. However, a post-pandemic economy caused prices to soar and material availability to decrease.   

The city had previously received $20,700,000 in United States Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) federal funding, along with $1 million funding from Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), $1 million Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), and $300,000 from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to total $23,000,000. 

The original engineering estimate was $15,100,000 in the pre-pandemic year of 2018. 

Information on the Carbide Dock can be found on the city of Sault Ste. Marie website, here. 

“The city commission has been involved in meetings every single day over the last couple of months, turning over every stone, begging people,” said Twardy. “The list of people the city manager has gone out to try to receive funding so that we can bring that whole dock back to life is unbelievable.” 

Apart from the Carbide Dock’s restoration, Twardy added that she would like to see more housing for people of all income levels in the city.  

Further LWV questions included city road construction, parking and protecting the city’s natural resources.

To watch questions and answers with candidates Twardy, Habusta, Rubinstein, and Bauer view the Candidate forum for Sault Ste Marie City Commission 9/20/2022, posted by the League of Women Voters of the Eastern Upper Peninsula on YouTube.