Timeline of Mayor Beth Bashert’s Pattern of Anti-BlacknessBrian Geiringer & Amber Fellows, with organizing help from Ruth Cassidy and other What's Left Contributors
Ypsilanti, Michigan Mayor Beth Bashert made national news on Wednesday, June 17, 2020, after video surfaced of her comment from the previous night’s City Council meeting (full video here). During a vote to reinstate Ka’Ron Gaines as a Human Relations Commissioner, Bashert states “since I would be crucified if I vote against any Black person on any commission, I’m gonna vote ‘yes’.” That comment, that has since gone viral, is racist, dehumanizing, and delegitimizing. However, to understand the depths of racism entwined in Bashert’s comment, one must understand the history: Bashert’s record of decommissioning Black and other residents of color from city commissions, and antagonization toward Black Councilmembers, city staff, and residents who could potentially take seats on commissions or on City Council.
Bashert made inappropriate comments about Anne Brown, Bashert’s mayoral-race opponent, has been consistently dismissive of Mayor Pro-Tem Lois Allen-Richardson and City Manager Frances McMullan—all of whom are Black—and has struck a significant blow to Black and non-Black PoC membership on Ypsilanti’s commissions. In July, it was discovered that Bashert had appointed only 3 out of 8 eligible applicants of color for positions on city commissions, but appointed 21 out of 26 white applicants for positions on city commissions, and that Bashert had nominated 0 out of 3 Black residents for new positions on city commissions. As of the writing of this article, Bashert has specifically decommissioned at least 4 commissioners of color—3 of whom are Black; 3 of whom are women; 2 of whom were chairs of their commission.
What follows is a fuller timeline of Mayor Bashert’s relationship with Black residents, leaders, and city staff in positions of power in the city:
[Editor’s Note: Events directly related to Bashert’s disempowerment of Black leadership are in bold. Non-bold items are supplementary and related, and include quotes from many of the Black leaders Bashert has disempowered.
Editor’s Note: Beth Bashert is white. Every other person named in this article is Black, unless otherwise stated.]
2017 ~ Then-Councilmember Bashert staunchly supports International Village, which would have been built on publicly-owned land located in Ward 1, comprising primarily historically Black working-class neighborhoods, some of which were subject to redlining and urban renewal. Many in the community felt building International Village would accelerate gentrification.
2017 ~ Bashert opposes a resolution brought forth by the majority-Black Human Relations Commission to hold a public hearing focusing on International Village and its impact on housing affordability. Describing affordable housing as a “burden,” she asserts that Ypsilanti should not be responsible for more affordable housing. Bashert misrepresents the percentage of the county’s affordable housing units contained in Ann Arbor compared to Ypsilanti.
September, 2017 ~ At the International Village and Affordable Housing Townhall organized by Ypsilanti’s Human Relations Commission—at the time by far the city’s youngest, and only majority-Black, commission in the city—then-Councilmember Bashert compares the anti-gentrification work of the commission and other activists to politically regressive inaction of anti-LGBTQ commissioners in the 90’s. Bashert draws the baseless comparison that both the current anti-gentrification activists and earlier anti-LGBTQ residents “are choosing to be against something, which gets a lot of short-term energy, but doesn’t accomplish much,” and points out that nobody speaking at the townhall brought up “the Affordable Housing Taskforce,” a proposed 3-month body that was never formed.
At the time of the townhall, 5 out of 8 Human Relations Commissioners were Black. Today, due to Mayor Bashert’s commissioner nomination record, just 1 out of 6 Human Relations Commissioners are Black.
Since 2017 ~ Bashert has been consistently verbally abusive to Mayor Pro-Tem Allen-Richardson during City Council meetings, including here (specifically starting at around the 4-minute mark), as well as City Manager Frances McMullan.
October 24, 2018 ~ Bashert posts a Facebook status implying that her competitor for Mayor, Anne Brown, could not be “trust[ed] to complete the work of our city” because her “name is not on [the ballot].” Write-in candidate Anne Brown received 26% of the vote on election day, to Bashert’s 63%.
June 4, 2019 ~ During a City Council meeting, Bashert votes against Desiraé Simmons to fill the late Pete Murdock’s Ward 3 seat on City Council. Bashert then votes in favor of two white applicants. Of the candidates to fill the seat, Simmons was the only one to have run for a City Council position in recent years, receiving 39% of the vote in her run for a Ward 3 City Council seat in 2018. At least 15 Ypsi residents speak in favor of Simmons’ appointment during City Council public comment, while no other candidate has more than one resident speak in their favor. Bashert offers no rationale for her votes.
March 7, 2019 ~ Bashert defends former City Manager Darwin McClary (who is white) despite his decision to hire a less-experienced, white, outside candidate for Fire Chief over the well-respected current Fire Chief Ken Hobbs. Bashert criticizes other councilmembers for not investigating the dispute and not contacting McClary personally about the process.
April/May 2019 ~ Bashert does not renominate Toi Dennis for her position on the Planning Commission.
May 22, 2019 ~ White city staffmember Bonnie Wessler emails ex-Planning Commissioner Toi Dennis only ten minutes before a Planning Commission meeting to inform Dennis that Dennis was decommissioned and is no longer on the Planning Commission. In the email, Wessler states that she “completely lost track of people’s terms this year… but [that Dennis’] term appears to have concluded for now.” Dennis did not see this email before attending that meeting, and only discovered something was awry when she noticed her name was not included on the commission roll call. After that meeting Dennis spoke with Wessler and learned about her lack of reappointment. Dennis told What’s Left that after that meeting Wessler shared that it was Wessler herself who recommended Dennis not be renominated. Further, in the same email to Dennis, Wessler admits that three other Planning Commissioners had their terms expire at the same time as Dennis, and all three had their positions reinstated.
May/June 2019 ~ Bashert refuses to let City Council vote to reinstate (or deny) Sam Jones-Darling, who was serving as chair of the Human Relations Commission.
July 2019 ~ What’s Left files a Freedom of Information Act request with the city, for all applications from city residents for positions on city commissions.
September 4, 2019 ~ What’s Left publishes “Black Commissioners Not Reappointed by New Mayor,” which reveals that from November 2018 to July 2019, Mayor Bashert nominated only 3 of the 8 applicants of color who were eligible for positions on city commissions, while appointing 21 of the 26 white applicants who were eligible. This means her appointment rate for white people was more than double that it was for Black and non-Black residents of color. In that time, Bashert did not nominate a single Black resident to a new position on a city commission, despite 3 opportunities to do so.
Fall 2019 ~ Bashert reportedly tells Sarah Schulman, who is a New-York based AIDS and anti-gentrification activist, at a dinner conversation about gentrification that she thinks Black leaders in Ypsi are ‘fake.’ Later, Bashert will claim that she said ‘weak,’ not ‘fake.’
October 1, 2019 ~ During City Council, Councilmember Anthony Morgan states that he would like to see more transparency with the commission nomination process. Mayor Pro-Tem Allen-Richardson states that she would like to see Human Relations Chair Amber Fellows (who is Asian-American) reinstated after her term expires on Oct. 18 2019.
October 1, 2019 ~ During City Council, Mayor Pro-Tem Richardson asks Mayor Bashert to explain her failure to reappoint Planning Commissioner Toi Dennis and (Asian-American) Human Relations Commission Chair Amber Fellows. Bashert deploys the racist “angry Black woman” trope, responding that Dennis is a “loose cannon.” Bashert calls Fellows a “bully”. Bashert adds that she is frustrated with the HRC’s work. Allen-Richardson responds that it is hard for her to believe Bashert’s claims about Dennis, and adds that she has seen good things come out of the Human Relations Commission.
October 1 2019 ~ During City Council and in response to criticism levied at her record of commission appointments, Bashert states that she is “offended” by accusations being made against her. She also states that she “will sit down with anybody,” “explain the process,” that the process is “a learning curve,” that she is “doing the best [she] can”, that she has “thoughts behind every single choice that [she] makes… and it’s not reactive,” and that she “will never apologize for her passion around civil rights and equality and protecting diversity.”
October 1, 2019 ~ During public comment at City Council and in response to Bashert’s decommissionings, Desiraé Simmons states that she “simply will not accept any signs of white supremacy and patriarchy showing up hidden in the language and process of how my government works.”
October, 2019 ~ Bashert decides not to reinstate Asian-American Human Relations Commission chair Amber Fellows to her position on the commission, making Fellows the third commissioner of color to be ousted by the mayor in six months, and the second HRC chair to be ousted by the mayor in the same time, derailing the commission.
November 19, 2019 ~ During public comment at a City Council meeting, Ypsilanti resident Van Loggins asks if it’s true that “we are losing minority representation on commissions” and whether “there’s a systematic purge going on.” Councilmember Nicole Brown states that she is concerned about the decommissioning of Anne Brown from the Board of the Huron River Watershed Council.
December 28, 2019 ~ Then-Human Relations Commissioner Ka’Ron Gaines interviews Mayor Bashert. During the interview, Gaines asks Bashert to talk about “this ‘G’ word, this ‘gentrification’ word” and Bashert responds that “to [her] knowledge, we’re not seeing displacement yet [in Ypsilanti].” Bashert and Gaines appear together again, in a livestream posted by Gaines of the two attending a basketball game together.
November/December, 2019 ~ Bashert does not renominate former Councilmember Anne Brown, Bashert’s previous opponent in the 2018 run for Mayor, for Brown’s seat on the board of the Huron River Watershed Council. Anne Brown was the only Black boardmember for the 30-person Huron River Watershed Council board, the rest of whom were white.
At this point at least 4 residents of color had been decommissioned (or not renominated) by Mayor Bashert—3 of whom were Black; 3 of whom were women; 2 of whom were chairs of their commission.
December 3, 2019 ~ During public comment at a City Council meeting, Anne Brown states “I’m here tonight just to speak briefly on the city commission appointment process, and the decommission process—if that’s what it’s called.[…] Now, I received a letter saying I was not being reinstated, but I talked to a person today who said that she found out through a staffperson that she wasn’t being reinstated. I just want the city to really create a process for that, because I think that… Council needs to really consider the fact that when people give up their time, if they’re being reappointed or not being reappointed, there needs to be a formal process for that. It needs to come on letterhead. Just as we’re sworn in, we need to be notified professionally that we’re being reappointed or not… I think it’s unfortunate […] what’s circulating in the community right now, that 3 or 4 African-American women have been decommissioned. […] I would like to see who has been decommissioned for the last year, and who has been appointed. Because if that’s true—then we have a problem. Because what also is circulating in the community is that some of our elected leaders are saying that Black leadership in Ypsi is fake. And if that is true as well […] we have a problem. Because our city commissions need to represent the city.[…] Inclusivity means that… not just in race, or gender, or sexual orientation, it also means that there is a diversity in thinking. I am being decommissioned—if I am being decommissioned—because I didn’t agree with the dam removal. The woman I talked to today said she is being decommissioned because, she was told, she was an ‘agitator’—didn’t get along with people. Inclusivity also means that we have a broad array of thinking about things, that we don’t always agree.”
Soon after, Mayor Pro-Tem Allen-Richardson expresses that she thinks it was “shortsighted” for Bashert to remove Anne Brown from the HRWC board over a difference of opinion, and that Bashert did not have a good reason not to reappoint Ex-Planning Commissioner Dennis to her position. Allen-Richardson continues, stating that Bashert doesn’t know the process of “getting minorities to serve on commissions” and that “one of the reasons they didn’t want to serve on commissions is exactly what has been going on. That they’ve never felt comfortable; they haven’t felt heard; and they haven’t felt valued,” and that until Ypsilanti’s commissions look like the city’s population, “we need to cross off ‘Diversity’ up there” in reference to the words “Pride. Diversity. Heritage.” written on the wall of City Council chambers (and on Ypsilanti’s flag). Councilmember Nicole Brown expresses more concerns and disappointment about the commission appointment process, including never being consulted about the mayor’s decisions.
December 3, 2019 ~ During Council, Bashert implies that having Anne Brown as a member of the HRWC board, was an example of what she calls “The Warm Body Syndrome.” She goes on to say that “If somebody is in a position and they are not a good fit for that position I don’t feel like I’m doing the organization or the individual a favor by keeping them in that position,” states that “‘Decommissioning’ is a strong word that I’m not really in agreement with,” and says that in addition to disagreeing with Bashert about the fate of Peninsular Dam, Anne Brown was “continuing to actively work to undermine the process to remove the dam, and using her role on the Huron River Watershed Council to help do that. I felt like that was not fair to the city or to the Huron River Watershed Council…”
In response to those comments, Anne Brown rises from her seat in the audience, stating “That’s not true, Beth… Beth, I have to say: you are inaccurate. You are inaccurate, and I am not gonna stand here and allow you to continue… I’m not gonna allow you to use my name in a falsehood. Because Huron River Watershed Council emailed me and called me and said they were as surprised as I was that I was being removed… We deal with that on a national level, but I’m not gonna deal with it locally.”
December 3, 2019 ~ In response to the events of that night’s City Council meeting, Bashert publicly posts on her personal Facebook page:
“I have achieved a whole new level of Mayor-ship. I have been shouted down as an ‘Unpopular Mayor!!!” Coupla times (to quote one of my favorite movies).
I think this makes it official that the honeymoon is over. :)”
March, 2020 ~ City Manager Frances McMullan files a complaint with the city about Bashert’s behavior toward her.
June 16, 2020 ~ At a City Council meeting, during a vote to reinstate Ka’Ron Gaines as a Human Relations Commissioner, Bashert states “since I would be crucified if I vote against any Black person on any commission, I’m gonna vote ‘yes’.” In the conversation before the vote, the council discusses that ex-Commissioner Gaines has been absent for 10 out of 26 HRC meetings in his tenure; all 6 councilmembers other than the mayor vote “no”, and Commissioner Gaines is not reinstated as an HRC commissioner.
All three of Black councilmembers, Allen-Richardson, Brown, and Morgan, immediately react to Bashert’s ‘I would be crucified’ comment. Councilmember Morgan states “I don’t like that you said that; that’s not true…… Did you say that mayor? Noo, that’s not true,” and Mayor Pro-Tem Allen-Richardson says “No… you have to vote on qualifications.”
Later in the meeting, Councilmember Brown states “I just have to go back and kind of address the comment that you made, mayor, regarding that vote on the commission seat for Mr. Gaines. I think I’ve heard you, before, ask for apologies when things happen; I think you have to offer not only Council but our community members an apology, because what you ensued is that they cannot separate their warranted feelings about behaviors that you’ve exhibited in the past from factual information, and that it is solely based on race even when facts are given. And I think that that is… disrespectful, honestly, to our constituents and our community to say that you have to vote ‘yes’ because then if not you would be… attacked… if you didn’t appoint another Black person… It wasn’t just about them being Black people, it was about the comments that you made about them at different times, and also not having any tangible information like we actually had for this appointment in discussion of why they weren’t being reappointed. So I would ask you to apologize at this point in time, because in light of all the discussions that we’ve been having, in particular talking about Black lives and Juneteenth today and talking about the pride and the moves that we’re trying to make as a community around race—equity, bias, prejudice—for you to make a comment like that I think was definitely out of order, and you owe the Black people in this community an apology, and your fellow councilmembers. Thank you.”
Bashert responds “Thank you, I will consider your comments.”
Immediately following Councilmember Brown’s statement, Councilmember Morgan states “You could’ve did better than that mayor, you could’ve did much better than that, I gotta say it. Damn. You could’ve did much better than that—and you shouldn’t’ve considered it you should’ve just did. You should’ve just said ‘I’m sorry,’ it would’ve been so much easier. That’s what I’m talking about; it could’ve been so much easier.”
Later in the meeting, Mayor Pro-Tem Allen-Richardson states “After the impassioned comments from [non-Black woman of color] Councilmember Somerville, I can’t believe you said ‘I have no comment, but I do have two issues’. I can’t believe that… you did exactly what, in part, she was talking about. I mean you didn’t comment behind Councilmember Brown; I was expecting at least ‘OK, I’m sorry, I’ll do better.’ You did not… comment behind Councilmember Morgan; he also was pulling for an apology from you. But then to just ignore what you just heard to say ‘I have no comment, but i have two issues that I want to address…’ Y’know, I just said at the beginning of the meeting that we have a responsibility to call out racism when we see it, and all of that shows… a very very explicit display of racism. So go on and call on [goes mute].” As Bashert then starts to apologize, Richardson states “Too little, too late.”
Bashert goes on to state “that there have been energetic efforts to paint me as a racist for… ever since I’ve entered office. And they’re false,” that “I will continue to ask that I be judged by my actions more than my words. I understand that millennials like their words more than their actions, but my actions have spoken for years…,” and that she “apologize[s] for that one inappropriate statement.” She goes on to apologize to each Black Councilmember individually, for “hurting” them.
Following that, City Manager Frances McMullan asks “How come I wasn’t included in that apology?” to which Bashert responds “You and I have a disagreement going on and I do not feel safe acknowledging you in many ways at this time because until our issue is resolved, I just don’t feel like it’s a safe territory for me.” Councilmember Brown leaves the meeting, repeating “I gotta go,” and City Manager McMullan states that “that was the perfect place… to prove different.”
June, 2020 ~ A local Black organizer posts a picture of a text conversation she had with Mayor Bashert, in which Bashert clarifies, regarding the comment she made to white activist Sarah Schulman, that Bashert did not say that Black leaders in Ypsilanti are “fake,” but rather she said that Black leaders in Ypsilanti are “weak,” and that there is a “need for leadership development in the Black community.”
June, 2020 ~ Since the City Council meeting on June 16, many community members have called for Mayor Bashert to resign, including here (and all over her public Facebook page), here (in which Human Relations Commission chair Kyle Hunter comments “I am the chair of the Human Relations Commission, and I can unequivocally say that the Mayor consciously, strategically participates in and depends on covert systemic racism”), and here. An event has been organized for Monday, June 22, specifically asking for Mayor Bashert’s resignation.
June 20, 2020 ~ Councilmember Nicole Brown and (non-Black woman of color) Annie Somerville ask for Bashert’s resignation during speeches at a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Ypsilanti.
June 22, 2020 ~ All 6 City Councilmembers, other than Bashert, have now asked for Bashert’s resignation. Ypsilanti Township Trustee Jimmie Wilson Jr., and State Senator Jeff Irwin, who is white, have also asked for Bashert’s resignation. Four City Councilmembers state that they will not attend June 23’s City Council meeting, meaning that the meeting would not be able to happen.
June 22, 2020 ~ Protesters march in the streets of Ypsilanti demanding Bashert’s resignation; some continue the protest in front of Bashert’s home in the Normal Park neighborhood. Protesters in Normal Park are told by Bashert’s neighbors that Bashert and her wife have left town for the week.
June 23, 2020 ~ Mayor Beth Bashert resigns, via Facebook post.
June 23, 2020 ~ Mayor Pro-Tem Lois Allen-Richardson becomes Mayor of Ypsilanti. Allen-Richardson is the first Black woman Mayor of the city.
For as long as we can remember ~ Beth Bashert’s front lawn contains a ‘Black Lives Matter’ yard sign.
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