Calvin students reflect on upcoming Kentwood City general election


Photo By Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Kentwood City is set to elect new members to their local government.

The city of Kentwood’s general election is well underway, with incumbent mayor Stephen Kepley and First Ward City Commissioner Emily Bridson competing for the highest office in the city’s  government, providing students hailing from the Kentwood area with opportunities to engage in politics.

“The November 2 election in Kentwood is important because every policy making position is contested between two candidates. All voters will choose two city-wide policy making officers — the mayor and an at-large city commissioner —- and each of the two wards will choose another ward-specific commissioner,” political science professor Doug Koopman told Chimes in an email. 

Voting in the upcoming election, according to junior Ben White, is an opportunity to contribute to the greater good of his community. “I’m planning on voting. I’ve already nailed down who I am voting for. For me, honestly, it’s an election — so I will vote if I am able because I see voting as a privilege and civic duty,” said White. 

With three different ballots offered based on voter precincts, positions on the ballot include mayor, city clerk, city treasurer, city commissioner at large and a city commissioner for Wards one and two.

Precincts one, four and five can also vote on the Operating Millage proposal — a proposal offering $11.3 million to the Kelloggsville Public Schools district to work on renovations for various schools in the district. 

The city clerk and city treasurer positions are uncontested. Candidates Dan Kusiack and Laurie Sheldon are set to become city clerk and treasurer respectively. All other positions have two candidates running.

The election is a milestone for junior Katie Van Dyke, as it will be the first general election she will vote in as a resident of Kentwood. Though she has yet to decide who she will vote for, Van Dyke hopes to have a mayor who is passionate about bringing change in the city while also being open to new perspectives.

I would hope that they’re open to discussions, that they have things they’re passionate about yet are humble enough to have difficult conversations with people,” said Van Dyke.

Mayoral candidate Emily Bridson is Kentwood’s current first ward commissioner, first elected in 2017. Hailing from the Lansing area, Bridson has more than 10 years of experience in the city, including serving as a commissioner for both planning and parks and recreation. Bridson is a member of Kent County’s City/County Building Authority and the vice-chair of Kalamazoo County’s Solid Waste Management Planning Committee. She also works at Spectrum Health’s vaccination clinics. 

Bridson has garnered endorsement from notable political figures such as Michigan Sen. Winnie Brinks and 76th District state Rep. Rachel Hood, with an emphasis on issues relating to the local economy, environment and community health.

In an email to Chimes, Bridson stressed the importance of students getting involved in politics. “It’s critically important that all of us are part of our community’s decisions and solutions. Students are underrepresented as elected officials and this needs to change. Awareness of the issues and voting in local races has the potential to involve more students and also ensure everyone’s voices are heard,” she said.

Stephen Kepley, her opponent, affirmed the importance of college involvement in local politics. “It is important that all residents living in a community register to vote and study the issues and the candidates who are running for office. Local governance has a great impact on our day-to-day lives … It is important to elect officials who have the experience running and leading keeping our communities safe, clean, and a fun place to live,” the candidate said in an email to Chimes.

Kepley has served in Kentwood for 18 years. For the past eight, he’s been the city’s mayor, and he previously worked as the director of engineering and inspections for 10 years. During his tenure as director of engineering and inspections, he oversaw the rebuilding of city hall as well as the construction of the Kent District Library. As mayor, Kepley managed the rollout of police body cameras as well as the city’s inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility study and program. 

Kepley, who is endorsed by current Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and former Kentwood mayor Bill Hardiman, is running on a platform that emphasizes issues like public safety, business and employment and schools, youth and neighborhoods. Kepley and his wife Susan also have a link to Calvin: They serve as off-campus advisors for Mu Kappa, a student organization for children of missionaries as well as students who identify as third-culture kids. 

To learn more about Kentwood’s general election, visit the city’s website at