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Can Hailey Lynch-Bastion play their way to winning the election for Grand Rapids mayor?

Hailey Lynch-Bastion covers their mouth while smiling into the camera. They wear a black hoodie with untamed black hair. A single blonde braid hangs down their shoulder. Behind them are colorful paintings.
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Public
Hailey Lynch-Bastion is serious about running for mayor of Grand Rapids. But that doesn't mean they're not joking.

Grand Rapids voters will elect a new mayor this year. The current mayor, Rosalynn Bliss, can’t run again because of term limits.

Two of the candidates are familiar names. They’ve been on city commission before. A third is a military veteran. The fourth describes themself as a neurotic Capricorn who spends their free time “pretending to be a robot and fearing Roko’s Basilisk.”

This is a story about the fourth candidate.

“I will say currently my level of maniacal cackles, like, per day increases,” said Hailey Lynch-Bastion when I met them for an interview at their apartment on the west side of town.

In person they are warm and funny. They wear an unzipped hoodie, with tattoos peaking out along their hands, neck and face. They have black hair, untamed, with a single blond braid that runs down their shoulder.

“I’m probably more serious than the other people quite frankly, despite my jokes and my smiles.”
Hailey Lynch-Bastion, on their campaign for mayor of Grand Rapids

They look like an artist, not a politician.

Naturally, I wondered: Are they serious?

“Oh yeah,” they declared when I asked. “I’m probably more serious than the other people quite frankly, despite my jokes and my smiles.”

Posting absurdist texts

Lynch-Bastion hasn’t done too many interviews yet, or held campaign events. They did answer a questionnaire for the community news site The Rapidian, in which they promised to “literally shred and eat” any proposal that puts profit over people.

They identify as non-binary, and use they-them pronouns, though occasionally it if they’re feeling feisty. They’re a writer, a musician, they are heavy into philosophy - especially the French philosophical/psychoanalytical team of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

But they have exactly zero experience in local government. They don’t even go to city commission meetings. They’re not a political activist. They’re into internet culture and memes:

“I will make memes but I tend to just do absurdist text posts,” they said.

Posts like the one on X, formerly Twitter, that reads:

"what if i was hailey lynch-freakstion && instead of running for mayor i sucked toes

yea that’s funny i should tweet that"

“I won’t suck their toes though just to be clear,” they said to me.

“Well you know politics is a dirty sport,” I said back. “If one of the other candidates promises to suck toes you’re in trouble.”

Lynch-Bastion cackles, then in a voice of mock outrage:

“My opponents won’t suck toes at all!”

The post-ironic candidate

There is a phrase I’ve been thinking about that describes Lynch-Bastion’s approach to this campaign. They use it on their website.

The phrase is: Post-ironic.

The old irony is just about the jokes and the sarcasm. In post-irony, it’s a joke, and it’s serious too.

“If things are taken too seriously and there’s no room for levity, then I think people can get really like twisted up,” Lynch-Bastion explained, “and like unnecessarily upset or aggressive or unwilling to play with each other.”

"I see no reason why ... play itself can’t be instructive and more beneficial than just straight up work."
Hailey Lynch-Bastion

Play is an important concept for Lynch-Bastion, and an important strategy.

But they’re not the first person in politics to use memes or to make jokes that are also kind of serious. The fringe right has been doing it for years. The left has gotten into it more with memes like Dark Brandon.

Hailey Lynch-Bastion is bringing their own playful, post-ironic meme politics to the city level.

“Play can almost be considered a pejorative sometimes by people, where it’s like, ‘You should be working,’” they said. “And I see no reason why it can’t be both - why play itself can’t be instructive and more beneficial than just straight up work.”

Lynch-Bastion does have policies they care about. They want to address the homelessness crisis in Grand Rapids, and do more to help those struggling with food insecurity. They also want the city to move with more urgency to address climate change, to push new transit options - things the city is doing, but not fast enough for them.

But being serious about these issues doesn’t mean to them that they can’t also have a silly campaign.

Or that they can’t, say, have a campaign song. Which yes, they do have:

Hailey Lynch-Bastion got help recording this song from their friend Brandon Copeland.

They’ve known each other a while, they used to be in a Hip Hop group together.

I met up with Copeland at a store he runs on Division Avenue, Grammotones. Sitting by the front window, I asked him, on a scale of 1 to 10, how serious does he think his friend’s mayoral campaign is?

“Do I have to answer this question?” Copeland chuckled. “I’m going to say, like, a four.”

Unlike his buddy, Copeland has been to city commission meetings. He’s marched in protests and been involved with the group Justice for Black Lives.

Grand Rapids is a city where the mayor doesn’t have that much power ... the city manager is kind of in control of most of the stuff in the city.”
Brandon Copeland, artist and friend of Hailey Lynch-Bastion

“I think voters want to see people that are in the streets, that they can connect to, that they see,” Copeland said, noting that Hailey Lynch-Bastion hasn’t been present for much of any of the protests that have happened in the city over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, or over the killing of Patrick Lyoya by a Grand Rapids police officer (“My work tends to overlap with them. It feels like a terrible excuse,” Lynch-Bastion said of the protests.)

Still, Copeland said he is going to vote for Lynch-Bastion.

“I mean, Grand Rapids is a city where the mayor doesn’t have that much power,” he said. “Like the city manager is kind of in control of most of the stuff in the city.”

Which is true.

Grand Rapids has a city manager form of government. Another name for it is the “weak mayor” system. Nearly 200 cities in Michigan have this form of government, according to the Michigan Municipal League, so it’s common.

But it is an important point that electing the mayor of Grand Rapids is not quite the same as, say, electing the mayor of Detroit. In Grand Rapids the mayor does not propose the annual budget or oversee city departments. They city manager does those things.

The mayor does have some power; they can declare a state of emergency, and they preside over city council meetings, which means they hold the gavel, deciding who can and cannot speak. Out in the community, they also have more speaking power. They deliver annual State of the City speeches. They go to ribbon cutting ceremonies and events to break ground on new construction projects.

They are, in effect, the city’s voice.

And that’s a job Brandon Copeland thinks his friend can do:

“I feel the mayor as a position is kind of performative, so it doesn’t matter who we vote for mayor,” Copeland said. “But I’m going to vote for Hailey just because it’d be hilarious if they won.”

Creating a space to breathe ... and booty shorts

Voters in the August primary will decide the top two candidates who get to advance to the November election.

If Hailey Lynch-Bastion doesn’t make the cut, if it’s just a hilarious campaign for the sake of hilarity, well that’s also kind of a win for them.

“There is so much like anxiety bubbling up further and further. We’re all feeling more and more alienated. And working more hours consistently for less,” Lynch-Bastion said. “And I want everybody to just be able to go,” and here they take a deep, calming breath, “for at least one minute, you know?”

So that’s the campaign they’re going to run, full of post-ironic silliness right up until the end.

“Are you going to have, like, yard signs and stickers and stuff?” I asked toward the end of our interview.

“Um, no,” they said. “I’ve got some booty shorts I’m making to distribute.”

“That’s going to be your campaign merch?”

“Well, my name on everybody’s butt - c’mon: best case scenario.”

The primary election is August 6th.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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