Jon Horford hopes to represent Michigan’s 77th State House district

LANSING — It wasn’t Jon Horford’s lifelong plan — knocking on doors, talking to potential voters on one of those late-March snowy days in Michigan that may make you wonder why you live here .

Horford, a well-travelled former college and professional basketball player, responded on his own. It is the house.

“I love Lansing. I’m from Lansing,” he said. “I feel like he has so much potential. It’s a great mix of people. I have always felt welcome in Lansing.

“It feels good.”

You may know Horford, or at least know him. Some of the people who answered their doors in the Westside neighborhood of Lansing on that freezing Saturday recognized him or knew his name – or connected the dots after the 6ft 9in man standing on their steps introduced himself .

Horford, 30, was a basketball star at Grand Ledge High School, then played at the University of Michigan and the University of Florida, before embarking on a professional basketball career that lasted the 2015 NBA Summer League and training camp, brief stays in the Dominican Republic. Republic and Belgium, and longer stops in the G-League in Canton, Ohio and Grand Rapids. His brother, Al, of course plays for the Boston Celtics.

The path from basketball player to political candidate is more natural for Horford than he imagined. Because, well, he never imagined doing this.

Horford, a Democrat, is running for State House in the newly drawn 77th District, which encompasses Lansing north of the Grand River, DeWitt, parts of Grand Ledge, Eagle Township and Westphalia. His competitors so far in 77th place are also Democrats, Logan Byrne of DeWitt and Emily Dievendorf of Lansing. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing (68th District), could have run in the 77th but is bidding for the state Senate instead.

About “five or six years ago” people who knew of his training in volunteer work and mentoring children started suggesting that he consider public service.

“I have opinions on a lot of things. But in all honesty, I never really saw myself getting involved in that way,” Horford said. “For a long time, I wasn’t sure that (public service) really mattered. And then I came back from the game, I had retired from the game a little over two years ago, and I wanted to get involved in other ways than working with children. … So I started calling people in the neighborhood, the elected officials, just to see if I could talk to someone and see what they recommended. And the first person to answer me – in fact, the only person to really answer me within about a month – was Angela Witwer.

Witwer, the twice-elected Democrat from Eaton County’s competitive 71st district, immediately went to Horford. She was familiar with him. He had played basketball with his nephew at Grand Ledge.

“Even when he was in high school, he always gave kids who needed a little extra attention,” she said. “I saw him, as a young teenager, become a very active man. I knew that Jon had all the qualities of a leader.

FROM 2017: Jon Horford threw tantrums as a kid on the basketball court. Now he connects with the kids.

At the time, Witwer was looking for someone who could possibly replace her in the 71st, before the redistricting. She gave Horford access to her — and her daily schedule — so he understood the job grind and details.

“The last couple of years, I kind of followed her,” Horford said. “We talk almost every day. And she’s been one of my amazing, incredible supporters and mentors. I’ve heard (that I should run) before, but it wasn’t until Angela said it and then took action…”

Jon Horford, a Democratic candidate for Michigan's new 77th State House District, leaves a pamphlet at the door of a home while campaigning Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Lansing.

Horford is big on mentoring. He will tell you that if not for a family friend, Larry Turnbow, he would have quit basketball somewhere before high school.

“I was a bench warmer, man,” Horford said. “(If I quit), I don’t get my scholarship to Michigan. I am not getting my masters degree (diploma) in Florida. I don’t play professional basketball. My life is completely different if I have no one for me. So I tried to provide that to the kids in the community for a long time. And I think some people, the people involved in this, have seen it.

Witwer, of course, among them.

Horford credits him with important community introductions, for helping him get into Michigan’s bipartisan Political Leadership Program (MPLP) in the state of Michigan, and for guiding him through that process.

“I wouldn’t do this without Angela,” Horford said. “I didn’t have that conviction yet. She saw something in me.

Even if he will no longer be his successor.

Horford and his wife, Cristina, bought an old house in downtown Lansing, placing them in the new 77th Ward. It’s a neighborhood they know well. They had previously lived downtown — in the ballpark apartments overlooking Lugnuts Stadium — before moving to Delta Township. The redesigned 77th also includes the high school they both attended, Grand Ledge.

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For Horford, who went off to college — Ann Arbor then Gainesville, Fla. — and then played professionally, this region has stayed home.

“My wife felt the same way,” Horford said. “Great things are happening in a lot of places. I think we want to be part of something that’s getting better.

Horford was born in Lansing, attending Forest View Elementary School before his family moved to Delta Township and Grand Ledge Schools.

“I honestly think Lansing has the potential to be one of those towns where people want to come and raise their families, people want to come on the weekends and do things,” Horford said. “…People want better for Lansing. I think it’s possible, but we all have to find ways to work together. This is another problem, a problem that comes up all the time. It’s how to find ways to ensure that all of the constituencies that want the best for Lansing can work together in their approach, get everyone moving in the same direction. This is something that worries a lot of people. »

Chris Huffman, left, shakes hands with Jon Horford, a Democratic candidate for Michigan's new 77th State House district, as Horford goes door-to-door Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Lansing.

On his campaign road that Saturday morning in Lansing, he met a lone Republican, a man he seemed to connect with through civility, basketball and a willingness to listen. Most of the time, it was an easy neighborhood, full of receptive voters, compared to other neighborhoods in the district.

His job is also to convince people in this new district who have never before been represented by a Democrat or a black man — let alone a 6-9 black man — that he is the best choice. He must go to people who might be threatened by his very existence and get them to see him differently.

Horford pointed to a ‘Black Lives Matters’ sign as he approached a house and mentioned how good it made him feel.

It’s part of his job as co-chair of Grand Ledge United, an organization whose mission is to build a more racially diverse, inclusive and equitable Grand Ledge, making people feel welcome in a uniquely white community. but changing. His resume also includes serving on the governor-appointed Michigan Black Leadership Advisory Council health committee and serving as vice chairman of the Eaton County Parks and Recreation Commission.

“You have to get a lot of people to want to vote for you for one reason or another, to want to support you, to believe that you would be the best representation for them in the State House,” Horford said.

“I’m not trying to sell you anything. I don’t want you to buy anything. I mean, I’m trying to sell you me. I think I would be a great defender, a great representative. But you decide. Talk to me. To ask questions. We have coffee hours. I make myself super available. I give away my cell phone a lot.

“I enjoyed the process. It’s just relationship building. This builds credibility. It’s been good, man. I really feel very humbled.

Contact Graham Couch at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.