What Monique Owens becoming Eastpointe's first Black woman mayor means

Last week, Eastpointe — the Macomb County city that renamed itself from "East Detroit" in 1992 to distance itself from the Motor City and align itself with the nearby wealthier and whiter Grosse Pointes — elected Monique Owens, a former sheriff's deputy and the city's first Black councilwoman, to be its new mayor. She beat her opponent by just 19 votes.

But Owens says she had no doubt she would win.

"It shows that Eastpointe wants to move forward," Owens says.

Eastpointe has a population of 32,000 and is more than 40% Black. Owens says she noticed a large Black attendance at the polls, but she believes people of all races supported her.

"A lot of people have been bothered by the past and racism not only in Eastpointe, but in all of America," she says.

Owens first got into politics when she applied to finish an Eastpointe council member's term after they died, but the city instead chose a white candidate. In another instance, Owens applied again when a council member resigned a month after they were elected. Again, the city chose a white candidate. Eventually, in 2017, Owens made history by becoming Eastpointe's first Black councilwoman.

Unlike Detroit, in which city council seats are created by dividing the city into districts, which then vote for a representative, Eastpointe has held city-wide votes for its city council seats. But this, the U.S. Justice Department argued in 2017, prevented Black candidates from winning, because white voters could vote as a bloc. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade filed a lawsuit against the city, arguing it was a violaton of the Voting Rights Act. Owens supported the lawsuit.

Earlier this year, the city settled. Instead of creating districts, as had been initially proposed, the city introduced a ranked-choice voting system — the first city to do so in Michigan. Under the system, voters rank the council candidates from their first preference to their fourth. A report by FairVote and the New America Foundation found racial minority populations prefer ranked-choice voting because it allows more diverse groups of voters to elect preferred candidates. On Tuesday, the city held its first city council election using the new method, though it did not elect any Black councilmembers. (Voters in New York City also approved ranked voting on Nov. 5.)

To counter the racial inequalities in the city, Owens wants to help educate Black people about politics and public policy that she was not taught as a child.

"I want to write a children's book to teach kids about public policy at a young age," she says. "When they get to a certain age, they will know what a councilperson is, what a mayor is — and become that."

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