Messing with a Key Election

Duggan and Dugeon

You just knew something like this was bound to happen — and if the stakes weren’t so serious, it would be pretty funny.

Mike Duggan, longtime Wayne County political fixer, county prosecutor and former Detroit Medical Center tycoon, seemed on the point of doing something amazing:

Getting enough Detroiters to write in his name on next week’s primary ballot to catapult him into a runoff for mayor in November, almost certainly against Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. If that happens, the odds favor Iron Mike.

Business and corporate interests will pour money into his campaign, and, remarkably, a fair number of longtime Detroit leaders are less noisily pushing for him too.

They think he’s the best bet to both help manage the city through bankruptcy and speed the process under which Detroit can tell Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr goodbye for good — without fear that losing him will mean worse to come.

Then, suddenly, it all turned into a comic opera. Enter a 31-year-old barber whose name is Mike Dugeon, but who says he pronounces it the same as the known candidate does.

Dugeon announces that he, too, is running a write-in candidacy for mayor. This is a man of such finely tuned political instincts that he has never before bothered to vote; a man whose Facebook page seems to have been mainly devoted to laments about how hard it’s been for him to get laid. (“If I ain’t buying the drinks or the weed, I can’t get a call.”)

Then, presto — he is a candidate for mayor. Even Dugeon knows he is being used as a political pawn, but appears to be enjoying his few moments of fame. “I’m in it to win it,” he says.

Right. Dugeon claims that local TV reporter Charlie LeDuff talked him into running, something that, if true, would be highly unethical by any journalistic standards.

Elections are the closest thing we have to a sacred rite in democracy. Journalists are allowed to write and talk and blog about them, analyze them, even make recommendations, but recruiting an ignorant spoiler candidate to, as Dugeon claims LeDuff told him, “split up the votes” is not only unethical, it shows contempt for the entire democratic process.

LeDuff claims this isn’t what happened, that he got a tip from a rival campaign that Dugeon was going to run, and so he went to see him and got him thinking about the idea.

However, he did apparently take Dugeon down to city hall, where he filed an affidavit to run. However, regardless of how much LeDuff did or didn’t do, there is ample evidence that both the reporter and his station, FOX 2, were also being used.

The Dugeon “candidacy” has all the signs of being hatched by another campaign. Within hours after he was discovered, Dugeon was handing out professional-seeming campaign buttons that were virtually identical to Duggan’s.

Indeed, the real Mike Duggan’s campaign immediately blamed Benny Napoleon’s camp.

Napoleon, who is widely seen as virtually certain to make the runoff, indignantly denied it. Frankly, I find it hard to believe he is the culprit. Granted, there is little doubt that the sheriff would rather be in a November runoff against perpetual loser and convicted felon Tom Barrow, or any of the flock of virtual no-names, than against the choice of the power brokers.

You have to wonder whether Barrow might be the culprit behind the barbershop candidacy. Indeed, he showed up at Dugeon’s barbershop Saturday for a clip job of his own.

Barrow has been, from the start, the most rabidly determined to keep Duggan out of the race, even filing an unsuccessful lawsuit to try to stop his write-in candidacy.

Indeed, without Duggan in the race, Barrow would have a pretty good chance of making it to November, and a shot at losing badly for a fourth straight time.

Now, there’s nothing new about any of this. Years ago, it was considered sport in Boston politics to find three or four John Sullivans and get them to file in a race where a real John Sullivan was facing a fierce primary or non-partisan challenge.

But here’s why there is something different — and evil — about recruiting a politically ignorant barber to run here.

What happens when voters write in some form of the name Duggan, or Dugeon, but misspell it? Michigan election law says a write-in vote need not spell the candidate’s name perfectly — but the “intent of the voter” has to be clear.  Fine. But what happens if someone writes in “Mike D?” or “Duggeon?” How will that be counted?

Technically, the Wayne County Board of Canvassers will determine that. But there are bound to be lawsuits and countersuits, especially if the race for second place is close.

This may look as bad as the presidential punch-card count in Florida in 2000 — except that two other factors will make the net effect as bad — or worse. 

First, there is only a very limited time to determine winners, after which overseas and other absentee ballots need to be printed for the November runoff.

But what’s even worse is the effect this may have on the bankruptcy process, and the city’s efforts to move toward a new start. The more Detroiters look like incompetent clowns who can’t even hold a simple city election, the less likely judges, creditors and politicians are to believe that they can get the job of rebuilding their city’s government and finances done.

 Now more than ever, Detroit needs a clean election that leads to a new set of rational and intelligent leaders.

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources,” Mike, the barber, wrote in a rare lucid Facebook posting. That’s right, brother, and I hope your 15 minutes of fame bring you a little more haircutting business, and the inspiration to actually go vote for once in your life — but not for yourself.

If you withdraw your write-in candidacy, I think I can broker a deal whereby the real Mike Duggan vows never to work as a barber, no matter who wins.


Schuette Defending

the Little Guy?

Gerry Hoffman of Kalamazoo was not alone in being stunned by news that Michigan AG Bill Schuette would intervene in Detroit’s bankruptcy wars — on behalf of those who don’t want their pensions eliminated or reduced.

Last week, the attorney general said he would step in “on behalf of southeast Michigan pensioners who may be at risk of losing their hard-earned benefits.”

This caused a few gasps among our tattered liberal community. “WTF!!”  Gerry Hoffmann of Kalamazoo wrote to me. “I have never (before) agreed with Schuette about anything! What’s his angle? There must be some ulterior motive!”

Hoffmann can be excused for the cynicism; indeed, it’s hard to remember any right-wing cause our attorney general wasn’t hot to embrace — from right-to-work to wasting taxpayers’ money by refusing to comply with the national health care law.

What’s he now doing posing as “the people’s attorney,” as he called himself? Simple: As Frank Kelley, the longest-ever serving Michigan attorney general, reminded me, the AG is legally obligated to defend the interest of state employees.

Sometimes, when departments of government have sued each other, an AG appoints two different assistant attorneys general to argue each side of the case. There’s something else going on too. Schuette badly wants to be our next governor.

Messing with people’s pensions is very unpopular. If Schuette can appear to be on the side of the people, without really doing much for them, in his world, that’s all good. mt

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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