Taylor’s triumph

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As we were going to press Monday, News Hits heard from Freman Hendrix that he would seek a recount. He says significant discrepancies exist between computer tallies of votes cast and the actual number of ballots submitted, casting doubt on the outcome of the election.

From a narrow and strictly self-interested view, we’re hoping Hendrix fails in his bid to overturn Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s stunning come-from-behind victory. That’s because News Hits holds the best interests of this column above all else, and, from that unenlightened perspective, four more years of Kwame is the best thing that could happen to us. With the big man returning to office, this space is guaranteed endless fodder, and the manure that makes it so rich.

The political handicappers around here think a Hendrix challenge faces long odds. The way the numbers stand now, he lost by 14,000 votes. That’s a lot to overcome. But then again, City Clerk Jackie Currie and her crew were involved in the process, so who knows?

The one thing for sure is that Currie’s woeful reign has come to an end. That alone is remarkable.

What makes Currie’s defeat particularly interesting is that, although Janice Winfrey is the official winner, Jackie C. was actually knocked from her perch by someone whose name didn’t even appear on the ballot. Maureen Taylor didn’t run against Currie, but she — more than anyone else — is the one who brought about the downfall of Detroit’s chief elections official.

Three months ago it looked like Currie, first elected to the clerk’s job in 1993, would cruise into a fourth term. Facing three challengers in the primary, she captured 70,000 votes — more than any other politician on the entire ballot. Second-place finisher Winfrey, with only 20 percent of the tally, trailed Currie by 25 points. With no previous experience as an elected official and virtually no name recognition, Winfrey appeared to have zero chance of defeating one of Detroit’s most influential office holders.

But when the votes in the general election were counted, it was Winfrey who came out on top, 53 percent to 47 percent.

What made the difference between August and November was Taylor and the lawsuit she filed after losing a primary bid in the City Council race. After failing to finish in the top 18, she sought a recount of absentee ballot votes.

And that’s where the unraveling of Currie began.

With the exception of Metro Times and The Citizen, the local media didn’t pay much mind when Taylor and her supporters were over in the basement of Cobo Center in August, learning that absentee ballots in 29 of the 46 boxes she wanted reviewed couldn’t be recounted because they were improperly handled. In many cases the votes couldn’t be recounted because seals put in place to guard against vote tampering had been improperly broken with no explanation as to why.

Taylor called foul then and there, filing a lawsuit in Wayne Circuit Court. Chief Judge Mary Beth Kelly heard the case. That lawsuit got little notice from the mainstream media until Currie violated Kelly’s order not to send absentee ballot applications en masse. That got everybody’s attention. The TV cameras were rolling and flashes popping when Kelly slapped Currie with a criminal contempt charge.

With the lawsuit producing revelations — from “ambassadors” for Currie’s office rounding up votes in nursing homes with grocery carts, to the widespread mishandling of absentee ballots in violation of state election law — and front page headlines in the dailies finally bringing broad attention to the problems Taylor was exposing, Currie’s veneer of invulnerability began to crack.

By the end, state and county officials were brought in to take charge of absentee votes and the feds were investigating Currie’s office. Even in Detroit, that’s usually enough to lose you an election.

Through it all, Taylor remained steadfast. While on the witness stand, one of Currie’s lawyers asked why she was pursuing this case. Taylor, unflappable, responded: “I filed this case because I wanted the clerk to be stopped from stealing elections.”

This hasn’t been easy for her. Currie and her supporters tried portraying Taylor as a Republican dupe attempting to deny black Detroiters their voting rights. For anyone who knows Taylor, the accusation is laughable. For starters, Taylor is African-American. She’s also a social worker who for years has been helping the residents of Detroit’s downtrodden Cass Corridor. Her run for council was based on representing a disenfranchised constituency — the poor. Taylor wanted to give them a powerful voice at City Hall.

Though she won’t be serving on City Council, Taylor rightfully felt vindicated after the votes cast in the general election were counted.

“For a while it felt like I was shouting into the wind when I was saying something was wrong here,” Taylor says. “So it is validating to have people realize that you are not so crazy, that what I’ve been raising are real issues.

“When I heard that Jackie Currie had lost the election, I knew that my community had heard me, that people looked at me and said, ‘That girl’s telling the truth.’ That they saw me as a person of worthiness and trust, because the citizens had turned away from Jackie Currie, and turned away from vote tampering. And when I heard that she’d lost, I felt vindicated. I put my head down, and tears came to my eyes.”

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