There's political corruption, and then there's Detroit political corruption.
When it comes to politics, Detroit has a long history with shady, corrupt, cocky, and seemingly untouchable politicians. But it wasn't until the fall of Kwame Kilpatrick, aka the "Hip-Hop Mayor," that it was understood how deeply lies and corruption pumped throughout this city.
After Kilpatrick, Detroit found itself on the biggest rebranding campaign any major city might have ever seen. Kilpatrick's resignation moved former Detroit City Council president Ken Cockrel, Jr., into the role until a special election forced out the seasoned politician and made room for former NBA point guard Dave Bing. But it was under Bing that the effects of Kilpatrick and his constituents hit the fan, and forced the city to file for bankruptcy. After serving one full term, Dave Bing announced he would not run for re-election, leaving the mayoral seat vacant. In 2013, Mike Duggan won the primary as a write-in-candidate and defeated Benny Napoleon, becoming Detroit's first white mayor in 40 years.
With Duggan at the helm, Detroit was able to steer itself toward a comeback. Streetlights that had gone neglected were turned back on, the Detroit Department of Transportation found itself with a new bus fleet, Detroit police officers were required to wear body cameras, and Duggan seemed to be committed to fighting blight in Detroit neighborhoods. At the same time, the city saw new players make their way onto the Monopoly board as Dan Gilbert's ownership around the city increased and gentrification spread — all while the city continued to hemorrhage population.
This year, Duggan is seeking re-election for the third time and if elected, he'll be the first mayor to reach this milestone since Coleman A. Young. Nevertheless, Duggan refuses to debate his opponent — in the same way he refused to address questions about directing city resources to the woman who is now his wife. Duggan also hasn't done much campaigning, despite raising more than $1 million in campaign funds, and some might feel an endorsement from the sitting president is all the campaigning he might need.
Then there's Detroit City Council, where more than half of the members are under federal investigation for bribery in a pay-to-play scheme with towing companies. District 4's André Spivey resigned in September after pleading guilty to conspiring with an unidentified staff member to commit bribery, collecting more than $35,000 in cash bribes. District 7's Gabe Leland was indicted on bribery charges in October 2018, and he resigned in May. As a result of the widening probe, the homes and offices of City Council At-Large member Janeé Ayers and District 3's Scott Benson were searched in August, though neither have been charged with a crime. City Council President Brenda Jones and District 6's Raquel Castañeda-López have also announced they are not seeking reelection, creating a massive shakeup at City Hall.
This election might be the most important of the last few years. Detroit voters should not rely on familiarity, but truly understand the candidates they are electing to represent them.
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Mayor Mike Duggan
In one corner, you have the incumbent mayor, first elected in 2013, where he defeated former Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon with 55% of the vote. In 2017, he beat Coleman Young II with 71.6% of the vote.
Relevant experience: Before becoming mayor, Duggan was president and CEO of Detroit Medical Center from 2004 to 2012, assistant corporation counsel for Wayne County from 1985 to 1986, deputy Wayne County executive from 1987 to 2000, and Wayne County prosecutor from 2001 to 2003.
Campaign themes: Under Duggan, Detroit's reputation went from "Murder City" to "Comeback City." His campaign slogan is "One city for all of us," an apparent retort to the claim that Detroit is a Dickensian tale of two cities — the 7.2 square miles of glitzy downtown development, and the rest.
Controversy: In 2014, Duggan pledged to demolish 40,000 vacant and blighted houses using federal funds. One of the most ambitious demolition programs in the country, it came under intense scrutiny and prompted several investigations due to soaring demolition costs and environmental hazards, and in 2017, the city was forced to return $6.4 million in funding for improper expenses. (Duggan's administration has denied violating the law, but admitted to making mistakes.)
Then, in 2018 and 2019, a disgruntled businessman with a beef with the city named Robert Carmack alleged that Duggan was having an extramarital affair with Dr. Sonia Hassan, launching a smear campaign that included flying airplane banners over the city and even hiring a private eye to follow the mayor. It was later revealed that Duggan had directed $350,000 in city grants to Hassan's nonprofit, Make Your Date, which aims to lower infant mortality in Detroit.
Though Attorney General Dana Nessel cleared Duggan of criminal wrongdoing, she noted that aspects of the ordeal were "absolutely unethical." Duggan and his former wife divorced in 2019, and he and Hassan wound up getting married last month. Could this be the death of good old-fashioned political sex scandals?
Notable endorsements: President Joe Biden, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Abdul El-Sayed, The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, The Michigan Chronicle.
In the other corner, you have Anthony Adams, an attorney who served in two Detroit administrations. Yet the Adams campaign has pulled in just $160,000 from grassroots donors, and in the August primary, he garnered 10% of the vote.
Relevant experience: Adams served as deputy mayor under Kilpatrick and executive assistant under Coleman Young. He was also the interim leader of the Department of Water and Sewerage, general counsel for Detroit Public Schools, and a federal judicial law clerk to U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the Eastern District of Michigan.
Campaign themes: Adams's campaign slogan is "We, Detroit, We Deserve Better!" He has called out Duggan for policies that he says have left everyday Detroiters behind, including the over-taxation of Detroit homeowners of $600 million and thousands of homes facing tax foreclosure.
Controversy: The Kilpatrick connection could explain Anthony's low poll numbers. (He told The Detroit News that he "shouldn't be held responsible for the acts of a grown man who wasn't my son.") Despite his sizable advantage, Duggan has refused to debate Adams, with his campaign saying it will not give a platform to "hateful and divisive rhetoric." When pressed, the Duggan campaign accused Adams of making wildly inaccurate claims, such as saying that the city's Land Bank does not sell homes to Black people. (The campaign says 70% of Land Bank buyers are Black.) Adams, in turn, has accused Duggan of using the racist trope of "an angry Black man" to dismiss his campaign. "When he talks about hate, he doesn't want to debate me and stand on the stage to make those allegations, because he is fearful of having his record carefully examined," Adams said at a campaign event.
Notable endorsements: Collective PAC, Mothering Justice, Black Slate, and "more than 150 local leaders," according to the campaign.
Whatever controversies come with the mayor, who got the Metro Times endorsement in 2013, Detroit voters don't seem to mind. He appears poised to cruise to reelection, earning 72% of the vote in the August primary. What is Duggan afraid of?
Detroit City Clerk
Incumbent Janice Winfrey's 16-year tenure has been marred in controversy, and she has presided over an election system fraught with problems. During the presidential election in 2016, when Donald Trump won Michigan by just 0.2%, scores of voting machines malfunctioned, poll workers weren't properly trained, and thousands of presidential ballots couldn't be recounted because tabulations didn't match the poll books. The same problems continued in the 2020 presidential election, and mismatched poll books gave Republicans ammo to make baseless claims about alleged widespread election fraud. In a city where voter turnout is historically low, Winfrey's office added unnecessary hurdles by posting signage with incorrect polling hours, failing to send absentee ballots on time, and reducing satellite voting and absentee ballot box locations. Despite all of this, Winfrey received 70.9% of the vote in the primary election in August.
McCampbell, who garnered 15.4% of the vote in the primary, is running a spirited campaign. A voting rights advocate and lifelong Detroiter, McCampbell is pledging to increase civic engagement and restore faith in the city's elections. As a member of the Detroit Charter Revision Commission and communications director for U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, McCampbell is familiar with the challenges facing the city.
As the gatekeeper of elections in Detroit, Winfrey has made a mockery out of the democratic system and further eroded trust in a fair and accurate election. She has refused to take responsibility or even talk to reporters, and like Duggan, won't debate her opponent. Winfrey should not keep her job.
Detroit City Council At-large
There are two seats up for election.
The incumbent has held her seat for the past six years, serving as chair of the Budget, Audit, and Finance Committee and vice chair of the Public Health & Safety Committee. Before City Council, Ayers worked as a mortgage banker for Quicken Loans and in hospitality for MGM Grand Casino, where she was a member of the UNITE HERE Local 24 bargaining team, and was former vice president of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO. In the City Council she sponsored the Fair Chance Ordinance, which ensures that formerly incarcerated Detroiters are not discriminated against. She pulled in 31% of the vote in the primary.
Nicole SmallA former UAW member turned HR professional, Small later served as Vice-Chair of the Detroit Charter Revision Commission. If elected, Small says her priorities would be to increase transparency and accountability around public spending and contracts, hold contractors accountable for hiring Detroiters and paying livable wages and benefits, increase Detroiters' access to jobs, create more sustainable communities, reallocate funds to increase public safety, and expand eligibility for assistance with taxes and home repairs to middle-class income residents. She earned 10.8% of the vote in the primary.
Coleman Young IIThe son of Detroit's first Black mayor, Young served as a Michigan state Representative and state Senator and unsuccessfully ran for mayor against Duggan in 2017, getting 28% of the vote. In Lansing, Young passed 13 laws to help working families that cut property taxes, gave working women paid maternity leave and kept their jobs safe, and brought money to his district, among others. He calls for vaccinating many more people in Detroit, where the vaccination rate lags behind its surrounding suburbs, as well as ramping up public safety, and investment in the neighborhoods. He earned 30.7% of the vote in the primary.
Mary WatersWaters was elected to three terms in the state House of Representatives, serving as the first African American female floor leader. She is also a member of the AFT and former member of the UAW, as well as a former vice chair of the Detroit Charter Revision Commission. She is critical of Detroit's turnaround, and calls for hiring more Detroiters for government contract jobs, and curbing the over-criminalization of Black Detroiters while providing more jobs and training for the formerly incarcerated. She pulled 23.4% of the vote in the primary.
Our verdictVoters should be wary of Ayers, whose house and office were recently raided by the FBI as part of its corruption probe. Same for Waters, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud and admitted to accepting a $6,000 Rolex watch as part of a scheme to bribe a Southfield City Council member. We admire Young's dust-yourself-off-and-try-again spirit.
District 1's incumbent, Tate was first elected to City Council in 2009. He has emerged as one of the city's champions for marijuana — last year, Tate and Duggan announced a plan for Detroit to opt-in to allow recreational pot sales, creating a social equity plan that called for prioritizing licenses for "legacy Detroiters" that have been in the city for many years as a way to give communities harmed the most by the racist war on drugs a leg up in Michigan's new industry. That backfired, though, when a federal judge declared such a policy to be "likely unconstitutional"; now licensed adult-use cannabis sales remain banned in Michigan's largest city, while other communities in the state are generating much-needed tax dollars. Tate got 72.2% in the primary.
Krystal LarsosaLarsosa studied criminal justice at Eastern Michigan University and worked in the juvenile justice system, the church, and Detroit Public Schools Community District. She calls for a restructuring of the Detroit Police Department, as well as an end to water shutoffs and tax foreclosures, and millages that support affordable water and housing. She earned 12.2% in the primary.
Our verdictWhile we're disappointed in Detroit's bungled cannabis policy, we think Tate's heart is in the right place, and we're hopeful he can bring recreational cannabis sales to the city while maintaining a focus on social equity.
Roy McCalister Jr.
District 2's incumbent, McCalister has served on City Council since 2018. Before that, he has worked as an investigator and legal aid for the Federal Defender Office, a lieutenant detective for the Detroit Police Department, and commanding officer of the Detroit Police Homicide Section. He also served in the United States Army and Reserves and a deacon at Cedar Christian Church in Detroit. (Since there are only two candidates, there was no primary.)
Angela CallowayA graduate of Spelman College and the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University, Calloway has lived in District 2 for seven years. She calls for reimbursing residents whose homes have been over-assessed and an end to water shutoffs.
Our verdictEarlier this year, after Metro Times published an open letter calling for the historic Michigan State Fairgrounds bandshell to be saved from being demolished to make way for a new Amazon facility, McCalister announced a plan to relocate it to the nearby Palmer Park. We're told they're still figuring out where exactly to put it, but we'd like to see that project through.
District 4 voters might recognize Elrick from his career as a journalist, including stints at WJBK-Fox 2 and the Detroit Free Press, where his work covering Kilpatrick earned him a Pulitzer. He has lived in the district for more than 20 years. In the primary, he earned 24.4% of the vote.
Latisha JohnsonJohnson has served as part of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, Treasurer for the 5th Precinct Police/Community Relations Council, the Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals, the Executive Board of the East English Village neighborhood association, and founded the MECCA (MorningSide, EEV, and Cornerstone Village Community Advocates) Development Corporation. She earned 31.8% in the primary.
We've seen how Elrick can change local politics from the outside, we'd love to see how he can change them from the inside, too. He says he's the "only candidate in the entire city who has a plan to help eliminate the culture of corruption that pollutes city hall."
A Mexican immigrant raised in Southwest Detroit, former Metro Times photo intern, and current policy director at We the People Michigan, Santiago-Romero has earned the endorsement of Castañeda-Lopez, who announced she was stepping down in April. Santiago-Romero also got endorsements from Tlaib, state Senator Stephanie Chang, and Mayor Duggan, who offered his reluctant endorsement seemingly to distance himself from a dark-money political group that supports her opponent.
Following a nonviolent offense charge, Santiago qualified for the city's Project Clean Slate program and successfully obtained expungement, and nows leads a workforce development program and helps other formerly incarcerated people find jobs. He has the support of Detroit Leaders, a dark-money political group.
We're team Gaby.
Fred Durhal III
A former state rep, Durhal served as the assistant Democratic leader of the House and the minority vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and helped direct nearly $800 million in federal funds for Detroit. Durhal calls for the creation of a recreation center for the district, which currently does not have one, and also calls for making water more affordable and improving intergenerational wealth in the city. He also calls for creating city-owned health care centers like the former Herman Kiefer Hospital. He earned 30.8% in the primary.
Detroit's first elected official for President of the Community Advisory Council, Ross is also a certified teacher and the President of the BCP (Beaverland, Constance and Parkland) block club, and has served as program coordinator at Wayne State University and Detroit Public Schools, and a union representative for more than 15 years with Local 231, Detroit Federation of Teachers. She pulled 24.9% in the primary.
Though he also has the support of shadowy dark-money groups, Durhal has the experience.
Detroit Police Commissioners
Eighteen candidates are vying for seven seats on the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, which is responsible for the oversight of the Detroit Police Department. The board has weighed in on contentious issues in the past year, including use-of-force policies and facial recognition technology. In August, the board recommended that the mayor hire James White as police chief following the retirement of James Craig. Critics have accused commissioners of failing to hold police accountable and ignoring concerns about the over-surveillance of Detroiters.
Many of the candidates are write-ins. In District 5, Willie Burton is running unopposed.
Joshua Engle: Write-in
Tamara Smith: Write-in
Bryan Ferguson: Write-in
Linda Bernard: District 2's incumbent, Bernard won a special election in November 2020 to replace her predecessor, Conrad Mallet, who resigned. A graduate of Wayne State University Law School, Bernard is the only attorney on the board. She has served on many public and private boards and is the president and CEO of Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services.
Lavish Williams: A tow-truck company owner, podcast host, and frequent volunteer, Williams wants to end infighting among commissioners and focus on improving police services. He also supports more mental health training for police.
Orgagus Jackson: Write-in
Cedric Banks: A pastor and self-described prophet, Banks is the only candidate whose name will appear on the ballot. Banks founded The Heart of Jesus Community Development Center, which provides career training and job development programs. He also hosts The Community Shall Be Restored, a weekly television show on Comcast 90.
Damian Mitchell: Write-in
Stephen Boyle: Write-in
Willie Bell: District 4's incumbent, Bell is a 32-year veteran of the Detroit Police Department who often votes with the majority on hot-button issues, such as the use of controversial facial recognition technology. However, he acknowledges the board has shortcomings and says he wants to improve commissioners' relationship with the public. He advocates for stiffer penalties against abusive cops.
Scotty Boman: A professor at Wayne County Community College, Boman believes commissioners have become too cozy with leadership and advocates for a more accountable, transparent board. He supports a more effective disciplinary system for abusive cops and stringent use-of-force policies.
Lisa Carter: District 6's incumbent, Carter is a retired Wayne County Sheriff's deputy who has served on the board since 2013. She's the program manager for Detroit Youth Service Corps, an AmeriCorps program at Wayne State University. Rarely a voice of dissent, Carter represents the board's status quo.
Landis Spencer: An advertising strategist and community activist, Spencer is pledging to bring more oversight and accountability to the police department. He wants the board to be more receptive to the public's concerns about use-of-force and facial recognition technology. He is promising to be a voice of change.
Ricardo Moore: Write-in
Robert Olive II: Write-in
Victoria Shah: Write-in
The Board of Police Commissioners needs a shake-up. Landis Spencer and Scotty Bowman are the kinds of fresh voices that are needed to hold the police department more accountable.
Voters will also have a say in decriminalizing psychedelic substances and setting the stage for reparations for historic injustices against Black residents.
The proposal calls for decriminalizing "entheogenic" plants, including psilocybin mushrooms (not technically a plant, but, hey, who's counting?), peyote, and iboga, and orders police to treat possession of psychedelic plants as a low law enforcement priority.
Last year, Ann Arbor's City Council unanimously voted to decriminalize entheogenic plants and mushrooms, noting their possible effectiveness in treating mental health disorders and the fact that they have been used by cultures for medicinal and ceremonial purposes for thousands of years. Detroit voters should follow suit.
This proposal would create a reparations committee to develop recommendations for housing and economic development programs for Black residents.
Detroit has been the victim of decades of systemic racism. Detroiters deserve reparations.
Opposed by Duggan, this proposal would empower residents to cast a public vote to approve initiatives that involve the appropriation of funding. It's intended to make way for reparations.