Bullock (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
Detroit— The November at-large race for Detroit’s City Council pits two incumbents against an activist and a retired police officer who face uphill challenges to grab a seat on the nine-member panel.
Saunteel Jenkins is seeking her second term, while Brenda Jones is looking to secure a third. The two are taking on the Rev. David Bullock, a political newcomer, and former Detroit homicide investigator Roy McCalister Jr., who ran unsuccessfully in the last two council races.
The incumbents finished well ahead of their challengers in the Aug. 6 primary. Jenkins won 34 percent of the vote and Jones nearly 30 percent, while Bullock and McCalister won 10.3 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively. The top two finishers on Nov. 5 will each serve a four-year term along with the winner in each of the new seven council districts.
Political consultant Sheila Cockrel says it will be tough for Bullock and McCalister to close the gap.
“It’s a long shot for each of them,” said Cockrel, a former member of Detroit City Council. “It’s very hard to build up that much distance between a primary and a general (election), unless you have a ton of money and an extraordinary message that’s resonating.”
In four years on the council, Jenkins has created the Youth Violence Prevention Task Force and an anti-bullying ordinance. She was elected president in July.
Jenkins is focused on recruiting private donors to keep recreation centers open and expand offerings. Other plans, she said, include changes to Detroit’s budgeting process to give new district council members more say on how dollars are spent in their respective areas.
Jenkins, 42, who holds a master’s degree in social work and has worked in the nonprofit sector, says voters are concerned with what they can expect of elected leaders while Detroit pursues bankruptcy and operates under an emergency manager. She is also on the city’s General Retirement System pension board.
“Now more than ever, we need somebody here who is willing to speak up and speak out on behalf of the people who live here,” she said.
Voice for residents
Jones, 54, who was first elected to the council in 2005, has opposed the emergency manager law and says she has always worked to promote jobs, opportunities, neighborhoods, education and safety.
Among her accomplishments, Jones noted the Skilled Trades Task Force, which encourages Metro Detroit employers to hire Detroit workers, as well as a cleanup and beautification effort, Keep Detroit Beautiful. Jones says she’s working on plans for a veterans job fair and a community benefits agreement to give Detroiters access to job opportunities within the city. Jones is a trustee for Detroit’s Fire and Police pension fund.
Jones said residents are most concerned over blight, crime, transportation and lack of an “immediate change” in services with the arrival of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.
“I continue to be concerned with the transparency that we’re not seeing with the emergency manager being here,” she said.
“I want to be part of the change, part of the solution and continue to be the citizens’ voice and have a voice at the table,” said Jones, former president of Communications Workers of America Local 4004.
City 'deserves better'
Bullock, 36, a city resident and pastor at Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park, is aiming to change the culture of city government and pushing for a “robust revenue plan.”
“We’re taking the wrong approach thinking that we’re going to fix Detroit without prioritizing revenue generation,” he said. “Cutting is only going to do so much. We have to find some revenue.”
Bullock said the city also needs to improve its tax collection and maximize resources provided by the federal government and foundations to generate revenue, expand and promote business development and neighborhood stabilization.
Bullock opposes the city’s bankruptcy filing and its impact on pensioners and criticizes Orr’s efforts thus far, saying Detroit’s services “haven’t changed much.”
“Detroit deserves better and I think we can do better,” he said.
Focus on the future
McCalister, a 59-year-old Army veteran and investigator with the Federal Defender Office, says he hopes to serve two terms on the council to promote transparency and get the city on the right track.
“My goal is to make sure the community and neighborhoods are viable so we can be competitive in a world-class market,” he said. “We need to have people with initiative to get things going.”
McCalister said the city’s transportation, safety, blight and crime issues must be addressed. Detroit also requires more expansive transit plans and efforts to spur business and create jobs, he said.
“I don’t want a long career at this,” he said. “I want to fix it so young people coming up can have the same advantages I had.”