Detroit— Northeast Detroit voters on Nov. 5 will choose from an incumbent and former state representative in one City Council district and an urban planner and a human services worker in another.
In District 3, U.S. Coast Guard veteran Scott Benson is up against Francine Adams, a child welfare worker in the state Department of Human Services. First-term councilman and pastor Andre Spivey is vying for a seat in District 4 against retired Detroit police sergeant and former state legislator Bettie Cook Scott.
For the first time in nearly a century, Detroit voters will elect seven council members by district and two at-large. For decades, all council members were selected at large.
Benson, a previous candidate for state representative, is making his first bid for a seat on the council under the new district system that he says holds candidates accountable.
“You have an opportunity to advocate for a part of the city that did not have a voice before,” said Benson, a partner at the Detroit-based development firm Trivium Partners LLC. “I want to be that advocate, beyond just having a vote at the City Council table and passing budgets.”
District 3 has a diverse mix of neighborhoods and an industrial corridor, as well as Hmong and Bengali populations.
Benson, a California native who moved to Detroit in 1992, says quality of life and jobs are the top worries among his neighbors. He says he’ll advocate for public safety resources and to clear blight. Benson said he is encouraging residents to visit an online database to enter addresses of homes that need to be demolished.
“I want to be the leader, the one bringing resources back,” he said.
Adams, 41, a lifelong Detroiter and social worker, has resided in the district for more than three decades.
Adams says she has long advocated for residents, conveying neighbors’ concerns about crime, blighted properties, abandoned vehicles and illegal businesses. She is aiming to restore pride and promote transparency. Adams said she has prepared her own assessment of the streetlights in the district and plans to provide it to the city’s Public Lighting Department and the state-created Public Lighting Authority.
“We need somebody at the table who will speak up and stand up for us. Being on the City Council will allow me to do what I have been doing, just on a grander scale,” she said. “My sole interest in this election is our quality of life.”
A chance to rebuild
In District 4, Spivey, who recently relocated to the east side district, battles against Cook Scott, a 25-year resident of the neighborhood.
District 4 borders Grosse Pointe and the Detroit River, encompassing numerous neighborhoods including Ravendale, Victoria Park, East English Village, Jefferson-Chalmers and MorningSide.
Spivey, 39, grew up on the city’s west side and moved to his current home about 2½ years ago. Spivey says he has served as an east side pastor for the last decade and is clued in to the needs of voters in the district and citywide.
“Detroit is Detroit to me,” said Spivey, pastor of Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church. “... I know every part of this town.”
If elected to the district seat, Spivey says he’ll continue to address voter concerns over blight and crime.
In his first term, Spivey is pushing for an ordinance to aid Detroit residents in securing jobs and a second law that would make it mandatory for all 24-hour businesses in the city to be equipped with surveillance cameras to curb crime. Another priority, he added, is maintaining relationships with City Council colleagues, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and state officials as Detroit moves through its financial crisis.
“Where we are now, it’s not forever,” he said. “It’s a temporary moment in the city’s history.”
Focus on safety
Cook Scott, 60, a veteran of the Detroit Police Department, says voters are concerned about rundown neighborhood schools and want landlords and banks to maintain vacant properties. The residents also want development to continue on East Jefferson, Harper and Gratiot “so we can shop, talk and walk in our neighborhoods,” she said.
“They (voters) want us to be able to walk around like we used to in this neighborhood,” she said. “People aren’t feeling safe.”
After leaving the Police Department, Cook Scott had a four-year career in Lansing as a state representative in a Detroit district.
She assisted with legislative home ownership protection efforts and introduced a bill to prohibit public utility shutoffs for individuals with specific medical conditions, among others.
The city, she said, needs to improve its collection of millions of dollars in delinquent income and property taxes and debts that are owed.
Cook Scott also plans to convene quarterly meetings within the district for police and businesses, neighborhood associations and elected officials as well as clergy and youths.
A prior candidate for council, Cook Scott says she’s long been an advocate for voting districts.
“It’s about trying to improve the quality of life of the people,” she said. “I’m ready to serve. ”