Mike Duggan addresses the congregation at Pure Word Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit. He has the backing of at least 36 ministers. (Jose Juarez / Special to The Detroit News)
Detroit— The mayoral candidates will be playing to the pews Sunday in hopes of gaining votes as the campaign heads into its final weekend.
Benny Napoleon, the Wayne County sheriff and the son of a preacher, has been endorsed by several religious groups and more than 150 ministers, while former Detroit Medical CEO Duggan has the backing of at least 36 ministers, including the Rev. Jim Holley of the Historic Little Rock Baptist Church. The candidates figure to be at houses of worship Sunday — following a tradition of trying to persuade people in the pews to vote for them Tuesday at the polls.
“It’s all about Sunday morning,” said political analyst Steve Hood.
Churches are influential in Detroit politics, Hood said, but the slew of pastoral endorsements Napoleon received in the primary didn’t translate into an Aug. 6 victory. Duggan unexpectedly became the frontrunner when his write-in campaign won 51.7 percent of the vote to Napoleon’s 30.1 percent.
“He (Napoleon) shouldn’t have gotten trounced by 20 points,” said Hood, whose brother and father are ministers who both served on the Detroit City Council. “Now Duggan has his own endorsements.”
For Napoleon to have a shot at victory, Hood said, the sheriff needs, in part, to get the ministers mobilized.
Pulpit politics has created a stir in this campaign because Holley, who is supporting Duggan, said about 40 percent of the more than 100 African-American preachers he’s approached have declined requests to let Duggan speak at their churches before the election. Holley said many of the ministers have told him they would only allow Napoleon to use the “bully pulpit.” Duggan is white, and Napoleon is black in a predominantly African-American city.
“At this particular time where we are in the city, we just have to have someone with the experience and the know-how of turning around the city,” Holley said. “It just happens to be Mike Duggan, who just happens to be a non-African-American.”
Holley’s advertising company has collected more than $10,000 from Turnaround Detroit — a political action committee supporting Duggan.
The Rev. Charles Adams, a Napoleon supporter, dismissed Holley’s claims, telling the Michigan Chronicle this week his Hartford Memorial Baptist Church invited Duggan and the candidate declined. Adams, who didn’t return calls this week to The Detroit News, played down the race issue.
“All Detroiters want is a positive outcome to our difficulties and leadership that is responsible to the city we live, work and pay taxes in,” Adams was quoted as saying.
Duggan has been welcomed into churches across the city, campaign spokesman John Roach said, “so he didn’t notice that some weren’t welcoming him.”
Addressing a large crowd
The church has played an influential role in spreading political and social messages to African-Americans, said the Rev. Charles Williams II of the National Action Network.
“There’s no other place where you have the opportunity to speak to 50, 200, 500 or 5,000 people and deliver your message,” said Williams, senior pastor of the Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, who has endorsed Napoleon.
So the candidates were in churches last Sunday. Bobby Williams, 56, heard Duggan speak at Meditation Missionary Baptist Church, and came away impressed with his message.
“I wanted to see any plans he had for the youth in terms of employment and criminal activity,” Williams said. “I found him to be honest and straightforward. We need change in the city.”
But even organized campaigns encounter problems. Duggan was set last Sunday to let members of the Pure Word Mighty Bible Church eat food he was having catered in the fellowship hall and then speak, but the food was sent to the wrong church.
Because the food was late, Duggan spoke first.
“When I was prosecutor, the criminals were not in charge. I never thought I’d see a day where the criminals are in charge like they are now,” he told congregants. “We’ve had five police chiefs in five years. Everything isn’t about more money and people; we’ve got a real leadership problem.”
Pure Word Pastor Samuel Stephens said both candidates addressed church members before the primary. “I tell people to vote their heart,” Stephens said. “In our ministry, we have people who support both, so as pastor I have to be nonpartisan because I minister to both sides.”
Church member Shirley Cade said she liked what she heard.
“I’m voting for Duggan,” Cade said. “He’s been around this city, and I think people will work with him, whether he’s white, blue, purple or black.”
Passing on information
Napoleon received a good reception last Sunday at Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, where Duggan also has spoken, said the Rev. Jerome Warfield, who sits on the city’s Board of Police Commissioners.
Warfield said he doesn’t tell church members whom to vote for, but said he felt compelled “to let you know what I know” about the former Detroit police chief and the election campaign.
He criticized an ad saying Napoleon was to blame for bringing in a federal monitor to oversee the Detroit Police Department.
“Because he called the federal monitor in, we’re a much better police force than we’ve been in a long time,” Warfield said
“Benny Napoleon is a type of Coleman Young — but with refined diplomacy,” he said. “He has Coleman Young-esque qualities, but he never forgets he’s the son of a Baptist preacher.”
Napoleon talked about the election’s importance.
“When I was a young man 40 years ago, you had a choice between (former police commissioner) John Nichols and Coleman Young. Because of Coleman Young, I’m here today,” he said. “This is a moment that’s not so much about me, but these young children in this congregation.”
The message resonated with Mt. Vernon church member Norma Wright. “I support the sheriff 100 percent,” Wright said. “The children of Detroit need someone who looks like them, and who has lived in the city their whole life to lead Detroit.”