May 29, 2014 at 10:21 am

Wayne County exec race still waiting on UAW

If Bob Ficano doesn't get UAW backing, his time as Wayne County Executive could be nearing an end. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)

Mackinac Island

Candidates for Wayne County executive are here in force, working the porch of the Grand Hotel for donations and votes. They might be better off had they headed instead to Detroit’s Jefferson Avenue and made their pitch at Solidarity House.

With the primary election just two months away, and absentee ballots set to go out in a couple of weeks, the crowded county executive’s race remains misshapen. That’s largely due to the United Auto Workers’ indecision.

Early on, the sentiment among union staffers was to stick with incumbent Bob Ficano, despite the serial scandals and mismanagement of his administration. And yet leadership hasn’t yet pulled the trigger.

Instead, the union made Ficano go through the interview and screening process, an insult rarely inflicted on a previously endorsed incumbent.

The UAW is vital to this race. Wayne County is solidly Democratic, so the primary in August will likely settle the election. And the UAW controls the Democratic Party.

With the union still on the sidelines, the field for the moment belongs to Westland Mayor William Wild and former Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans, who, with a host of others, entered the race when they smelled Ficano’s blood.

Wild’s campaign is buoyed by William Ford Jr., who broke from his family’s tradition of dodging politics to endorse his hockey buddy. Other business leaders followed. Wild is boasting that he’ll have more than $1 million to spend on television ads in coming weeks. If true, that will more than double what other candidates expect to raise.

Evans is thought to be the choice of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, but he hasn’t announced that publicly. Also in the race is Kevin McNamara, the son of Duggan’s mentor, late Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara.

The other major contender is State Rep. Phil Cavanagh, a familiar name with solid Detroit support but little money.

In what polling that’s been done in the race, none of the candidates have topped 20 percent. In the most recent poll, Evans leads with 19 percent of the vote. Winning a primary with so many names on the ballot — there are a dozen, and even some of the lesser candidates have enough recognition to influence the outcome — will likely take just 25 to 30 percent of the vote.

There’s not a lot of time left for the UAW — or another major player — to jump in and sharply alter the dynamics of the race. One-third or more of the vote will likely be cast absentee. Those ballots go out in mid-June, and are generally returned within a few days of receipt.

The wild card is whether Duggan mobilizes his machine on behalf of Evans, or stays publicly neutral in deference to the McNamara family.

The UAW may want to make Ficano squirm a while longer to send the message of its dissatisfaction with his bumbling.

But if they’re going to step in and rescue him, they need to do it quickly. If not, this race will very likely be a sprint to the primary between Evans and Wild.
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