July 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

Michigan: Democratic primary contest for state Rep. Durhal's seat

Rep. Durhal's son, ex-top aide among primary contenders

Durhal III )

The presence of state Rep. Fred Durhal Jr. of Detroit continues to loom largein the Democratic primary contest to replace him after three terms in office.

Six candidates are vying for Durhal’s seat in the largely Democratic district that represents parts of Detroit, including Corktown, Delray and southwest Detroit. But the top contenders are Durhal’s son, Fred Durhal III, and his former chief of staff, Ishmail Terry, a political observer said.

Durhal has maintained substantial support in the district, so the younger Durhal has a chance to win if the state representative gets district voters to cast ballots for his son, Metro Detroit political analyst Eric Foster said. Others in the race don’t have the ability to raise the $30,000 to $50,000 needed to overcome the strong name recognition, he added.

“(Fred Durhal III) has a significant opportunity to take the seat,” said Foster of LM3 Management, who worked for Durhal Jr. during his unsuccessful Detroit mayoral campaign last year and is not working for any candidates in House District 5 primary. “Ishmail worked for Fred, but it's not like he can use that as an endorsement because Fred is going to endorse his son.

“Will Fred III be able to raise enough money to maintain his father's base of support for him? That’s the race.”

Others in the Democratic primary are Cynthia Johnson, Ja’meka Armstrong, Tonya Renay Wells and William ScottPhillips.

The younger Durhal, 30, credits himself with learning the ropes from his dad by “observing how government service works.” As the district office manager for his father, Durhal III said he is “the only candidate to have spent time sitting on the House floor … observing legislative sessions on a regular basis.”

Among Durhal’s priorities are creating an urban agenda to address issues for all Michigan cities. His platform includes opposing the Education Achievement Authority, the state-created entity that oversees 15 former failing Detroit public schools; tax breaks to businesses that outsource jobs; and the city’s emergency manager.

He supports this year’s new anti-scrap-metal theft law and wants to create a permanent plan for road maintenance.

“I’m not a novice when it comes to the legislative side of things. I know how to get things done,” Durhal said.

Ishmail Terry, 42, spent slightly more than three years as a community liaison and chief of staff on Durhal’s staff in Lansing. He currently runs All Four One, a nonprofit group that has a partnership with Dixon Elementary School and Detroit Premier Charter academy to provide mentoring, social and recreational programs. It has served 438 at-risk youth.

Terry’s platform includes making education and economic development top priorities. He says he already has a bill to reform education by holding parents accountable for schooling by tying absent days for students to the state assistance their parents receive, focusing on a science, technology, engineering and math curriculum, and bringing back after-school programs.

Terry also wants to push retail and restaurants in his district, as well as rebuild the Dexter-Elmhurst and Kemeny recreation centers.

“I am the most seasoned guy of all of my opponents,” Terry said. “I have worked on every level of government. ... I have a long rich history of serving the community for 13 years. That’s what sets me apart.”

He counters Durhal’s boast of experience by saying, “I worked on the floor. I worked in the private rooms developing budgets.”

Johnson, 55, is a paralegal who said her campaign will make sure Detroit will no longer be ignored. Johnson said she will focus on improving the district’s look with moves that include creating a pool of money to pay people to cut grass in city neighborhoods.

Armstrong, 34, is making her first bid for public office. Her platform includes restoring neighborhoods “that look like war zones”; encouraging programs for residents to clean up homes, as well as form block clubs and neighborhood watch initiatives; creating after-school programs and helping to eliminate state pension tax for seniors.

Wells, 51, is seeking astate legislative seat for the fourth time since 2002 and has not made a substantial dent at the polls. Phillips also has run for office four times, but other information about his candidacy was not available.

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