July 29, 2014 at 1:00 am

Familiar faces square off in Democratic primary for Peters' seat

Rudy Hobbs is the Michigan House minority floor leader. (Jose Juarez / Special to The Detroit News)

Three former and current Democratic elected officials are battling to replace U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township in the Aug. 5 primary, and they aren’t shy about mixing it up.

Former U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke of Detroit, state Rep. Rudy Hobbs of Southfield and Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence are criticizing each other’s records in an election that includes political newcomer Burgess Foster for the seat of Peters, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate. The trio’s resumes are proving that one person’s experience is another’s ammunition.

The Democratic primary winner in the Democratic-leaning 14th Congressional District, which covers portions of northwest Detroit, Oakland and Wayne counties, will face Republican Christine Conyers in the fall.

Lawrence, 59, is pitching her experience as a mayor and an international ambassador for Southfield’s business interests, a former postal carrier and a woman in a male-dominated field. She is endorsed by EMILY’s List, which endorses Democratic women who support abortion rights.

“This is a time in our country when issues related to women are really a priority,” she said. “It’s one of the top debates that we have going on and I’m excited about what I bring to the table.”

Lawrence touts progress in Southfield made on her 13-year watch that includes embracing alternative energy through wind turbines, passing ordinances that require new construction projects to include energy-efficiency components and building a new library that has been criticized for its scale and cost.

“I was accused of trying to build a Taj Mahal, and I said ‘What better thing for a city to be known for than a Taj Mahal for education?’ ” she said.

She recently promoted herself as the “anti”-L. Brooks Patterson, referring to Oakland County’s longtime Republican executive. She also is backed by the Michigan Democratic Party Disability Caucus and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones.

Faces low name familiarity

But Hobbs, the state House minority floor leader, argues Southfield’s achievements rarely can be attributed to Lawrence.

“I would point out that in the city of Southfield, we have a mayor that is largely symbolic,” he said. “We have city council that is empowered — a city council with a city manager that does the day-to-day work.”

What the 14th District needs, Hobbs said, is a legislator such as himself who served as a Southfield school board member, won a state House seat in 2010 and eventually rose to a leadership post.

He said he supports mandatory background checks for gun purchases. In addition, he supports legislation to make it easier for guns to be taken away in cases where the owner may pose a threat of violence.

Although he has lower name familiarity than two of his opponents, Hobbs has a slew of Democratic endorsements that include retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Detroit, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin of Royal Oak, as well as former Govs. Jennifer Granholm and James Blanchard. Other support includes the United Auto Workers, Michigan State AFL-CIO and Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Hobbs advocates an expansion of mass transit, particularly Detroit’s light-rail project, and backs construction of a new bridge to Canada. He is making youth and energy his calling card in this campaign and maintains that with the pending departures of committee chairmen Sen. Levin; Reps. Dave Camp, R-Midland, and Mike Rogers, R-Howell, Michigan stands to lose plenty of clout in the nation’s capital.

At 39, Hobbs sees himself as eventually replacing them — a theme underscored in television ads that began running last week.

“Seniority counts ... and I’ve shown the ability to work myself into positions in leadership,” he said.

But Lawrence questions Hobbs’ leadership record, especially as House minority floor leader.

“I give him credit for attaining that ranking,” she said, “but being in a post for three months does not give someone the opportunity to apply their practical leadership skills.”

Touts level of experience

Clarke has high name familiarity, serving as a congressman in 2011-12 before losing to Peters in a 2012 primary when most of his former 13th District was folded into a new 14th District during redistricting. He also served 14 years as a state representative and state senator.

Clarke’s two years in Congress gave him a level of experience that his primary opponents lack, he said.

“There is no comparison,” he said when asked to describe the difference between being a mayor or state representative instead of a member of Congress. “I have the personal relationships in Washington to get things done.”

Clarke, 57, touted his congressional proposals to assist students with getting out from loan debt, trying to secure funding for the M-1 rail project as well as backing the Urban Areas Security Initiative that brought homeland security dollars to smaller cities. He is endorsed by the Detroit Firefighters Association, the Fannie Lou Hamer political action committee as well as the Oakland County Black Democrats and Wayne County Black Democrats.

But Clarke is also drawing fire.

“He was a sitting congressman and was not sent back to Congress,” Lawrence said. “He talks a lot about bills he wrote or introduced, but, at the end of the day, what is his real record of accomplishments while he was in D.C.?”

Clarke lags in fundraising. Hobbs had raised more than $530,000 as of June 30, according to campaign filings with the Federal Elections Commission, compared with Lawrence’s about $375,000 and Clarke’s roughly $138,500.

As they head into the final week of the campaign, Hobbs had $362,335 in cash on hand compared with Lawrence’s $235,491 and Clarke’s 26,147 as of June 30.

Foster is the outsider in the race, with no previous elected office experience and no fundraising. But the 46-year-old middle school teacher is running on his ideas that include a home refurbishment plan for Detroit, Pontiac and Hamtramck that would put families into new and restored buildings on a rent-to-own plan.

He describes himself as a conservative Democrat who backs term limits to prevent institutional malaise.

“I’m an innovative person, and I’ve always contributed ways to improve processes,” Foster said.


Hansen Clarke served as a U.S. congressman from 2011-12. (Jose Juarez / Special to The Detroit News)
Burgess Foster, a middle school teacher, is a political newcomer. (AP)
Brenda Lawrence is the mayor of Southfield. (Jose Juarez / Special to The Detroit News)