August 3, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Detroit's Duggan extends influence by endorsing candidates ahead of primary

Endorsements in key races a way to extend reach, analysts say

State Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit, left, shakes hands with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan before a ribbon cutting for the Rouge River Park Pool in July. Duggan is endorsing Santana in Tuesday's Democratic primary. Behind them is House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan is seeking to expand his political influence by making endorsements in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries covering races throughout the region.

The first-term mayor has thrown his support behind candidates in several key races, including six state representative primaries that affect Detroit’s delegation in Lansing, where the mayor has lobbied on issues including anti-scrap-metal-theft legislation and state aid for Detroit’s bankruptcy case. The former Wayne County deputy executive and county prosecutor also has made endorsements in the Wayne County executive’s election and a state Senate race in Oakland County.

Political analyst Eric Foster said the endorsements give Duggan a chance to put his footprint on what the city’s political landscape will be.

But Bill Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics calls the move risky because the mayor’s No. 1 job is to rebuild a bankrupt city, not play politics.

“There’s no question he is trying to extend his reach,” said Ballenger, associate editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter in Lansing. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s too early to do this so strongly and aggressively until he’s shown his endorsement means something.

“All he’s doing is asking for trouble if he’s wrong and ends up just with a lot of losers. It can only sully his reputation and image.”

The mayor’s office declined several requests for comment.

It has been several years since a Detroit mayor has tried to expend his influence through local, regional and statewide political races. In 2010, then-Mayor Dave Bing supported unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Andy Dillon in the Democratic primary and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero in the general election campaign against Republican Rick Snyder, but he largely shied away from endorsing in other races.

Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick routinely made endorsements, including a controversial 2002 pronouncement when he called for 20 percent of gubernatorial appointees to be African-American in exchange for his encouraging a strong voter turnout in Detroit. He supported Democratic hopeful and eventual governor Jennifer Granholm.

Foster argues that Duggan’s endorsements are anticipating the need for Detroit to be more multicultural and youth-oriented.

He points to Duggan’s endorsement of Stephanie Chang, who is running in the state House District 6 race with a chance to be the first Asian-American woman to represent a Detroit neighborhood. Also running in the Democratic primary are former Detroit school board member Elena Herrada, Wayne County Sheriff’s deputy Tyrone Carter, Detroiters Eze Ejelonu and Verl Jean Pittman as well as Ecorse residents Casondria Keith and Patrick O’Connell.

“Overall, what it shows is some of the diversity of what Detroit will be,” and that “we are going to be a city that looks a lot different than just black and white,” said Foster of LM3 management in West Bloomfield — which is consulting for Wayne County executive candidate Warren Evans, the former county sheriff who also was endorsed by Duggan.

The other state House endorsements are a mix of incumbents and newcomers:

■ State Rep. Brian Banks, an ex-felon incumbent who is seeking re-election in District 1. He received the endorsement over Rebecca Thompson, Banks’ main competition and a Duggan campaign volunteer last year. Thompson said she’s not disappointed and wants to work with Duggan despite his support of Banks. Other candidates are Grosse Pointe Woods City Councilman Michael Koester, Paul Fillmore of Grosse Pointe Woods and Detroiters Corey Josef Gilchrist, Scott Harry and Taryn Jones.

■ State Rep. Harvey Santana of Detroit in District 9, who is opposed in the primary by Democrat Hussein Berry, a Dearborn real estate broker and board member of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services.

■ Fred Durhal III in District 5, who is seeking to win the seat vacated by his father, Rep. Fred Durhal Jr., who challenged Duggan last year for mayor. Other Democratic candidates are Detroiters Ja’meka Armstrong, Cynthia Johnson, William Phillips, Ishmail Terry and Tonya Wells.

■ In District 7, Nicole Wells Stallworth, the wife of term-limited Rep. Thomas Stallworth. Other candidates are political novices James Cole Jr. of Detroit, LaTanya Garrett of Detroit, Kurt Swanson of Highland Park, Bernard Thompson of Detroit and Jeanette Brown Williams of Highland Park.

■ In District 8, Sherry Gay-Dognogo, an outspoken opponent of Duggan’s candidacy last year. She is in a contested race with Stacy Pugh, a consultant and Rosedale Park area activist. Others in the race include longtime activist Mushin Muhammad, Mia Griller, Christopher Ewald, Nichole Hampton and Cyrus Wheeler.

Duggan has stayed out of other state Senate and House races in the city. But the endorsements he has done make a point, Foster said.

Duggan’s support of Dognogo shows he’s willing to work “for the betterment of the 645,000 residents in Detroit,” while backing the younger Durhal means he’s embracing the youth movement.

“Mike is running a different playbook. It’s no Team Duggan vs. the world,” Foster said. “It’s Team Detroit and what is it going to be.”
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