Detroit — From seasoned political veterans to a 21-year-old college student to an unemployed woman who says the Lord told her to run, the 14 potential candidates who made the filing deadline for the mayor’s race on Tuesday are heating up the contest to lead Michigan’s largest city.
Much of the focus so far this year has been on the two high-profile candidates: current mayor, Mike Duggan, and state Sen. Coleman Young II. But the other lesser-known hopefuls who turned in petitions in hopes of being certified for the ballot are working to earn recognition and push platforms they say bring change.
“I think the people in the city of Detroit need mayoral representation that reflects who they are,” said Brenda K. Sanders, 58, a lawyer and former 36th District Court judge, who ran for mayor in 2008. “I am very much groomed to serve those interests. Mayor Duggan appears to be serving the interests of outsiders and suburbanites. I have an ear to hear what Detroiters want to say, those that are not just exclusively in the downtown area, and serve those interests.”
Reconciling the city’s growth with the needs of all citizens was a recurring theme for many of the candidates.
Edward Dean, 40, who leads the Avengers youth mentoring organization and is a substitute teacher, lives on the east side. He said he’s running for mayor because “there are a lot of things going on over here that I don’t see being done especially as it relates to redevelopment and just with entrepreneurship.
I enjoy the development that’s taken place in downtown Detroit and I welcome any outside investors… I just want more emphasis to be put on the local business men and women that are here now and the neighborhoods that have not been revitalized in the last 10 years.”
Another candidate, Eric C. Williams, is an attorney focused on Detroit startups, small businesses and nonprofits. Williams, 49, says the treatment of development in downtown and the neighborhoods is creating two cities. “In one of them, businesses are allowed to contribute to the public good on an ad hoc basis and public-private partnerships have replaced government for and by the people. In the other, too many are left to fend for themselves and basic municipal functions are supposed to be treated like manna from heaven. These divisions will ultimately undermine faith in our government and hope in the neighborhoods.”
Others vying for the city’s top spot also describe its evolution as the impetus for their potential candidacies.
“The city of Detroit is at a turning point,” said William Spirgion Noakes Jr., 60, a University of Michigan-Dearborn professor and former Wayne County deputy corporation counsel who ran his own consulting firm, served as a vice president at Meijer and worked for the General Motors legal staff. “Unfortunately people are looking at the some of the things the mayor is doing and saying there’s … an underlying rot that people ignore.”
That’s why some candidates are pushing for reforms and advancing agendas aimed at sparking change.
“Detroit is at a critical time with failed proven leaders such as Mayor Mike Duggan and a host of other mayors who simply have not turned this city around,” said Articia Bomer, 45, a document specialist who was formerly homeless and is touting a 10-point plan that includes housing and tax reform. “I’m using a platform of preservation, restoration and revitalization of our community to ensure that this great city of Detroit is open and fair to all residents.”
Curtis Christopher Greene, 32, an author, activist and ordained minister, previously sought a seat on the City Council and canvassed for Duggan.
He wants to tackle blight, economic development and ending discriminatory practices in lending, insurance as well as other areas.
“I just wanted to be able to implement my strategies to rebuild the community and to be able to help people that’s not rich,” he said.
Others have yet to graduate but have high hopes for the city.
Myya Jones, 22, a Michigan State University student, where she studies business management, and has interned for U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield.
Jones' platform focuses on issues such as economic development, education, safety and mental health awareness. “I really want to be a voice for people who are often unheard when it comes to hour political system and making sure everything is done for people as a whole and not just certain individuals.”
Disparities also inspired Jeffery Robinson, 48, who ran for the Detroit Charter Commission in 2009 and is principal of Paul Roberson Malcolm X Academy and pastor of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church.
“I have seen the effects of concentrated poverty. I’ve been a veteran of Detroit Public Schools going on 26 years now. I’ve had a bird’s eye view being a teacher for 18 years, principal for 10 years. Just seeing the poverty and the way the city has languished especially in the last four years since the bankruptcy, I felt I couldn’t idly sit by.”
The city’s residents were the driving forces behind other candidates’ runs.
Kenneth Snapp, 21, is a political science major at Notre Dame College in Ohio. He’s running “to work together as a people to help the children in Detroit. That’s the main goal to help our city.”
Donna Marie Pitts, 58, is an unemployed, first-time candidate who says “the Lord told me to (run) and I want to help the citizens that live in the city of Detroit.”
Also pending review to appear on the ballot are Danetta L. Simpson and Anita Belle.
Meanwhile, Young — the only son of the city’s first African-American mayor, the late Mayor Coleman Alexander Young — has come out swinging against Duggan, arguing that under his rein Detroit has “totally abandoned” city neighborhoods.
Young, who announced his campaign in late February with a giant portrait of his father behind him, is also attacking Duggan’s alleged mishandling of the city’s massive blight elimination program. The demolition program is at the center of a federal criminal investigation over concerns about bidding practices and rising costs.
Duggan has touted affordable housing, jobs programs and a bevy of endorsements from religious leaders, public safety and other unions. But his biggest counter-offensive was his recent endorsement by more than two dozen former cabinet members and appointees of Young’s father, including Conrad Mallet Jr., Charles Beckham and spokesman Bob Berg.
The race is shaping up as “one of the nastiest that we’ve seen in years on all sides,” said Mario Morrow, president of the political and media relations firm Mario Morrow and Associates.
Morrow and other political observers say while Young’s energy and message shouldn’t be discounted, Duggan’s accomplishments and far-reaching support put him in a powerful position.
“Endorsements are important in the city of Detroit. Picking up endorsements of cabinet members and supporters of Coleman Young’s father — Mayor Coleman Young — obviously undermines the younger Coleman’s opportunities,” Steve Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Research & Communications, who was a pollster for Turnaround Detroit, the super political action committee supporting Duggan in the 2013 race.
“Anybody that knows Coleman really likes him, but the problem that Coleman is going to have is raising money. He’s never been a particularly effective fundraiser, and Mayor Duggan is going to have, as he had in 2013, very strong financial support from the community.”
But Young said Tuesday he’s confident in his campaign and has a “good donor base.” He said he is not intimidated by Duggan’s announced backers or fund-raising prowess.
The most important endorsement will come from the voters, he said.
“We plan on drowning out millions of dollars with thousands of voices,” said Young, who noted he is backed by the Nation of Islam as well as Charles Williams II, a pastor who heads the Detroit chapter of the National Action Network. “It doesn’t matter how much money one has because you’ve got people on your side. That’s going to make the difference.”
Young said his message of putting people back to work, tackling poverty, water shutoffs and foreclosure is resonating. Duggan, he argues, has “completely forgotten about the people who elected him.”
Duggan said the Young campaign’s tone so far is “what we expected” and “we’re ready for it.”
“It’s exactly what you’d expect, and we’re going to handle it in an appropriate way,” the mayor told The News following a Monday ground-breaking at an east side auto supplier that’s expected to create 400 to 700 jobs.
Duggan, who declined to address Young’s criticisms, said his focus is the same as the past three and a half years. He still hosts weekly meetings in neighborhoods and visits community groups.
“You are seeing the labor community, the business community, the church community and the neighborhood leaders all uniting in this campaign, and it’s going to be a campaign of unity, and we’re going to let people decide whether they feel good about the direction that we’re going,” he said.
“Obviously I’ll get a report card in November.”
Young’s argument about inequity between Detroit’s revived downtown compared with its neighborhoods is a long-running one so Duggan is likely to prevail unless Young can make a strong argument, experts said.
“Unless Duggan gets struck by lightening or something, I don’t see him losing this election,” Morrow said. “There’s nothing there that begs for people not to vote for him and I don’t think Mr. Young has successfully made a case for people to vote for him over Duggan,” Morrow said. “There’s still time, but he hasn’t done it yet.”
It was no simple task, Mitchell noted, for Duggan to run in 2013 as a write-in candidate, win the primary and take the general election as a white man in a city that is more than 80 percent African-American.
But political consultant Greg Bowens said Young’s message, if executed right, could take him further than his name will.
“Mike Duggan has already shown he can organize on a grand scale. But money is not going to buy you all the votes you need in order to win,” said Bowens, a former spokesman for ex-Mayor Dennis Archer, who said Young could have a chance if he pulls off a strong organizing drive.
“A lot of people don’t feel they are part of the rebirth of the city.”
In the council races, close to 80 took out petitions for two at-large and seven district seats.
Incumbent at-large members President Brenda Jones and Janee Ayers are certified for the August primary ballot, while past contender Mary Waters and four others turned in petitions that the Department of Elections has yet to certify.
Council members George Cushingberry Jr., Scott Benson, Mary Sheffield, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and Gabe Leland have been certified for their respective district seat races, which require 300 certified signatures. Members James Tate and Andre Spivey both submitted theirs on Monday, according to records.
A few council incumbents are facing well-known competitors.
In District 2, Cushingberry is facing former state Sen. Virgil Smith and past council contender Roy McCalister Jr.
Wayne County Commissioner Jewel Ware filed petitions Monday to take on Sheffield in District 5, and past candidate Tyrone Carter is certified to run against Castaneda-Lopez in the city’s southwest District 6.