Detroit — Detroit City Council members are optimistic about their ability to be a unified front for the next four years despite a rocky start during the selection of two lead roles.
The new panel on Tuesday spent nearly four hours trying to reach a consensus on its first official action: deciding who should be the president.
It took two 15-minute breaks, a two-hour recess and seven separate tallies before returning President Brenda Jones won with a 5-4 vote over third-term Councilman Andre Spivey. For five of those tallies, there was a three-way tie between Jones, Spivey and Councilwoman Mary Sheffield.
Still, most council members said Wednesday that it’s no indication of how they will operate this term.
“This is part of the job and part of being an elected official means sometimes we have to take tough votes,” Councilman Scott Benson said. “And not everybody is going to agree.”
Sheffield ultimately was named second in command.
Spivey on Wednesday said he’s not deterred by the outcome.
“You win some, you lose some. The body has spoken,” Spivey said. “I told President Jones, as I did in 2014, she is president, I respect her as president. I will support her and follow her.”
The council’s lone newcomer, Roy McCalister Jr., nominated Jones to lead the council and Sheffield as its pro tem.
The prolonged voting process, he said, showed the race for president was competitive this year. The first-term councilman said he was seeking leadership that would give council a strong, unified front.
Jones, he said, brought experience to the table as council’s past president. And Sheffield is young, energetic and appeals to millennials, he said.
“What we have is a combination of established experiences and new ideas and new vision that’s coming in,” said McCalister, who replaces George Cushingberry Jr., who was defeated in the August primary. “Now we have to start looking at what’s best and how we come together to make sure the city is taken care of.”
Sheffield, 30, is the panel’s youngest serving member and prevailed over members James Tate and Janee Ayers for the pro tem spot.
Despite differences in leadership choice, Sheffield says she believes members respect each others’ opinions.
“The leadership vote was very challenging for us,” she said. “I’m very, very confident moving forward that we will be able to work together.”
Benson, who supported Jones for president, said he was pleased with her performance last term.
“She’s been fair, and she showed the type of stable leadership that I look for,” he said.
Benson also backed Sheffield for president pro tem, saying she has “potential for great leadership.”
Councilwoman Janee Ayers said it ultimately doesn’t matter much who holds the top-ranking positions.
“Everybody has got the same agenda: Let’s move Detroit forward, and let’s do it together,” she said.
Ayers, who voted for Spivey, said she is supportive of Jones holding onto the president role.
“Brenda has proven herself to be a good leader. I thought she was a great leader and I would like to see her actually as my congresswoman. But that’s for her to decide.”
Political observers have named Jones as a viable candidate for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District in the wake of U.S. Rep John Conyers’ resignation last month.
Jones said Tuesday she has not made a decision. She could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
Sheffield was also said to be considering a bid for the open seat. But she told The Detroit News on Wednesday that she has no immediate plans to run.
“As it stands today, I am committed to the residents of District 5 and the city of Detroit serving on Detroit City Council,” Sheffield said.
Tate on Wednesday said he didn’t see any issue with the way council’s leadership votes were carried out and that members followed the process outlined in Detroit’s most recent City Charter.
Under the new charter, council was first empowered to elect its president and pro tem during its last term. Previously, those roles had been decided by the two members who earned the highest votes in the most recent election.
“It took multiple rounds because we had three dynamic members who have their individual strengths,” he said. “Combine them with the other colleagues and it leads me to believe there’s a positive outlook for this upcoming term.”