One of Macomb County’s nastiest political battles is focused on an unlikely prize — the public works office.
Incumbent Anthony Marrocco, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, a Republican, are locked in an unusually expensive and high-profile campaign for Macomb County public works commissioner. The job includes maintaining the county drainage system and wastewater disposal.
Miller, a 62-year-old who has served in Congress since 2003, took some by surprise when she decided to challenge Marrocco, who has held his office for 24 years.
Miller, a former Michigan secretary of state, Macomb County treasurer and Harrison Township supervisor, was expected to seek the governor’s office next, not a county office. Her name recognition and ample war chest have injected fireworks into an otherwise sleepy county race.
Some of the attacks have gotten personal.
Miller says Marrocco slammed her during a Macomb County Chamber of Commerce interview by saying she doesn’t have a college degree and got “knocked up” — in her words — in high school.
Miller acknowledges that she never finished college but says it doesn’t make her unqualified for the job.
Marrocco also slams Miller for her congressional voting record on environmental issues and released a statement demanding she rescind her endorsement of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has been under fire for his lewd comments about women.
Miller said while there was “no excuse” for Trump’s comments about women, Marrocco is no better for saying Miller was less qualified because she got pregnant in high school.
“First of all, it’s not true,” Miller said. “Even if it was, how unbelievably degrading and sexist his comment was.”
Miller, who is married to former Macomb Circuit Judge Donald Miller, has one daughter, who is 40.
Marrocco’s campaign manager, Michael Radtke, said in an email to The Detroit News that Marrocco does not remember making those comments about Miller in the chamber interview.
“But if a past conversation he had in passing was taken as offensive, he apologizes,” Radtke said.
Grace Shore, CEO of the Macomb County Chamber of Commerce, said she could not confirm nor deny Marrocco made those comments. The chamber’s interviews with candidates are confidential. Shore said the chamber uses the interviews to rate candidates on “business friendliness” but does not endorse candidates.
Meanwhile, Miller said her endorsement of Trump still stands.
Miller also has needled Marrocco about a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a former employee, Marti Parker, who was found fatally shot in Detroit in 2008.
Miller alleges on a website she launched called, The Truth About Anthony Marrocco, that Marrocco had a romantic relationship with Parker when he hired her in 2004. Marrocco later fired Parker, Miller said.
The lawsuit was settled in 2006 for an undisclosed amount of money, the website says.
Marrocco said in a statement Miller was launching a “vicious personal attack” against him and “bringing up lies from 12 years ago.”
Marrocco makes $111,540 a year as drain commissioner.
Macomb County Clerk’s Office campaign finance records show he reported $1.4 million in total campaign contributions for the pre-general election filing deadline of Oct. 28.
During the pre-primary and post-primary election filing periods, Marrocco raised a combined total of $160,940.
In the pre-general election period during the 2012 election, Marrocco reported $2,800 in campaign contributions. He reported $142,740 in the pre-primary period that same year.
Miller raised $321,176 by the Oct. 28 deadline in addition to the $574,755 she reported in the pre-primary and post-primary election filings combined.
Miller and Marrocco also recently exchanged attacks when the Macomb County Ethics Board fined Marrocco $125 for violating an ethics ordinance by filming a television ad in a county-owned building.
Within hours of the board’s decision, Miller’s campaign released a statement saying: “Once again, Anthony Marrocco sees no separation between his personal business and political interests and his duties on behalf of the people of Macomb County.”
Marrocco said Miller’s campaign was behind the resident who filed the complaint against him for violating the ordinance.
“Leon Drolet filed this complaint in a pathetic ploy to distract Macomb County voters from Miller’s own ethical transgressions and her terrible record on environmental issues and clean water,” Marrocco said in a letter to the Ethics Board.
Drolet is a Republican candidate for the Macomb County Board of Commissioners District 13.
Miller and Marrocco have also attacked each other in television ads.
Marrocco accuses Miller of accepting donations from billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, and voting to allow them to dump oil byproducts in Michigan’s water.
Miller released a campaign ad flashing the words “corruption,” “harassment” and “abuse of power” over a photo of Marrocco.
Transparency in Marrocco’s office has come into question during the campaign. Miller pledged to be more transparent about spending in the public works office and let residents know how sewer rates are set.
Michigan Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, said he was proposing a bill that would bring transparency to the Macomb County drainage board.
It would mirror Oakland County’s structure, which allows the county executive to appoint a member to the drainage board to ensure transparency, Kowall said in a statement.
Marrocco argues this would create a “political football” because it empowers an appointee over the two elected officials — both county commissioners — who serve on the board.
The rival candidates also regularly challenge each other on handling the county’s water and sewer problems.
Miller says she wants to end sewage overflows, beach closures due to E. coli and flooding damage in Macomb County. Marrocco, she said, has allowed these things to happen under his watch.
“I’m running for public works commissioner to fix these problems,” Miller says in a television ad released last month.
But Marrocco insists he already has a solution.
In an email to The News, he said his office is investing millions of dollars to upgrade the county’s aging infrastructure. For example, Marrocco said he proposed a $42 million expansion to the Chapaton Basin to stop wastewater discharges.
“Every year my office works diligently to update Macomb County’s aging infrastructure, in order to improve the environment and protect our clean water supply,” Marrocco said.