Law prof, pastor, ex-felon among Detroit candidates

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Wayne State University law professor, a pastor and an ex-felon are among candidates who have filed to take on the newest council member in a special race to fill an at-large seat on the City Council.

First-time candidate Eric Williams, who heads Wayne State’s small business law clinic, will join sitting Councilwoman Janee Ayers on the Aug. 2 primary ballot. Others who filed by Tuesday’s deadline include Takaro Warren and past contenders Sigmunt J. Szczepkowski Jr., the Rev. David Bullock of Greater St. Matthew’s Baptist Church and John Cromer, who served time for retail theft and later became an advocate for fair hiring practices.

Ayers was appointed to the council in February 2015 following the resignation of Saunteel Jenkins. The second-term councilwoman stepped down in October 2014 to become CEO of the Heat and Warmth Fund, a Detroit nonprofit.

Ayers advanced last year from a pool of 135 applicants. She was selected for the post under a process adopted by the council after Jenkins’ departure. Her appointment runs through Dec. 31.

Daniel Baxter, Detroit Department of Elections director, said the candidates who filed had to collect a minimum of 500 valid signatures.

Two candidates will advance from the primary to the general election on Nov. 8. The winner will finish out the unexpired term, which runs from Jan. 1, 2017, to Jan. 1, 2018. Separately, the next round of four-year terms for Detroit’s council will be decided by voters in November 2017.

Ayers, 34, is a former MGM Grand Detroit Casino employee and recording secretary for the UNITE HERE! Local 24 that represents about 6,000 hospitality workers.

The District 1 resident serves on four council subcommittees and said public safety will continue to be her top concern. Her office has also focused on crafting a new policy to provide more opportunities for Detroit-based businesses.

“Council is not just in this building or at this table. It’s everywhere that I go,” Ayers said.

Williams, 48, said he’s focused on building neighborhood businesses, establishing community policing and protecting the city’s schools and seniors.

Williams, who plans to host 30 community meetings during a 30-day listening tour, worked in the nonprofit sector at Focus: HOPE and earned his juris doctor degree at Columbia University School of Law, serving in private practice in New York City before returning to Detroit.

“Candidates need to listen as much as they talk,” said Williams, a business lawyer who resides in West Village.

“You need to give people a chance to hear and understand you but also see that you are listening to them. So that’s what I’m planning to do.”

Candidates have until Friday to withdraw.