Challengers take on Detroit council incumbents
Competitors ranging from leaders of neighborhood groups to former police officers and lawyers are hoping to survive the Aug. 8 primary and get the chance to challenge Detroit City Council incumbent in districts 1-3 in November.
The top two voter-getters in each district advance to face off in the November general election
In District 1, Councilman James Tate faces two challengers — De’Andre Nelson and Tamara Smith.
He touts his biggest accomplishments as the launch of Di$cover D1— an initiative meant to fuel small business growth in his district — and the start of monthly community meetings with residents.
“Downtown has amenities that we can’t compete with,” said Tate, 42. “We have issues that we have overcome in the neighborhood that are detracting businesses from coming into our neighborhood.”
Tate said Di$cover D1 has boosted revenue for businesses in his district and connected residents with businesses in their neighborhood they otherwise didn’t know existed.
He said he prides himself on being “accessible to the community” and if re-elected he wants to focus on initiatives that empower young people.
Political newcomer De’Andre Nelson, 24, said he wants to focus on reducing crime by partnering with neighborhood groups and recruiting more police officers; investing in young people; and cleaning up and beautifying Detroit neighborhoods.
Nelson, who works in the finance industry, also wants to stir economic development by providing incentives for small businesses. Detroit’s image as a “comeback city” does not reflect all parts of town, he said.
“We still are seeing a great level of demise in our neighborhood,” Nelson said.
Tamara Smith, 43, said she wants to bring companies with “livable wage” jobs to Detroit. She also wants to curb sex trafficking.
Smith said she owns an independent transportation company and residents regularly seek her help in solving crimes such as car theft. “People are dying daily, crime is being committed daily,” she said.
City Council President Pro-Tem George Cushingberry faces five challengers: Linda D. Bernard, Tyra Dear-Williams, Roy McCalister Jr., Helena Scott and former state Sen. Virgil Smith.
Cushingberry, a former state representative and Wayne County commissioner, said he wants to focus on helping the city emerge from state oversight, continuing clean city initiatives, expanding public-private initiatives to create jobs for residents and improving council oversight of the city’s housing programs.
Since joining council Cushingberry’s law license has been suspended twice. He first lost it for 45 days for taking a client’s money and providing no services. Cushingberry, 64, received another one-year suspension for failing to appear at a public hearing over professional misconduct claims.
In 2014, during a stop outside of a bar, police allegedly found a cup of liquor and a half-smoked marijuana cigarette in his car. Cushingberry was issued a ticket for failure to signal, but not given a field sobriety test. An investigation concluded there was not enough evidence to suggest the councilman sought preferential treatment from police.
Cushingberry chairs the council’s budget, finance and audit committee, and has been vocal about getting Wayne County Parks millage funding for improvements on Belle Isle.
Smith, who said he is self-employed, resigned from the state Senate last year and spent 10 months in jail after firing an assault rifle at his ex-wife’s car.
“I don’t run from it, but it’s not an issue for me,” Smith said of his legal problems. “I’ve learned from the situation.”
Smith, 37, said he is an advocate for getting mixed-use development on the state fairgrounds in his district.
Smith said he also will lobby for lower auto and homeowner insurance for Detroiters.
“I have a good track record of delivering and I know how government operates,” he said. “No matter what the issue is, if someone comes to me and asks for help, I am going to help them.”
McCalister, a retired Detroit police officer and an investigator with the Eastern District of Michigan Federal Defenders Office, said he wants to revitalize northwest Detroit neighborhoods and bring in grocery stores and resources to improve quality of life for senior citizens.
“We have areas that are really destitute,” said McCalister, 63. “All those folks need support.”
McCalister said if elected he will encourage more community policing. He also plans to create career opportunities for residents through apprenticeship schools and training programs.
Helena Scott said in an email that she is an organizer with Southeast Michigan Jobs with Justice. Scott, 56, said she would focus on community development, economic growth and public safety.
“I hope to accomplish more economic growth in the 6 Mile & 7 Mile/Wyoming areas while hoping to decrease the blight in District 2 and increase community development and have safer neighborhoods,” Scott said in an email.
Attempts to reach candidates Linda D. Bernard and Tyra Dear-Williams were unsuccessful. According to a Facebook fan page, Bernard is an attorney .
A campaign flier for Dear-Williams says she is advocating for small business growth, community action programs, blight elimination and neighborhood safety action networks.
City Councilman Scott Benson faces four challengers: Russ Bellant, Cedric Banks, Dennis Green and Adam R. Mundy.
Benson, 47, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Benson spent seven days in jail in 2015 for a drunken driving conviction. He was found slumped behind the wheel of his city-issued 2008 Ford Crown Victoria at a traffic signal on the southbound Southfield service drive near Eight Mile. He told The Detroit News at the time: “I’m hoping others can take a lesson from this.”
Benson introduced a controversial community benefits ordinance that voters approved in November. It requires developers of major projects to engage residents to negotiate jobs, affordable housing or other benefits.
Russ Bellant, 68, is heavily involved in community groups including the HelCo Block Club and the We Care About Van Dyke-Seven Mile Inc. neighborhood association. He is a city water department retiree.
Bellant said he wants to lobby to revert federal demolition funds back to assisting low-income families to avoid foreclosure. He also wants to see the water rates reduced so residents don’t abandon homes and leave the city.
“We should be focusing on public health aspects and making water affordable again before we start talking about shutoffs,” Bellant said.
Cedric Banks, 53, is a local pastor who has hosted job fairs, landlord fairs and candidate forums for elections.
Banks said his goal is “to help rebuild the people” in District 3, which is one of the city’s poorest enclaves.
“I’ve got the resources,” he said. “I have the connections, I have the relationships.”
Adam R. Mundy, 43, said he has served as senior policy analyst for both Benson and Councilwoman Janee Ayers, a community liaison for former council member Kenneth Cockrel Jr. and understands council policy and procedures.
Mundy said the residents in his district feel they have been left out of the plans to move Detroit forward.
“Blight, crime and abandonment plague our neighborhoods,” he said in an email. “I want to be the leader to help bring District 3 back to being a safe, clean, and thriving neighborhood that it once was years ago.”
Attempts to reach Dennis Green were unsuccessful. Campaign literature says Green is a civil engineer who “understands how to take and rebuild our neighborhoods in a better direction.”