Detroit council president, newcomer take on foes
At-large Detroit City Council incumbents Brenda Jones and Janee Ayers face three challengers in next Tuesday’s primary for the two positions that represent the entire city.
Among the candidates are a former state representative, a legislative assistant to a county commissioner and a political newcomer. The four highest primary vote-getters will face off in the Nov. 7 general election.
Jones is running on her record as council president, where she has worked with Mayor Mike Duggan while breaking with him on high-profile issues such as community benefit agreements and transparency.
Jones, 57, most recently opposed a series of key agreements tied to the Detroit Pistons’ move downtown, saying her focus is on the well-being of residents and businesses and that she wanted more job guarantees in writing. She also has declined to support demolition contracts that come before council until the federal probe of the program concludes.
Jones, who was first elected to the council in 2005, launched Detroit’s Skilled Trades Task Force and led recent efforts to update the city’s dangerous animal ordinance. She’s also working to create a commission to address human trafficking.
Jones said she’s concerned with neighborhoods, crime and ensuring there are opportunities for residents.
“I believe that everyone has a voice in this city,” said Jones, who lives on the city’s east side. “It’s important to me to be the citizens’ voice, that voice that speaks up, that cares about all of the people in the city of Detroit.”
Political experts said the best hope for challengers is to qualify for the general election and perhaps upset Ayers. The 35-year-old incumbent is vying for her first full term on the council after being appointed to the post in 2015 to replace former member Saunteel Jenkins, who left for a nonprofit job.
In November, Ayers bested a prominent pastor in a special race to finish the final year of Jenkins’ unexpired term.
The highest-profile challenger is former State Rep. Mary Waters, but Ayers said she is not caught up with name recognition. The northwest Detroit resident is focused on getting out her message.
“I am not worried about the name ID from anybody else,” said Ayers, a former MGM Grand Detroit Casino employee. “I just have to run my race the best I can.”
In two years on council, Ayers has created the Returning Citizens Task Force and is working on an ordinance to address housing and employment for former jail and prison convicts returning to society. She also has crafted blight legislation to hold problem landlords accountable and is working on an amendment to the city’s procurement ordinance that will ensure small, Detroit-based businesses have a fair opportunity.
Waters, 61, is a resident of the city’s Lafayette Park neighborhood and said she is running to stand up on behalf of the people.
Waters, who works for an educational consulting company, served six years in the state Legislature, when she got passed a state law addressing copper theft and fought to save city businesses. She also was vice chair of Detroit’s charter revision committee in the 1990s.
Waters said she is focused on environmental issues, improving the city’s community benefits and blight rules, as well as services for low-income mothers and children.
“They (voters) can count on me to put the people first, ahead of corporate welfare, ahead of those that will ignore the majority of Detroit,” said Waters, who’s made past unsuccessful bids for Congress and Detroit council.
Another candidate is Beverly Kindle-Walker, a West Village resident who was among the individuals considered to replace Jenkins in 2015.
Kindle-Walker, a legislative assistant to Democratic Wayne County Commissioner Tim Kileen, ran unsuccessfully for council in 2005 and 2009 as well as for Wayne County treasurer.
The 63-year-old said residents want a change in leadership and she can deliver.
“People are feeling disconnected and not identifying with any leadership downtown,” Kindle-Walker said. “I just know I can do the job.”
Alisa McKinney, a 51-year-old real estate appraiser, is hoping to win over voters in her first bid for public office on a platform of bringing change.
McKinney, who lives downtown, contends too many council votes appear to be made to benefit non-Detroit business developers, out-of-town and overseas workers, as well as other economic interests rather than Detroit’s workers and residents in all of the city’s districts.
She wants council to be more accessible to residents and said she will fight for hiring mandates, rehabilitation of commercial corridors citywide and redirecting tax aid for the new downtown hockey and basketball arena to recreation and schools.
“Residents should vote for me if they want change, if they want improved housing conditions, better job opportunities, safer communities and a City Council that works in their best interests and not in the interests of out-of-town business developers,” McKinney said in an email.