At-large Detroit council incumbents face challengers
Detroit — A former state representative and a county legislative assistant are challenging at-large City Council members Brenda Jones and Janee Ayers in the Nov. 7 election, arguing voters want a change.
The incumbents said they have worked hard for residents and deserve to win the two seats representing the entire city.
Council President Jones and Ayers held the top positions among five contenders in the August primary, pulling in 45 percent of the vote and 25.2 percent respectively, followed by former state lawmaker Mary Waters at 16.8 percent and Beverly Kindle-Walker at 6.4 percent.
As Detroit’s longest-serving council member, Jones said she remains focused on putting Detroit residents and city-based businesses to work, getting quality public education and meeting the needs of neighborhoods.
“The things that were important to me 13 years ago are still just as important to me today,” said Jones, who is working on legislation that would ensure businesses based here get their “fair share” when it comes to funding allocated for larger projects.
Jones, 57, was first elected to the council in 2005. The east side resident initiated Detroit’s Skilled Trades Task Force and chairs the council’s Military Veterans Task Force.
Jones is also working on a commission to address human trafficking and hosting seminars to provide advice to ex-convicts seeking jobs or record expungement.
As council president, Jones has forged a partnership with Mayor Mike Duggan but has opposed him on some high-profile issues including community benefits agreements. She also has called for transparency in the demolition and city consultant contracts.
Jones this summer opposed a series of key agreements tied to the Detroit Pistons’ move from Auburn Hills to downtown, saying she wanted more job guarantees in writing.
“I continue to remain focused on moving the city forward,” she said. “I represent the people that live here, that work here, that play here.”
Ayers, 36, is vying for her first full term on council after being appointed to the post in 2015 to replace former member Saunteel Jenkins, who left for a nonprofit job. Last November, Ayers defeated a prominent pastor in a special race to finish the final year of Jenkins’ unexpired term.
Ayers said she’s into “no-nonsense governing” and believes residents see her “hard work and integrity.” Her team, she said, strives to be in the community and responsive.
In two years on council, Ayers also has created the Returning Citizens Task Force to help inmates who get out of prison and is working on an ordinance proposal to address housing and employment for jail and prison convicts returning to society.
In the wake of the Oct. 1 massacre in Las Vegas, Ayers called for the city’s Law Department and council staff to evaluate whether Detroit could enact an ordinance restricting rifles and semiautomatic weapons in hotel rooms that face public spaces.
The former MGM Grand Detroit Casino employee says the gun-related initiative is “not an election piece. It’s a people piece.”
“I’m not a lifetime politician,” said Ayers, who lives in northwest Detroit. “I’m not far removed from working multiple jobs to make ends meet. I know what our citizens are going through and what they continue to go through on a day-to-day basis.”
Former State Rep. Mary Waters, 62, is a resident of the city’s Lafayette Park neighborhood and said she is running to “put the people first.”
“It’s very critical that those of us elected as council members do our due diligence and don’ just rubber stamp everything that comes across the table,” she said. “People are looking for someone who is strong and wants to take the lead on issues that are important to them. They know that about me.”
Waters served six years in the state Legislature, was behind a state law addressing copper theft and fought to save city businesses.
She was also vice chair of Detroit’s charter revision committee in the 1990s and made past unsuccessful bids for Congress and Detroit council.
She touts a platform focused on environmental issues, improving the city’s community benefits and blight rules, as well as services for low-income mothers and children.
“My record in itself says I’ve always been a fighter on behalf of the people,” she said. “We don’t want to leave anybody behind.”
Kindle-Walker, a West Village resident, says she’s running to restore trust in city government.
“Definitely trying to restore the spirit of Detroit is No. 1,” said Kindle-Walker, 63. “We need somebody whose single focus is on city business to be at that table to leverage the business of City Council.”
A legislative assistant to Democratic Wayne County Commissioner Tim Kileen, Kindle-Walker ran unsuccessfully for council in 2005 and 2009 as well as for Wayne County treasurer.
Kindle-Walker said she’ll fight to have an early payment discount reinstated for city parking tickets and leverage Detroit’s City Airport for commercial aviation.
“I offer common sense and institutional knowledge because of my experiences,” said Kindle-Walker, adding she’s not concerned that the incumbents came finished on top in the primary.
“I’m not worried about that. If it’s meant for me, it will happen,” she said.