Brenda Jones cites concerns over 'electoral process' for late write-in bid

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones speaks to the media Tuesday about her decision to conduct a write-in campaign for Michigan's 13th Congressional District seat.

Detroit — City Council President Brenda Jones is citing concerns over the "integrity" of the August primary and loyal supporters for her decision to mount a last-minute, write-in campaign as an independent candidate for U.S. Congress. 

Jones, during a press briefing on a sidewalk outside of Detroit City Hall on Tuesday evening, noted she was narrowly defeated in the "hotly contested and controversial" Democratic primary for the 13th Congressional District. 

"So many voters contacted my campaign with issues about the integrity of the process and let me say, their concerns are my concerns," she said. "My hope is by re-entering as a write-in candidate that I'm shedding light on their concerns as well as related to electoral integrity. Voting is a right, and everyone's vote should count and be counted. Voters deserve a fair race and the ability to select the candidate of their choice."

Jones made the claims in reference to an election night software glitch involving a vendor contracted by Wayne County to handle results reporting that sparked delays and confusion. She stopped short of pointing fingers or calling for any type of reviews related to the outcome of the August race. 

Jones filed an affidavit on Friday with Wayne County declaring her intentions for the Nov. 6 election after "soul searching" and "strong constituent feedback and support," she said. Officials with the Michigan Elections Bureau confirmed Monday that Jones' write-in declaration was valid. 

It's unclear if the move could upset former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who narrowly prevailed over Jones. The winner of the two-year term will succeed former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., who stepped down last winter amid allegations of sexual harassment.

Tlaib defeated Jones by 1 percentage point — 31.2 percent to 30.2 percent — in a six-person field. The margin was 900 votes, according to official results.

Tlaib, 42, would be one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress after the November election, in which no Republican is on the ballot for the 13th District.

Late Tuesday, Tlaib said some constituents are being distracted by Jones' attempt at a write-in campaign but said for her it's a "non-issue" and she's working to keep her supporters focused. 

"I'm going to continue to serve the district. I have been very focused and going door-to-door ... and trying to stay rooted in the community," she said. "Primarily because I want to hit the ground running in Congress and stay connected with my residents when I get there."

Tlaib also called Jones' claims about the voting process an "unfortunate" move that's coming "seven days before the election" and stressed there are people on the ground working to ensure the integrity of the election.

Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News, told The Detroit News that Metro Detroit's Arab-American community is upset about what he called Jones' "last-minute decision."

"People are angry," he said. "A lot of people are calling me; they're really angry about it. All of them say the same thing: The Michigan Democratic Party should step in and say 'we have rules.' 

"That's why we have primaries," Siblani said. "In the primary, she lost. The Michigan Democratic party needs to tell her, 'You ran in the primary and the result proved that the integrity of the election is intact.' It's seven days before the election, and she comes up with these kinds of shenanigans."

In a Facebook post earlier Tuesday, Siblani said "Jones in a press conference today claimed that she and other constituents are 'concerned about the integrity of the election. What people should know and specially her constituents that Brenda Jones herself is one of a three members commission that oversee elections in Detroit!!"

Siblani added the hashtags #Integrity and #Brenda_jones_do_not_respect_rules.

"We are still waiting for the leadership of the Michigan Democratic Party to stand up for their own rules," Siblani wrote. "We won’t forgive or forget."

TJ Bucholz, a campaign adviser for Tlaib, called Jones' write-in effort a "bizarre farce" being undertaken at the 11th hour that's "sour grapes" over her loss in the primary. 

Jonathan Kinloch, chairman of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party, has called Jones' write-in effort "a major distraction."

In response on Tuesday, Jones said "everyone has their opinion" and that she's listening to her supporters, adding "I'm not going to distract anyone."

Jones’ move isn’t surprising but will take a lot of work running against Tlaib, the Democratic nominee, Mario Morrow, a Detroit political consultant told The Detroit News on Monday, calling it a "long shot."

Even though she lives outside the 13th District, Jones had been considered the front-runner for the 13th District seat because of her name recognition after years on the City Council, where she was elected at-large. 

Jones said she's not concerned over absentee ballots that have already been cast and said that her campaign will be working to get the word out.

"We have our means of getting words out," she said. "It's been on social media even before I said I was going to run as a write-in campaign."

Meanwhile, Jones won a separate special primary election in August and is the nominee to temporarily represent the district for the remainder of Conyers' unexpired term — about seven weeks from mid-November through Jan. 2. 

Jones, 59, had the backing of the powerful United Auto Workers union and other labor groups, as well as Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans.

Jones has not yet said whether she intends to resign her elected city post before taking office in Washington, saying last month she's consulting with experts.

House Republican leadership has said there's no precedent for allowing a member of Congress to also hold local elected office, but that it's "evaluating" the matter.

In reference to the partial term, Jones on Tuesday noted "it's also on the ballot" next week and "I have to be elected to any term."

 "The votes will be counted on next Tuesday, and we will move on next Tuesday to see what happens," she said.

The 13th District seat has been vacant for nearly 11 months since Conyers resigned in December.

Staff writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed to this report.