Recall petition targets indicted Detroit Councilman Gabe Leland

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Gabe Leland

Detroit — A city resident has filed a petition to recall City Councilman Gabe Leland over his indictment on federal corruption and bribery charges.

Ramon Jackson filed the petition with the Wayne County Clerk's Office on Thursday, citing the councilman's legal case as the reason. 

Jackson, an activist and longtime resident of Leland's council district, said he's been advocating against the councilman for years. The district, he said, remains plagued with poverty, crime, homelessness and vacancy.

Leland's criminal case, he said, is another reminder that "we totally are not being represented properly."

"It's a slap in the face to the people here in Detroit and to the residents," Jackson said Thursday. "He has showed us we can't trust him. It's not only a slap on the face of the residents but a slap on the face of the municipality as well."

The councilman was indicted by a federal grand jury in October on bribery charges and accused of agreeing to accept $15,000 and free car repairs from a city businessman.

In a statement Thursday, Leland called the recall effort “a political attack.”

“I will not bend to this political attack, and neither will the community,” he wrote. “I’m totally confident I can overcome any attack on my credibility due to the rapport that my staff and I have built in the community over these last five years.”

Previously, Leland told reporters just after the indictment that it'll be "business as usual" for him at City Hall and that he was "innocent until proven guilty."

He vowed he'd continue to attend community meetings, respond to constituent concerns and serve residents at the council table. Leland was re-elected in November 2017 to a second, four-year term on Detroit's council. 

A date for a hearing before the county's election commission is expected to be set within 24 hours of the Thursday petition filing. 

State election procedure notes that the commission is required to meet between 10th and 20th day after the filing of recall language to conduct a review. 

Once the commission approves the petition for clarity/factuality and any circuit court appeals have concluded, petition sponsors are free to circulate their petition.

"The number of signatures needed to trigger a recall election is 25 percent of the votes cast in the officer’s district for all candidates for the office of governor in the last
gubernatorial election," according to documentation from the Michigan Bureau of Elections. 

Lisa Williams-Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Clerk's office, said if a recall election is triggered by a sufficient filing, it would be held during the next regular May or November election, and at least 95 days after the petitions are filed.

Roman Jackson on Thursday said after the verification process, potential appeals of the filing and the circulating days to obtain valid signatures, the group is hoping it can get the measure approved for the ballot as early as May. If not, by November 2019, he said.

"I'm confident that we would obtain the signatures," he said. "What I'm not confident about is the bureaucracy of who would try to hinder the process downtown."

Sealed FBI wiretap affidavits, previously obtained by The Detroit News, revealed months prior to Leland's indictment that he was the target of a federal bribery probe.

Recorded conversations played a prominent role in the indictment, which portrayed the Detroit Democrat as using his political power to stall votes on a real-estate matter involving Detroit auto shop owner Robert Carmack last year while demanding bribes. 

On May 16, 2017, Leland offered to help the businessman in exchange for $15,000 and free car repairs, the government claims.

“I should ask for thirty,” Leland said, according to the indictment, “but I’m nice to you.”

Leland was charged with bribery conspiracy and two counts of bribery one day after his campaign staffer, Elisa Grubbs, was charged and accused of delivering the bribe from Carmack.

If convicted, Leland faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each bribery count and five years for bribery conspiracy.

Federal court records show a trial for Grubbs and Leland is slated for August. Both are scheduled to appear in court in July for a final pretrial conference in which they would have the option of entering a plea, according to court records.