Recall petitions target Duggan over claims of 'preferential treatment' for nonprofit

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan is the target of recall petitions filed Monday that cite an investigation into whether the city gave favor to a nonprofit dedicated to preventing premature births and the mayor's alleged ties to the doctor who heads it. 

Detroit resident Brenda Hill and activist Robert Davis submitted the petitions with the Wayne County Clerk's office that note a review launched April 5 by the city's Office of Inspector General. The investigation seeks to determine whether Duggan and city officials potentially "abused their authority" by providing preferential treatment to the Make Your Date program.

"I think that the citizens of the city of Detroit should have an opportunity to weigh in on whether or not this man should continue to serve as mayor of the city of Detroit," Davis, of Highland Park, told The Detroit News on Monday. 

Hill added she's not been pleased with Duggan's performance as mayor and that "it's time" for him to go.

"Every day that Duggan is in office is a detriment to the majority of the citizens of Detroit," said Hill, an activist who lives on the city's west side.

Duggan is the second elected official in Detroit this year targeted by a recall.

In January, a petition aimed at City Councilman Gabe Leland was filed over his indictment on federal corruption and bribery charges.

The Wayne County Election Commission then agreed that the petition was fit for gathering signatures. Leland's legal counsel challenged the determination, which was upheld in February by a judge.

Duggan has vowed "100 percent" cooperation in the inspector general investigation, saying the assertions are "completely false."

Davis also filed a petition seeking to recall Duggan in 2016 for his hiring of the city's former corporation counsel. After a legal dispute in Davis' effort, which also sought to recall former Gov. Rick Snyder over his role in the Flint Water Crisis, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Davis could circulate the Duggan recall petition. Davis ultimately did not obtain the necessary signatures.

Alexis Wiley, the mayor's chief of staff, said Monday: "As was the case in 2016, a recall is still a right provided under the City Charter."

Duggan has said he's confident the inspector general's office would find "a dormant nonprofit that never spent any money, never took any money, never ever opened a bank account in the city of Detroit."

The investigation came after the Detroit Free Press reported that the program received $358,000 in city grants and benefited from a fundraising campaign that a city official led at the mayor’s request.

The mayor has said the city never directed any dollars toward a nonprofit. The partnership, he said, was with Wayne State University directly.

Despite that, The News reviewed a 2017 email from Alexis Wiley, Duggan's chief of staff, to the program's leader, Dr. Sonia Hassan, who is affiliated with Wayne State University.

"Dr. Hassan, I’d like to introduce you to Ryan Friedrichs. He is our chief development officer and the Mayor has tasked him with launching a large scale fundraising effort to Make Your Date. He’ll be in touch soon!”

Duggan's relationship to Hassan has been publicly questioned in recent months.

The mayor said that there was a private nonprofit established in April 2014. But within a couple of months, officials involved realized Wayne State had a public foundation that already accepted tax-exempt money and decided the program would instead be run by the university.

From the first contract with the city in 2015, the effort was a university program, he said. 

Wayne State University, in a statement this month, said the university has handled the program from the beginning and that the 501(c)(3) was never activated. 

University representatives have defended the Make Your Date program and said that Hassan is a volunteer in her efforts to lead the program.

Businessman Robert Carmack, who has been locked in a legal battle with the city and a public feud with Duggan, recently accused the mayor of bribery and infidelity in banners flown over Comerica Park and Hart Plaza in Detroit.

Last year, Carmack aired private investigator footage of the mayor's comings and goings on a billboard truck outside City Hall.

The recordings were distributed to multiple news organizations, prompting the mayor and his wife, Lori Maher, to issue a statement defending their marriage.

Duggan has repeatedly declined to address questions about Hassan, saying: "I'm never going to talk about my personal life."

A hearing date is expected to be set Tuesday for the county's election commission to review the language for clarity and factuality.