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Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan is taking a shot at litigious activist Robert Davis, a Highland Park resident with a federal conviction for embezzling taxpayer funds who is targeting the mayor in a recall petition.

“This is someone who was convicted for embezzling funds from Highland Park schoolchildren, who is for the third time filing a recall petition," Duggan said of Davis following an unrelated press conference Wednesday morning.

"This is ordinary course of business, and I’m sure it will work itself out. The people in the city will decide; it’s in the charter."

Davis and fellow activist Brenda Hill of Detroit filed recall petitions Monday with the Wayne County Clerk's office, citing 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. 

Davis, in response Wednesday, said Duggan's arguments are an "absurd" attempt to deflect from his own actions.

"His arguments are absurd and his behavior reflects the fact that he's acting like a kid having a temper tantrum and being placed in time out," said Davis, adding he's only sponsored one past recall against Duggan.

Davis served 10 months in prison for stealing $200,000 from Highland Park Schools between 2004 and 2010. The former school board member was accused by prosecutors of funneling money from a school contractor to two separate companies he had created.

"I am truly not ashamed of my past, and my past has absolutely nothing to do with the present," Davis said. "What I went through has made me a better person and an even stronger leader."

The city's Office of Inspector General launched a review on April 5 to determine whether Duggan and city officials potentially "abused their authority by providing preferential treatment to the Make Your Date program.

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.

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

The mayor has said the city didn't direct any dollars toward the nonprofit. The partnership was with Wayne State University directly, which runs the program. 

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.

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

The mayor on Wednesday questioned how "someone from Highland Park" can initiate a recall petition, adding "the process will handle itself."

Davis said his residency hasn't changed since his last recall petition was filed and it isn't a factor, noting it was permitted to proceed by a federal judge in 2016.

At that time, Davis targeted the mayor 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, U.S. District Court Judge Judith E. Levy ruled Davis could circulate the Duggan recall petition. Ultimately, he did not collect the signatures.

Davis' and Hill's recall petitions are set to be reviewed for clarity on May 2 by the county's election commission.

cferretti@detroitnews.com

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