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Activist's lawsuit aims to kill Jones' challenge of Tlaib

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Highland Park activist Robert Davis is asking a federal judge to remove Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones from the August 4 primary ballot in her run against Democratic freshman U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

Davis filed a lawsuit Monday against Wayne County election officials in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District alleging that Jones had outstanding campaign finance filings due when she filed paperwork to qualify as a candidate. Davis stated in the lawsuit that he is a Tlaib supporter.

Brenda Jones

Davis argues by state law that should have disqualified her to appear on the ballot. The filings were from her re-election to the Detroit City Council in 2017.

Jones, 60, is a formidable opponent for Tlaib because she won the 2018 special election to finish out the term of former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. but lost her bid to replace Conyers for a full two-year term to Tlaib by fewer than 1,000 votes — 1 percentage point. She launched a write-in campaign for the general election that year but was unsuccessful.

Davis is asking the court to order election officials not to count votes that are cast for Jones, but acknowledged in the lawsuit that the ballots are being printed and have been issued to absentee voters so removing Jones' name may not be possible.

Robert Davis

"Despite having credible information proving that Defendant Jones had outstanding campaign finance statements due at the time she filed her affidavit of identity with the Defendant Wayne County Clerk, the Defendant County Election Commission purposely ignored Plaintiff Davis’ email communications and supporting documentation, and nonetheless certified and approved Defendant Jones’ name to appear on the August 4, 2020 primary election ballot as a candidate for U.S. Congress for the 13th Congressional District," according to the lawsuit.  

Jones' campaign spokesperson didn't respond Monday to a request for comment. 

The 13th District is a predominantly African-American district. Tlaib of Detroit is a Palestinian American while Jones is Black.

Among those Davis sued are Jones, Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey, Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett, the Detroit Election Commission and the Wayne County Election Commission.

A Monday call to Winfrey and call and email to a Garrett spokesperson weren't  returned. 

Tlaib has gained national prominence as part of "The Squad," a group of four progressive female, minority Democratic House lawmakers who have pushed party leaders further to the left on legislative issues. 

“Our campaign is not involved with this lawsuit and have no comment on legal proceedings," Tlaib's campaign spokesperson Denzel McCampbell wrote in a Monday text. "Congresswoman Tlaib is focused on talking with residents in the 13th about the work we’ve done on racial, economic, and environmental justice, as well as ensuring our neighbors have what they need to get through this COVID-19 pandemic."

Tlaib as well as U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts endorsed each other last week and formed the Squad Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that will support their re-election campaigns and their leadership political action committees as another way of expanding their influence.

Davis said election officials ignored his emails about Jones' overdue campaign filings and certified her to appear on the ballot because "they have a personal animus" against him. He is asking the court for more than $75,000 in damages and attorney fees.

Davis is well known for filing public access lawsuits against local officials. 

Jones has built her campaign theme around hope during the coronavirus pandemic:  "Hope for a better tomorrow, hope for our children, hope for our families and hope for the hopeless.” She has vowed to unite the district, bring it "new resources" and focus on "issues that are important to the families and the people of the 13th Congressional District."

Davis also alleged in his lawsuit that Winfrey, the city's Department of Elections and Detroit Election Commission violated a 2006 permanent court order barring the mailing of unsolicited absentee voter ballot applications to all registered Detroit voters. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters ahead of August primary and November general elections. 

Davis is asking a judge to find the city election officials in criminal contempt and to "order fining and/or imprisoning."