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Controversial Democrat Whitsett, millionaire Thanedar prevail in Democratic state House races

Detroit — A Democratic incumbent in state House District 9 who upset her party prevailed against a new party-backed candidate in unofficial voting results Wednesday. 

Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, was censured by fellow Democrats after she praised President Donald Trump for promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine in battling the coronavirus. The first-term representative was invited to the White House in mid-April and claims the anti-malaria drug helped her recover from being infected by the virus.

Rep. Karen Whitsett

The 13th Congressional District Democratic Party censured Whitsett and directed its support instead to Detroit Action housing organizer Roslyn Ogburn.

Whitsett came in with about 44% of the vote, compared with Ogburn who'd earned 31%, according to unofficial results Wednesday, with 96% of precincts reporting.

Late Tuesday, the pair had been locked in a tight race and separated by a single vote based on posted results. 

Whitsett has held on to the support of voters like west side resident Patricia Murria, who feel she was wronged by her party. 

"She was sick with the virus. She tried what Trump said, she went to visit Trump and that's what they are holding against her. I don't think it's fair to hold it against her," said Murria. "She's helped out the people with this virus, with food and rent, face masks."

ELECTION RESULTS: Follow along as they come out

Ogburn, 43-year-old fourth-generation Detroiter and mother of five, touted endorsements from former presidential hopefuls U.S. Sens Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as well as U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit.

She said she's working to elevate the fight for affordable water and housing stability and argues Whitsett has "not supported her district."

Detroit voter Stephon Hobson, 45, said he and Ogburn share the same values.

"She's for healthcare and clean water and trying to bring back affordable housing and make sure that everybody still can move into the neighborhoods they want to move into," said Hobson, who voted for Ogburn Tuesday. "She's very progressive and I like that."

Whitsett's decision to align with Trump on the unproven virus treatment was a bad move, Hobson added.

"Anybody to back him in this day and age and saying they are for the people, there's no way they can get my vote," he said. 

Other Democrats in the race were self-described community advocate Marc Cummings and Nicole Elcock.

Whitsett could not be reached Tuesday or Wednesday. She formerly declined an interview with The News.

She'll be challenged in November by Republican James Stephens. The 9th House District encompasses part of the cities of Detroit and Dearborn.

2nd House District: State Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, was leading with 69% of the vote against his challenger, nonprofit political director Taylor Harrell of Detroit. The district includes part of Detroit's lower east side and Grosse Pointe communities.

3rd House District: Former gubernatorial hopeful Shri Thanedar emerged as the winner among a packed field of Democrats, securing about 35% of the overall votes.

The scientist, who relocated to Detroit last year from Ann Arbor, was aiming to cash in on his high name familiarity after losing the 2018 gubernatorial primary. His campaign two years ago featured a heavy dose of "Shri for We" television ads.

“People are telling me they support me. They are looking for a change,” he said Tuesday. “There’s just a lack of attention and this has been going on for generations.”

Shri Thanedar uses a bullhorn at 7 Mile and Mound Road to reach voters last month.

Thanedar raised a record-breaking $438,620, primarily from his own wealth, in the Democratic primary against six other opponents. He spent almost $10 million of his own fortune to finish third behind Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El Sayed in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, but he won the most votes among the three candidates in Detroit.

Union-backed candidate Al Williams and student China Cochran finished second against term-limited Democratic state Rep. Wendell Byrd in 2016 and 2018, respectively. 

Others in the race were John Cromer, a 54-year-old convicted felon who formerly sought a vacated seat on Detroit's City Council. He has built his campaign around criminal justice reform and fair hiring practices for returning citizens. 

Political newcomers Keith McMurtry, a 52-year-old high school social studies teacher for the Detroit school district, and Art Tyus, 56 who works part-time as a computer repair technician and Lyft driver, also ran for the seat along with Democrats Steven Lett and Donavan McKinney. 

Thanedar faces Republican Anita Vinson in November. The district covers a slice of northern Detroit that borders Eight Mile and runs over to the east side.

2nd House District: State Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, defeated challenger, nonprofit political director Taylor Harrell of Detroit. Tate earned 69% of the vote in the district that includes part of Detroit's lower east side and Grosse Pointe communities.

4th House District: Abraham Aiyash, who narrowly lost a 2018 race for 2nd District state senator, prevailed based on unofficial results, earning 38% of the vote among 13 Democrats.

The district seat, which includes Hamtramck and parts of Detroit, was formerly held by state Rep. Isaac Robinson, 44, who died in March. 

7th House District: Helena Scott came out on top with 36% of the vote, far surpassing six other Democrats seeking to fill the seat of term-limited state rep. LaTanya Garrett, D-Detroit.

The district encompasses a portion of northwest Detroit and the city of Highland Park.

8th House District: Detroit neighborhoods district manager Stephanie Young was ahead of other candidates with 45% of the vote, with about 90% of precincts reporting Wednesday.

Four Democrats ran to fill the seat of term-limited state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo.

10th House District: Mary Cavanagh secured a win, earning 29% of the vote in a bid to succeed state Rep. Leslie Love, the Detroit Democrat who is serving her final term.

Eight Democrats were competing for the district seat which covers Redford Charter Township and a portion of northwest Detroit. 

21st House District: Two Democratic candidates sought to fill the seat of term-limited Rep. Kristy Pagan, D-Canton Township.

Pagan endorsed Democrat Ranjeev Puri of Canton Township, who works in business development for Fiat Chrysler. Ethan Petzold, a community organizer who also lives in Canton, was the other Democrat.

Puri had a wide lead with 68% of the vote Wednesday in early results.

cferretti@detroitnews.com