Journalist M.L. Elrick vows to battle for transparency in Detroit City Council race

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Journalist M.L. Elrick laid out a platform of opportunity, safety and accountability Monday as he kicked off a campaign for an east side City Council seat. 

Elrick, with his family at his side, stood at the front entrance of the shuttered former paint store on East Warren Avenue that he worked at as a teenager, telling a small crowd that Detroiters need elected officials who "put public service above self-service."

M.L. Elrick announces his campaign for Detroit City Council's District 4, alongside his wife, Detroit Free Press reporter Tresa Baldas (left), and daughters Emily and Sophie, on Monday, April 5, 2021.

"I started my career as a reporter 30 years ago and I spent much of that time putting government under scrutiny, exposing waste, incompetence, corruption. I've also told the stories of underdogs, people who are mistreated, abused, their rights denied," said Elrick, a former Detroit Free Press reporter. "It's no longer enough for me to be just the scorekeeper, it's time for me to get in the game."

The Pulitzer Prize-winner and "Soul of Detroit" podcast host known for investigative reports involving elected officials turned in petition signatures Monday morning to be vetted for the August primary.

Elrick in a 2018 television investigation scrutinized Councilman Andre Spivey's collection of nominating petition signatures for the ballot in the last city election cycle. The report centered on allegations that Spivey, the District 4 incumbent, and his campaign had misrepresented who circulated ballot petitions. In the report, Elrick noted it is unlawful for circulators to say they witnessed the signing of a petition when they did not. Spivey, in a written response to Elrick from an attorney, said campaign workers were given clear instructions to follow the rules in obtaining petition signatures. The letter added that a deadline for filing a complaint about the petition signatures had elapsed. 

Elrick is among a high-profile field of potential contenders for the seat. The East English Village neighborhood resident made his bid official a week after fellow contender Toson Knight, a youth mentor and dean of students for the city's public school district, shared his intentions with supporters in the Eden Gardens neighborhood. Retired Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Virgil Smith also has said he plans to make a bid for the seat. Spivey’s chief of staff, Keith Jones, also has pulled petitions for the District 4 seat.

Elrick's Monday announcement featured support from community leaders, former colleagues, long-time family friends and a union representative who spoke of Elrick's efforts at the bargaining table for a newspaper contract, fundraising for community groups and service as a youth mentor.

Maureen Dritsan, a long-time East English Village resident and neighborhood association member, said she's worked with Elrick for years on issues impacting the community.

Dritsan said she believes Elrick "will bring a transparency to council that I feel has been lacking for years."

"I've been pretty pleased with the way the city has been moving and the progress that's been made," she said. "However, I do feel in recent years the council has just kind of rubber-stamped some of the mayor's proposals and plans for the city. I believe residents deserve more."

Elrick has been a Detroit resident since 1999. Besides working at the Free Press, Elrick has had stints as an investigative reporter with WDIV-TV Channel 4 and WJBK-TV Fox 2.

Spivey has said he plans to seek one of two at-large seats on the nine-member council. The councilman pulled petitions to gather signatures for an at-large seat. 

As of last Monday, Knight was the only candidate certified so far, Elections office records show.