Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's ballot eligibility challenged by opponent

Detroit — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan should not be eligible to appear on primary ballots in his reelection campaign because he failed to update a fundraising disclosure in 2018, according to a new legal challenge from one of his opponents.

An attorney for Kwame Kilpatrick-era deputy mayor Anthony Adams filed the challenge with Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey and the Detroit Election Commission Monday. 

"Please be advised that we are respectfully requesting that a decision be rendered on or before Wednesday, April 28, 2021," the challenge signed by attorney Andrew Paterson read. "If a decision is not rendered by the aforementioned deadline, we will proceed with filing the appropriate legal action."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

Alexis Wiley, Duggan's campaign manager, denied Adams' claims and called his challenge "purely frivolous."

"It’s obvious Anthony Adams believes his only hope of beating Mayor Duggan is if the mayor’s not on the ballot," she said. "Our campaign provided a complete detailed response to the Wayne County Clerk in 2018 pursuant to the July 2018 Notice of Omission. We are in full compliance with all legal requirements and expect this challenge to be dismissed as without merit."

Wiley said the campaign submitted the requested documentation in September 2018 and did not receive any additional notices. She could not immediately provide a copy of the documentation to The Detroit News on Monday. 

Lisa Williams, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Clerk's Office, disputed Wiley's assertion. She said in a Monday email to The News that Duggan "failed to file an amended July 2018 Quarterly Campaign Statement."

"His original filings are up to date and he has no outstanding fees with our office," Williams said. 

Should a candidate be ruled ineligible, they can seek relief in court, Williams said. Nothing in the law prevents a candidate from running as a write-in, she added.

That's something Duggan has done before.

He was forced to run as a write-in in the 2013 mayoral primary. At that time, candidate Tom Barrow questioned whether Duggan, who moved to Detroit from Livonia, met City Charter requirements for residency to appear on the Detroit ballot.

A three-member panel of the Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that removed Duggan from the ballot. The judges said Duggan violated Detroit's charter when he filed his paperwork for the post early. 

Duggan ultimately prevailed as the top vote-getter in the August 2013 primary, although Barrow unsuccessfully challenged the validity of some of Duggan's write-in votes.

The challenge over Duggan's eligibility for the ballot is among a handful filed in recent days.

At-large Detroit Councilwoman Janee Ayers' certification for the primary also is being challenged amid allegations of delinquent campaign filings. Taylor City Clerk Cynthia Bower ruled Friday that indicted Mayor Rick Sollars won't appear on the city's election ballot over campaign filing issues, and in Pontiac, election officials disqualified Mayor Deirdre Waterman for failure to submit campaign reports on time.

Under Michigan law, those filing to run for office must submit an affidavit of identity, including "a statement that as of the date of the affidavit, all statements, reports, late filing fees and fines required of the candidate or any candidate committee" have been filed or paid.

Campaign finance records maintained by the county show that Duggan filed his July 2018 report, which covered Nov. 28, 2017, through July 20, 2018, on July 25, 2018. However, the clerk's office asked Duggan's campaign to clarify 22 expenditures totaling $48,287 to Paychex for "wages-employment taxes."

"You may have to report the names of the individuals that you are paying taxes for," a letter from the county clerk's office said, requesting an amendment to Duggan's report be filed by Aug. 27, 2018. 

The ultimate decision on whether Duggan will be certified rests with Winfrey, Williams said. The Wayne County Clerk's Office, she said, will provide documents to Winfrey's office upon request. 

"The Detroit City Clerk is the filing official for the offices in question," she said. "The filing official determines a candidate's eligibility to be certified to be placed on the ballot."

Winfrey confirmed to The News Monday that she has received the challenge but said it's up to the county clerk to review Duggan's campaign finance documents. Winfrey added her office will complete its certification process for candidates who have filed to appear on the August ballot at the end of the week. 

Duggan announced in December that he's seeking a third term on a platform built around eliminating barriers holding Detroiters back from jobs and opportunities.

Adams, who has accused Duggan of "benign neglect," added “there’s no discretion here" about the challenge to eligibility, pointing to the other rulings in recent days by elections officials involving campaign filings with the mayors in Taylor and Pontiac.

Anthony Adams, former Detroit deputy mayor.

“It’s incredible the lack of attention to detail for a person who had to run a write-in campaign the first time would fail to follow the law,” Adams told The News. 

Paterson, in a statement to The News, contends the facts in the case are undisputed.

"Because Mike Duggan's campaign committee failed to file a required amended campaign finance report at the time he signed his affidavit of identity, the Detroit City Clerk cannot certify his name to appear on the August 2021 primary election ballot as a candidate for the office of mayor," he said.

"The Legislature amended this section of law because for many years, candidates would purposely submit false affidavits to qualify for the ballot without any repercussions. The Legislature's amendment to the statute now clearly provides a penalty for a candidate submitting a false affidavit, which is removal from the ballot."

By last week's deadline, 13 candidates had filed to challenge Duggan. Among the high-profile contenders are Barrow and Adams.