Fouts faces 9 challengers in Warren mayoral primary

Alex Nester
The Detroit News

Nine challengers are seeking to unseat longtime incumbent Jim Fouts in the Warren mayoral primary contest on Aug 6.

Voters in Michigan's third-largest city will choose two candidates Tuesday to face off in November for Warren's top job. Fouts, 76, is seeking his fourth four-year term in the post, which carries an annual salary of $125,642.

Jim Fouts

Fouts was elected mayor in 2007 after spending 26 years on city council. He is eligible to run for a fourth term since Warren voters lengthened the mayoral term limit from three to five terms in 2016.

Since December 2016, Fouts has been dogged by accusations that his voice was captured on multiple audio recordings containing racist remarks and degrading statements about women and people with disabilities.

Fouts has denied the allegations and repeated that stance in an interview with The Detroit News for this story, saying the tapes were "phony, manipulated and manufactured." 

"Number one, nobody cares about that. It's old news," he said. "Second, nobody has come forward and said anything about that." 

Fouts said his record "speaks for itself." He said he's cut departments and staff, saving taxpayers millions. Warren now has its own EMS service and the crime rate has decreased, he said. 

 According to FBI crime statistics, the reality is not so clear-cut. Warren's violent crime rate is down since 2015, according to the agency's 2017 Uniform Crime Report released last fall, but up 0.3% from 2013. 

Warren's violent crime rate of 503 per 100,000 in 2017 was the highest among Metro Detroit suburbs with populations above 50,000.

K.C. Ohiggins

The mayor said he is readily available to his constituents by his office, home or cell phone, and responds to missed calls late into the evening.

K.C. Ohiggins, a 56-year old truck driver who is running against Fouts, said he is embarrassed about his city and its leader, citing the mayor's alleged racist comments as one of the reasons he decided to run for office.

Ohiggins often sits outside of Warren public meetings with anti-Fouts signs. One reads "Fouts is a racist." 

When he appeared on TV Warren's "Meet the Candidates" this spring, Ohiggins spoke with a long curtain of hair covering his face. 

"You the electorate, I’m sure you have many questions," Ohiggins said on the program. "Why should I vote for you, and what is up with the hair?"

"This is the face of our Warren residents, all of our citizens who are embarrassed to have a corrupt, racist major leading our city," Ohiggins said.

Lawrence Behr

Fouts' response to Ohiggins' criticism: "That's not a legitimate campaign," he said.

Ohiggins has a campaign committee but missed a deadline Tuesday to file a pre-primary finance report, according to a notice from county Clerk Fred Miller.

Another of Fouts' other challengers, Lawrence Behr, 62, is retired and ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner last year as a Republican.

He said one of his focuses as mayor would be to reduce crime in Warren, which he claims is exacerbated by Detroiters coming into the city.

"We need a greater saturation of police in the south end," Behr said.

Matt Kuehnel

Besides Fouts, Behr and Ohiggins, the other mayoral candidates are Douglas Michael Chastney, 50, city councilwoman Kelly Colegio, 51, Brett Felton, 32, Matt Kuehnel, 35, Kristina Lodovisi, 38, and Chris Pasternak, 40. 

Scott Stevens, 62, who is term-limited out of city council, is running as a write-in candidate. 

Kuehnel, a self-described communist and residential construction worker, will appear on the ballot, though he said he has suspended his campaign due to threats of violence for his beliefs. 

Chastney has worked as an industrial machine and equipment operator and grows organic cannabis.

Douglas Michael Chastney

He said he believes Warren should embrace the hemp industry, and if the city manufactured hemp-based products like clothing, Warren would reap benefits from the industry's tax revenue.

"It's not about getting people high, but I would love to embrace manufacturing shirts, pants, socks, shoes and plastics made from hemp," he said.

"Michigan was known for the automotive manufacturing ... It would be great to become a manufacturing place again." 

Colegio, an eight-year city council member and four-year mayor pro tem, said she would address the city's sewage problems, including the  of "flow blending."

Kelly Colegio

The city's practice of mixing partly- and fully-treated sewage and dumping it into city waterways does not comply with state regulations, she said.

Bryan Clor, appointed by Fouts in January as head of Warren's Waste Water Treatment facility, said the city dumped 1.1 million gallons of partially-treated sewage into the water drain earlier this month. Clor said the practice will end when the city builds a new sewage retention basin in the south end. He also said the sewage is disinfected and meets current permit requirements. 

"What people don't understand is the E. coli count naturally present in streams are higher than the E. coli count we put out in the sewage," Clor said. "This [flow blending] can sound a lot worse than what it is." 

Colegio said she entered the race to try to do away with "the smoke and mirrors" and "shenanigans" in city government.

She said the city is allowing licensed landlords to operate without paying taxes; outsourcing park maintenance to save money, then spending $3.5 million to fix the dilapidated parks; and holding closed-door meetings between city council and local marijuana dispensaries.

"Warren maybe does not have the best image that it could right now," Colegio said.

Brett Felton

Felton is a federal contractor program administrator employed by the U.S. Army. An Army veteran of the Iraq War, Felton returned to the Middle East after his service to help Christians and other religious minority groups and moved to Warren with his wife 10 years ago. 

He considers running for mayor "a continuation of service."  

Felton said he would establish an ethics board and shed light on the city's funding and spending. He said the city government should be accountable and transparent to residents.

"Integrity is a big part of service," Felton said.

Kristina Lodovisi

Lodovisi volunteers for local nonprofit organizations and is a veteran military police officer in Afghanistan. She ran for state Senate as a Democrat last year.

If elected mayor, Lodovisi said she would review the city's charter. 

"The charter is sloppily amended and there are parts that are unconstitutional," Lodovisi said. "This should have been taken care of years ago."

Pasternak is running on what he calls "the four P's: Police, Parks, People, and Pasternak for Mayor."

Pasternak works for the General Motors assembly plant in Flint as a member of United Auto Workers Union Local 589.

Chris Pasternak

He said he wants to decrease Warren's crime rate, and improve the city's parks and downtown to attract people to the area. 

"I think we need to move forward and create a better city," Pasternak said.

Stevens, who has served on city council since 2007, said the charter would be one of the first issues he would address if elected. 

"There are so many issues that need to be addressed, but the first thing is we need to get the house in order," said Stevens, who is also employed in the city of Southfield's Department of Public Works. "This means getting the charter updated." 

Scott Stevens

Many candidates said they wanted to attract shops, condominiums, bars and an arts or civic center to create a downtown district. 

"The city has had no downtown movement for 12 years," Colegio said. "We hear the presentation every year but never get it. Many cities have had regrowth, except for us."

Stevens said he would work to make the city more attractive to families, fearing Warren could lose its ranking as third largest city in Michigan if the city fails to improve downtown.

"I want to make Warren an inclusive and cool city, a destination," he said.