In scandal's wake, Macomb prosecutor race focuses on trust
Restoring the public's trust appears to be a key issue for Macomb County candidates seeking to win over voters headed to the polls next week following years of scandal and public corruption that have rocked Metro Detroit's northeastern suburbs.
Most prominently, seven candidates are running to replace former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, a Democrat who resigned March 30 after being charged with misusing $600,000 in forfeiture funds seized in drug and drunken driving cases between 2012 and 2018.
The prosecutor's race is among the races and issues that Macomb County voters will decide Aug. 4, with 14 other candidates seeking five countywide offices in a year when County Executive Mark Hackel isn't up for reelection.
Smith's apparent downfall after 16 years in office led five Democrats and two Republicans to file for what suddenly became an open seat. Jean Cloud, an assistant prosecutor who was named by the county's circuit judges to finish Smith's term, is not running to stay in the job.
Adding to the cloud over the prosecutor's office, charges also were filed against Smith’s former assistant prosecutor Derek Miller and Benjamin Liston, once Smith’s chief of staff.
In the prosecutor's race, Republican voters will choose between state Sen. Peter Lucido, 59, and Richard John Goodman, 64, of Romeo, who spent 30 years in the county prosecutor’s office, including heading the juvenile court division for five years. Goodman stressed he was “not a career politician.”
“I am running on my reputation, not on a recognized political name," he said. "I have no personal agenda.
“I will pursue justice rigorously and dedicate myself to promoting excellence in the office. I will make the office a place where the assistant prosecutors are well-trained and Macomb County citizens can feel confident in their prosecutor and the assistants."
Lucido, who served in the state House from 2015-18 before being elected to the Senate, did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.
But when he announced his candidacy for the prosecutor's job in April, he emphasized the importance of ensuring public faith.
“I’ve been a lawyer, a criminal defender and employed 50 people working in my (law) firm,” Lucido said. “The prosecutor’s office presents some big challenges right now, and I want to help restore trust in the office.”
Lucido said his experience in public office, especially his focus on legal issues, should instill confidence in voters. He pointed to legislation he has helped create over the past five years particularly involving forfeiture assets (no seizures until someone is charged and convicted of a crime); juvenile justice reform (a defendant would be considered a juvenile turning 18) and cyberbullying.
But Lucido faced controversy early this year when a reporter, a fellow lawmaker and a former lobbyist, all women, accused him of sexually harassing them.
A Michigan Senate investigation found his conduct to be "inappropriate workplace behavior" and led to his removal as chairman of the Advice and Consent Committee. Investigators concluded that none of the complaints could be "unequivocally substantiated," according to a memo from the Senate Business Office but found the accusers to be "credible."
In his April remarks, Lucido maintained he did nothing wrong, saying the allegations were "politically motivated and came after I appeared on a news program and criticized the governor and said I could do a better job."
The Democratic field includes two former judges, Mary Chrzanowski and Jodi Switalski, as well as former county commissioner Tom Rombach and attorneys Eva Tkaczyk and Saima Khalil.
Chrzanowski, who was a judge in Macomb County Circuit Court for 24 years — where she earned the nickname "Scary Mary" for her tough sentencing — touts her long service on the bench as the reason voters should back her.
“I am the most experienced candidate who will hold the public trust without a partisan or political agenda," she said. “Macomb County’s next prosecuting attorney must be held to a higher degree of public trust.”
Chrzanowski, 58, of Harrison Township, said she would bring "accountability and transparency" to the prosecutor's office, as well as innovation.
“In my experience, being tough on crime is not enough,” she said. “We also need to address the problems which caused the individual to commit the crime. Whenever possible, I will utilize existing problem-solving courts to treat substance abuse disorders, mental health and veterans issues. For many of our most vulnerable, being home is not being safe.
“Battered spouses, victims of child abuse and elder abuse are often unheard," she said. "I will create Macomb County’s first Domestic Violence Court to treat offenders and stop the cycle of violence.”
Rombach, 62, emphasized his experience, too, saying he has spent more than three decades arguing cases in court.
"Macomb County deserves an experienced prosecutor who is singularly focused on protecting the public," he said.
"I will pursue justice, not politics or personal gain. As prosecutor, I will remain a strong, independent voice, fighting for justice for Macomb County residents."
Rombach said he is "the only candidate for prosecutor who has been a leader in the legal profession, in Macomb County government and in courtroom advocacy."
"As State Bar of Michigan president, I oversaw 43,000 lawyers, a $10 million annual budget, and 72 full-time employees — roughly the same size as the prosecutor’s office," he said.
Rombach also touts his experience in government. Besides being a county commissioner, he served on the Macomb County Charter Commission and as city prosecutor for Hazel Park.
Khalil, 40, of Sterling Heights, said her experience as a litigator makes her "the only candidate that is right for this job.”
"I am a litigation attorney,” she said. “I have served the most vulnerable communities in Macomb County. "I take the cases that no one wants because they are complex, and the client often suffers from every issue imaginable. The client that is at true risk of being railroaded in court is the client I wholly embrace and am proud to represent.
“I'm the attorney that was in court four-five days a week, morning and afternoon. I literally quit my job to serve the community. I have to take breaks from campaigning to continue in service to the community.”
Switalski, 49, of Harrison Township, says her work as a judge and prosecutor makes her the best person to take over as Macomb County's chief prosecutor. She was appointed judge in Oakland County's 51st District Court in 2010 and won reelection in 2012. Before that, she was a Macomb County assistant prosecutor from 2004 to 2009.
“I’m the right person for the job because I’ve done the job,” Switalski said. “I’ve prosecuted criminals and put them in jail ... I’m ready to move up to chief prosecutor and do even more to safeguard the citizens of Macomb County.”
Tkaczyk, 46, a defense attorney from Chesterfield Township, did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.
According to her campaign website, Tkaczyk would focus on improving the technology, organization and human resources in the prosecutor's office if elected. "The improvement of these three components will help pursue and punish offenders and to protect communities in Macomb County," she wrote. "Safe communities in Macomb County is my goal."
The charges against ex-prosecutor Smith and two of his former aides follow the convictions of two former township officials as part of a federal corruption investigation in Macomb County.
Former Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds is serving a 17-year prison sentence after being convicted of bribery in June 2018. Dino Bucci, a former Macomb Township trustee, pleaded guilty two months ago to embezzling money and extorting contractors on behalf of ex-county public works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, who was indicted the same day.
Macomb County voters on Aug. 4 will also decide primary races for these offices:
►Two Republicans, Terence Mekoski and Michael Wrathell, hope to be picked to oppose Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
►Four Republicans have filed to run against Democratic county Clerk Fred Miller, who is unopposed in his party's primary. The GOP hopefuls are former state Rep. Anthony Forlini; Daniel Joseph Russell; Jackie Ryan, who was deputy clerk under former county Clerk Karen Spranger; and Julie A. Williams, a former employee in the county clerk and purchasing offices.
►Treasurer Larry Rocca, a Republican, faces a challenge for his party's nomination from Sherri Murphy, a former deputy county treasurer, and Erin Stahl, a former St. Clair Shores councilwoman and former county deputy register of deeds. Warren city treasurer Lorie Barnwell is unopposed on the Democratic ballot.
►Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Toni Moceri, a former county commissioner, are unopposed for their parties' nominations.
►Forty-eight candidates will compete for 13 seats on the county Board of Commissioners.