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Shelby Township may have first Dem on fall ballot since 2012

Jasmin Barmore
The Detroit News

Correction: This story and headline have been updated to reflect that Alisa Diez, a write-in candidate for Shelby Township trustee, has not been certified as qualifying for the November ballot.

The first Democrat to run for office in Shelby Township in eight years received more than 200 votes for township trustee in last week's primary, but she isn't assured of a spot on the November ballot.

Alisa Diez

Alisa Diez, who ran in the Aug. 4 primary as a write-in candidate for township trustee, received 220 votes, according to unofficial results, and would compete against four Republicans for four seats if the Macomb County Clerk's Office certifies that she got enough votes to qualify. No Democrats qualified for the primary ballot.

The last Democrat to run for local office in the GOP stronghold was Clarence Cooke, who was a candidate for trustee in 2012 primary, according to online election records maintained by the Macomb County Clerk's Office. As the only Democrat in the ballot at that time, Cooke advanced to the general election, where he finished fifth, behind the four GOP candidates who were elected.

The Republican primary was a wide-open contest with nine candidates, four of whom qualified for the November ballot. Vince Viviano led the field with 6,829 votes, followed by Lisa Casali (6,686), John Vermeulen (5,419) and Lucia DiCicco (5,190), far exceeding Diez's 220 write-in votes.

That could be where her bid falls short.

Jim Kelly, an election lawyer, said Diez met the state election law requirement to receive the greater of 10 votes or 15% of 1% of a community's population under the last census.

"The last census result in 2010 was 73,804 people and that would make it 111 votes she needs to get on the ballot in November," he said.

But according to Macomb County Clerk Fred Miller and the Michigan Secretary of State's Office, Diez would need to meet one other requirement to qualify for the November ballot. 

State election law also requires a write-in candidate in a primary for which more than one office will be filled (such as township trustee) to receive at least 5% of the vote garnered by the highest vote-getter on the ballot, regardless of party. 

Miller said the results of the Tuesday election have yet to be certified, but if the unofficial numbers hold up, a write-in candidate would need 341 votes to qualify for the November ballot under the 5% requirement.   

In a phone interview, Diez said if elected, she plans to focus on economic development and push for an ethics policy for board members that would bar them from accepting donations that pose a conflict of interest. 

She also said she would support terminating Police Chief Robert Shelide, who survived a motion to fire him in June after inflammatory comments he made online about Black Lives Matter protesters.

"The reckless statements he posted glorified illegal police brutality and the board's failure to terminate him has drawn weekly protests and exposed the township to undue legal liability,” she said.

In a 5-2 vote of the trustees, Shelide was placed on a 30-day suspension and ordered to take culture awareness classes and de-escalation training. 

Two days before Shelide's June 17 suspension, Trustee Vermeulen came under fire after he posted a meme to Facebook that portrayed the white mascot from Quaker Oats and Aunt Jemima, the African-American woman who represented the syrup brand, in bed together under the phrase "Cant we all just get along."

Vermeulen wrote "ROTFLMAO. Talk about being 'politically incorrect’ " ROTFLMAO is short for "rolling on the floor laughing my a-- off." 

Diez's campaign manager Robert Sembarski, who is also the chair of Michigan's Democratic Youth Caucus, said Tuesday's results are a sign that people want to see change.

"Shelby Township is diversifying and becoming more blue," Sembarski said. "On Tuesday, over 5,000 Democrats cast their vote for Senator Gary Peters and the (Macomb County) prosecutor's race. The vote doubled from 2012's election and almost tripled the 2016 results." 

jbarmore@detroitnews.com