Duggan: Whitmer gives Democrats best chance to end GOP rule

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer works the crowd at a campaign event at Gordon Park in Detroit on  Sunday.

Detroit – There’s "a lot at stake" in November, and Gretchen Whitmer is the Michigan Democratic Party’s best chance at taking back the governor’s office after eight years of Republican rule, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Sunday.

With the Democratic primary two days away, hundreds of supporters and interested observers braved 90-degree heat for an afternoon rally at Gordon Park near Detroit’s historic Boston Edison neighborhood. The get-out-the-vote party in the state's largest city featured free food, bouncy houses and pony rides.

“It is time for us to get serious, not about leading a resistance, but about leading, about setting the agenda,” Whitmer said in an energetic speech. “That’s what this election is all about.”

The former state Senate minority leader has led statewide polls of the Democratic primary but has struggled to catch fire in Detroit, where Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar has spent heavily to build his name identification and former city health director Abdul El-Sayed has courted the progressive left.

But the East Lansing Democrat is getting help in Detroit from major players in local politics, including Duggan, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, who each touted her political experience at Sunday's rally.

“I don’t want a governor who woke up one day and decided they wanted to be governor, or someone who had a lot of money and decided to test the waters,” Worthy said. “I want somebody who knows what she’s doing.”

El-Sayed on Sunday brought his own high-profile guest to town. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who scored a surprise win in Michigan’s 2016 Democratic presidential primary, rallied with El-Sayed at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.

Thanedar, who has flooded the city and other parts of the state with television ads, mailers and billboards, held his own get-out-the vote Saturday in Detroit.

Duggan declined to discuss any of the other primary candidates but took aim at Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the front runner in the Republican gubernatorial primary, as he made the case for Whitmer’s candidacy.

“We’ve got a candidate for governor who’s going to get nominated on the Republican side that who’s wants to roll back LGBT rights and make abortion illegal,” Duggan told The Detroit News.

In his rally speech, Duggan told residents that Whitmer worked across the aisle to help secure state Senate votes for the Healthy Michigan Medicaid expansion program that now covers more than 683,000 residents.

Schuette opposed Medicaid expansion. If he rolls back the law Whitmer helped pass, “those people close to you that are getting to see a doctor and medicine now, 12 months from now that’ll be gone,” the mayor warned. “We’ll be back to where we were.”

Other Whitmer allies at the rally included former Gov. Jim Blanchard, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, state Sen. Morris Hood, state Rep. Fred Durhal Jr., City Council President Brenda Jones and union leaders, including David Hecker, president of the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

Detroit activist Lena Thompson, who was a major Sanders supporter in 2016 and one of his delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, stood with Whitmer Sunday while Sanders rallied with El-Sayed five miles away.

“I come from an auto technician background, 21 years at Ford Motor Co., and if you want to be an ASE certified technician, you have to have five years experience before you get that patch,” Thompson said. “She’s got that experience.”

Whitmer visited several Detroit churches Sunday morning before the Gordon Park rally, the latest stop on a 36-stop tour she launched Thursday and will continue through Tuesday’s primary election. 

She is expected to join Wayne County Executive Warren Evans for a tour of Detroit breakfast diners Monday morning before filling potholes in Southfield. She’ll hit Lansing, Flushing, Saginaw and Detroit on Tuesday as she urges supporters to get out and vote.

“We’ve got 53 hours” until the polls close in Tuesday’s primary, Whitmer noted. “Not that I’m counting.”


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