Unknown Detroiter upends Michigan state senator
A little-known candidate with a questionable past who spent no money on her campaign shocked state Sen. David Knezek on Tuesday, upending the Dearborn Heights Democrat in a primary that was not expected to be competitive.
Betty Jean Alexander of Detroit topped Knezek by nine percentage points in the 5th District state Senate primary, according to unofficial results from the state and Wayne County.
She’ll face Republican nominee DeShawn Wilkins in the Nov. 6 general election.
Knezek did not immediately respond to a voicemail but acknowledged in a Facebook message that election results "do not look promising." His campaign has decided to wait until the Board of Canvassers certifies results "before making any official declarations," he said.
"Serving in the Michigan Legislature has been the honor of my life," Knezek wrote. "No matter the final outcome I won’t stop fighting for you and your family and I’m going to remain active and engaged to ensure Democrats win in November."
Alexander did not have campaign signs or a website, and little information is available about her online. She filed a waiver with the state indicating she did not plan to raise or spend more than $1,000 on the campaign.
“She did not spend a dime,” said former Detroit School Board President Lamar Lemmons, who recruited Alexander to run because of his own frustration with Knezek on education policy.
Instead, Alexander campaigned though a “grassroots” telephone network by engaging other African-American women, Lemmons said.
Alexander was not available for an interview but is expected to hold a press conference later this week.
The 53-year-old is a single mother with two children who works in an administrative job, Lemmons said. She grew up with Lemmons’ wife, Georgia Lemmons, who considers her a sister.
“She’s reflective of the women of the city of Detroit,” Lemmons said, noting the district is predominately African-American. “She’s a busy working mother trying to take care of her kids.”
WDET radio in Detroit surfaced 2003 court records showing a Betty Alexander pleaded guilty to check fraud in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Alexander grew up in Albuquerque but Lemmons said he does not believe she has a criminal record.
“I know a lot of people are looking for dirt. We know that,” he said, suggesting he’d look into it. “There are things people may have in their past that I don’t know about.”
Alexander ran for the Detroit school board in 2016 and was identified among a host of candidates who had filed for bankruptcy or been sued for unpaid rent or other debts.
Knezek was one of three incumbent state lawmakers who lost in the Tuesday primary, but his defeat was by far the most shocking because it came at the hands of a virtual unknown. A Marine Corps veteran, Knezek is known for fiery floor speeches and serves as chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
State Senate District 5 includes portions of Detroit along with Dearborn Heights, Garden City, Inkster and Redford Township.
Lemmons suggested Knezek won the seat four years earlier through a “fluke,” when he captured 32 percent of the vote in a six-way primary that featured former Detroit state Reps. Shanelle Jackson, David Nathan and Thomas Stallworth III.
“Ironically, the initial person I tried to get to run was David Nathan,” Lemmons said. “He said, ‘I can’t raise the money, so I’m not going to do it.’”