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A former employee of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has been named chief of staff for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

Melissa Smiley will take on the new role in Benson's office Jan. 6, taking over for Hilarie Chambers, who was appointed Oakland County chief deputy county executive in August under county Executive David Coulter

“I am thrilled to join Secretary Benson and her administration to strengthen and expand access to our democracy for all Michiganders, and to improve the customer experience at branch offices across the state,” Smiley said in a Wednesday statement. 

Smiley currently serves as vice president of strategy and operations at Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

“Melissa’s experience as a strategic adviser, paired with her commitment to collaboration and transparency, will make her an exceptionally strong chief of staff,” Benson said in a Wednesday statement. 

Prior to the Community Foundation, she was deputy chief of staff for Duggan's office, where Benson's husband, Ryan Friedrichs, serves as chief development officer. 

Friedrichs is among three Duggan aides who abused their power by directing lower-level staff to delete emails involving the Make Your Date nonprofit, according to an investigation by Detroit Inspector General Ellen Ha. Duggan has ordered the three aides, including Friedrichs, to undergo document management training, and Attorney General Dana Nessel's office is investigating the matter.

Dems target James with new site

The Michigan Democratic Party is gearing up for another U.S. Senate fight by launching a website this month dedicated solely to tracking John James, the GOP challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township. 

The website, johnjamesrevealed.com, features a photo of James with President Donald Trump on the home page as well as references to comments James made during his unsuccessful 2018 run for Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s seat.  

The website highlights James’ past comments on the Affordable Care Act, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and his support for Trump. 

The site will aim to keep James “accountable one year after his unsuccessful campaign came to an end,” the party said in a statement earlier this month. 

“John James is trying to hide what he believes from voters and the fact is that his true positions would hurt Michigan — whether that’s supporting a president ‘2000%’ of the time or promising to repeal coverage protections for pre-existing conditions,” said party spokesman Alex Japko.

James’ campaign said the website is a clear sign of the party’s concern over the Farmington Hills businessman's chances in the race.  

“Michigan Democrats already have given up on trying to defend Gary Peters and his 30-year record,” said Abby Walls, a spokeswoman for James.

‘Meet the Press’ tracks Kent County

West Michigan’s Kent County is one of five counties nationwide that NBC’s “Meet the Press” plans to follow closely leading up to the November 2020 election.

On Sunday, the NBC political show announced a project called “County by County.” In addition to Kent County, the show focus on Arizona’s Maricopa County, Florida’s Miami-Dada County, Pennsylvania’s Beaver County and Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County.

For the project, the show "is going to be spending time in five different communities around the country with the hope of better understanding the fault lines that will define the next presidential race," according to a report.

"Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd remarked on Sunday, “As Kent County goes, so goes Michigan and maybe, so goes the election.” The county traditionally has not been considered a bellwether for the state. 

On his way to winning Michigan and the presidency, Donald Trump, a Republican, beat Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, by 3 percentage points in Kent County in 2016.

Two years later, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, beat Bill Schuette, a Republican, by 4 percentage points in the county and became the state's governor.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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