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Joel Ferguson, long-time MSU trustee and Spartans athletics power broker, won't seek re-election

Kim Kozlowski Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Joel Ferguson — the longest-serving member of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees and a major power broker for Spartans athletics — announced Wednesday he is not seeking re-election.

Ferguson, a longtime Lansing-based developer and high-profile Democrat, said he won't run for another term in November because he wants to concentrate on his development projects underway across the state, including one in Detroit.

Joel Ferguson was first elected to the MSU Board of Trustees in 1986.

Besides his development work and service to Michigan State, Ferguson is a businessman, educator and philanthropist who was first elected in 1986. His term expires in January.

"In addition to focusing on my development projects, I am actively supporting efforts to elect Democrats," Ferguson said. "In particular Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Gary Peters, Elissa Slotkin and the candidate for MSU trustee, (Rema) Vassar. I know she’ll be a great asset for MSU."

Ferguson has served as chair and vice chair of the board and worked on both sides of the political aisle.

Typically outspoken, Ferguson was a lightning rod during the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, when victims and their families criticized him after he referred to the scandal as "that Nassar thing." Ferguson has denied he was attempting to be demeaning and apologized.

In May, Ferguson failed to get the endorsement of the Michigan AFL-CIO for the 2020 election. The AFL-CIO endorsed Vassar, an educator and researcher, along with incumbent Trustee Brian Mosallam, who was first elected in 2012, for the two seats up for election this fall.

Ferguson's exit marks the latest power shift at Michigan State, which in 2018 saw long-time president Lou Anna K. Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis resign. Ferguson publicly supported Simon days before she quit.

Ferguson served on the search committee that selected Samuel Stanley as MSU president last year.

He also has been a long-time major influence on Michigan State athletics, actively involved in high-profile hires, including for football coach Mel Tucker earlier this year after Mark Dantonio's sudden retirement. Ferguson has maintained a close friendship with former football coach Nick Saban, now at Alabama, with Saban first suggesting Tucker's name to Ferguson when Michigan State was starting its football search.

Ferguson, 79, also made a strong push for the hiring of Bobby Williams after Saban left for LSU following the 1999 regular season. Williams lasted less than three seasons.

Ferguson didn't immediately return a message from The News. A call to his cell phone was met with hold music by Frank Sinatra: "Start spreading the news, I'm leaving today."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com