Ex-Detroit police chief Godbee joins race to serve 'marginalized' in 13th Congressional District

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Former Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee on Thursday made official his first bid for public office in the race for the 13th Congressional District. 

During the announcement at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, Godbee spoke of his interest in "servant leadership," and said he hopes to serve the "left-behind and marginalized," not only in Detroit but in suburban Wayne County communities in the district such as Taylor, River Rouge and Lincoln Park.

"Service is the rent we pay for the service we occupy," Godbee, 54, said in his opening remarks.

Godbee, an ordained minister who is chief of staff at Triumph Church in Detroit, is the third hopeful to declare his intentions so far. He joins former state representative and gubernatorial hopeful Shri Thanedar and Michael Griffie, an attorney.

The 13th District is currently represented by Rashida Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women elected to the U.S. House. Tlaib, who replaced U.S. Rep. John Conyers, said this month that she intends to move and run for reelection in the new 12th District that includes Dearborn, Southfield and part of Detroit. 

Former Detroit police chief Ralph Godbee, holds an event to announce his run for the 13th Congressional District race at the New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, in Detroit, January 20, 2022.

More:Ex-Detroit police chief Godbee to join 13th Congressional District race

Ahead of Godbee, more than a half-dozen of Detroit's community leaders and clergy offered prayers and messages of support Thursday for his campaign. Dozens more supporters watched from the pews.

"They're going to flood this election with many candidates to make it chaotic," said Rev. Solomon Kinloch Jr., pastor of Triumph Church where Godbee is now a senior pastor.

"But the streets are about to speak," Kinloch added.

Godbee addressed one of the challenges he and Griffie will face: Thanedar, an entrepreneur who carried Detroit in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, has said he will spend $5 million to fund his own campaign.

"There's someone pledging $5 million," Godbee said, "but the votes of the 13th District are not for sale.

"Your riches can't buy what we need to have," Godbee said, though not addressing Thanedar, who announced in November that he'd formed a committee to explore a run for the 13th District, by name. 

Godbee said he would give "$10 million of effort" in the race.

Former Detroit police chief Ralph Godbee, right, gets a hug from his brother Ronald after announcing his run for the 13th Congressional District race at the New Bethel Baptist Missionary Church, in Detroit, January 20, 2022.

Rev. Myra Tyler, also of Triumph Church, urged Godbee to "lean not on his own understanding, but acknowledge you (God) in all his ways."

Tyler said she's gotten to know Godbee well in recent years, as both have served on church staff.

"He's a wonderful encourager," Tyler said of Godbee. "He knows how to empower others."

With the retirement of Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, Michigan is facing the possibility of having no Black representation in its congressional delegation next year, for the first time in decades.

State Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, who has expressed interest in a run for the 13th District seat, said Thursday that "fundamentally, this race is about ensuring that we have a Black member of Congress."

Godbee shared the same concern.

"Representation matters," he said from the pulpit. "You can't be it, if you can't see it."

Godbee, Griffie and Hollier are all Black. Thanedar is Indian-American. 

Godbee was a Detroit police officer for 25 years until he resigned amid a sex scandal in 2012. He was accused of having an extramarital affair with an internal affairs officer in the department.

In his retirement, he worked as an adjunct professor at Wayne County Community College District in law enforcement administration and criminal justice. He also had a brief stint on AM radio.

In 2018, he became the top cop for the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Rev. Robert Smith, pastor of New Bethel, prayed Thursday that Godbee "not mistake an enemy for a friend, or a friend for an enemy" as his campaign proceeds. 

Zeek Williams, 36, founder and president of New Era Detroit, said he is concerned about low voter turnout in Detroit. In the November 2021 mayoral election, only about 19% of voters partook. That means 81% did not.

"I'm not afraid to talk about Black issues in the blackest city in America," Williams said. "The real Detroit is not going anywhere."

Williams encouraged Godbee's campaign to "reach out to people who otherwise wouldn't be involved in politics."

Daughter Kayla Godbee, 28, said her father missed her birth because he was "serving the city" as a Detroit cop.

"He is the epitome of service," Kayla said. "He will share your concerns."