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Oakland: McDonald defeats Cooper in Dem prosecutor's race; Coulter advances in exec contest

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Challenger Karen McDonald toppled Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, while county Executive David Coulter held off rival Andy Meisner in Tuesday Democratic primary elections. 

Karen McDonald

With all 506 precincts reporting, McDonald defeated Cooper, who is seeking her fourth term, with 66% of the vote. McDonald will face Republican attorney Lin Goetz, who was unopposed for her party's nomination, in the November general election.

In the races for a four-year term as Oakland County executive, incumbent Coulter defeated Meisner, the county treasurer, with 54% of the vote while in the Republican race, Mike Kowall defeated Jeffrey Nutt with 75% of the vote. 

Voters were choosing from the same lists of candidates for the right to face off in November for the remainder of the term of the late county executive L. Brooks Patterson, which expires Dec. 31. In that race, Coulter and Kowall won their respective primaries as well. 

The winner of November's election will become the first person other than Patterson to win a full term as county executive in more than 30 years.

“I am grateful that voters judged me by my record as County Executive and validated the work we are doing to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, recover economically and bring progressive change to Oakland County,” Coulter said in a statement Wednesday.

“I believe my collaborative leadership style — and record of accomplishments with the

Board of Commissioners — around our 'Oakland Together' vision is what citizens want to see from their public officials. We certainly have more work to do and I’m looking forward to making our case to voters in November.”

After Patterson's death a year ago, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners voted 11-10 along party lines to appoint Coulter, the first Democrat to hold the office. Coulter served as Ferndale mayor for nine years, and served two terms as a county commissioner.

ELECTION RESULTS: Follow along for Oakland County results

Republican Kowall, a former state Senate majority floor leader and state representative from White Lake, said he's concerned about Oakland County's fiscal future. Kowall also said he wants to build on Patterson's economic success.

"I've done this before — gotten into elected office where we had to dig out of a lot of debt, and Oakland County is going to have that happen before too long if we continue," he said. "I'm looking forward to being careful how we spend money.

Paula Williams, 52, of Rochester Hills, who cast her ballot at voted at Hampton Elementary School, said she voted for Kowall because she saw him as best suited to carry on Patterson's policies.

“I wanted to make sure my voice was heard for the Oakland County Executive... because L. Brooks Patterson who died, I think he did a great job in running Oakland County and I wanted to make sure, whoever held his seat, have the same values that L. Brooks Patterson did,” she said. 

When he was elected county treasurer in 2008, Meisner became the first Democrat elected countywide in 40 years and was the top Democratic vote-getter in Oakland County for the past three cycles. 

McDonald, who resigned as an Oakland County circuit judge last year to challenge Cooper, campaigned on a platform of change and reform, pledging to implement “common sense criminal justice reform, participating in treatment courts, establishing new mental health courts, and finding smarter alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-level offenders …”

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper

Cooper ran on her record of managing the office's 170-person staff and $23 million budget over the past 12 years, saying she has a record of getting violent criminals — including juveniles — off the street and keeping them behind bars.

McDonald was an assistant prosecutor from 1999 to 2004, leaving four years before Cooper took office. She was elected to the circuit bench in 2012, re-elected in 2018, and resigned in April 2019.

Cooper, who was Southfield’s chief judge, an Oakland County circuit judge and a Michigan Court of Appeals judge before running for prosecutor, said she was the “first prosecutor in the United States to train all the professional staff in a course known as Implicit Bias.”

“My life experience as a civil rights advocate and a civil rights attorney brings with it the commitment to fairness and change," Cooper said.

McDonald was endorsed by several high-profile Democratic officials, including Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and state Attorney General Dana Nessel, as well as former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Cooper was endorsed by the Michigan Association of Public Employees; the Michigan Association of Police; the Police Officers Association of Michigan; the Michigan Association of Firefighters; the Southeast Michigan Association of Police Chiefs, and the Oakland County Association of Police Chiefs

Waiting to find out which of the two Democrats would face her in November was Goetz, a Lake Orion attorney with 28 years of experience in criminal law both as an assistant prosecutor and a defense attorney.

Ariana Taylor contributed.