Incumbent Pontiac mayor says filing issue an 'oversight,' vows write-in campaign

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Pontiac — A month after an Oakland County judge ruled that incumbent Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman's name would not appear on the Aug. 3 primary ballot, Waterman announced she'll make her third run for office as a write-in candidate.

May:Judge rules Incumbent Pontiac mayor will stay off August ballot

The mayor was rendered ineligible for the ballot in April for failing to submit campaign finance reports on time. It's an error Waterman attributed to an "oversight," the kind one misses while running a city, she said Monday. 

On April 13, Waterman signed an affidavit for her reelection bid asserting all fees and reports had been filed. But her eligibility was contested after it was discovered some reports were outstanding when she'd signed. 

About a dozen supporters gathered alongside Waterman Monday at her campaign office on Telegraph for her announcement. During pauses in the press conference, two women taking part repeatedly spelled Waterman's first name aloud: "D-E-I-R-D-R-E."

"Most people can spell Waterman," the mayor told reporters. "But people have been spelling my (first) name wrong all my life."

The exact spelling of Waterman's name will matter less than the "intent" of write-in voters, she stressed Monday, citing precedent set during Detroit's 2013 mayoral primary when the Wayne County Board of Canvassers upheld variations and misspellings as votes for then-candidate Mike Duggan. 

In addition to writing in Waterman's name on the ballot, voters will be required to fill in a corresponding bubble. It's a two-part process that Waterman said her team will be explaining to would-be voters.

Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman announces her candidacy for a third term during a press conference at the 377 Center, in Pontiac, June 21, 2021. Waterman must run as a write-in candidate due to failing to submit campaign finance reports on time.

As she made her write-in plans official Monday, Waterman also hailed the city's haul of $37.3 million in "Biden bucks," referring to the American Rescue Plan stimulus package, but said it took real doing to get that money.

Initially, she noted, the feds were only going to give Pontiac $5.8 million. Talks with Michigan's Senate delegation, Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats, helped Pontiac secure a bigger grant.

"We got the first check for $18 million three days ago," said Waterman, adding a number of community discussions are forthcoming on how to spend the stimulus windfall. 

Supporters cheer as Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman announces her candidacy for a third term during a press conference at the 377 Center, in Pontiac, June 21, 2021. Waterman must run as a write-in candidate due to failing to submit campaign finance reports on time.

Waterman was one of several Metro Detroit candidates to face eligibility challenges for the 2021 primary over financial statements. 

Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars also was deemed ineligible for the August ballot over campaign finance paperwork. Others, although unsuccessful, were filed against Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and at-large Councilwoman Janee Ayers. 

The challenges came into play under a Michigan law that went into effect in late 2018. It requires candidates, on the date they sign an affidavit, to attest that "all statements, reports, late filing fees and fines required of the candidate or any candidate committee" have been filed or paid, or they can’t be on the ballot.

Duggan's eligibility was called into question this spring by former Detroit deputy mayor Anthony Adams, who is among those seeking to unseat Duggan in the 2021 race. Adams argued Duggan had missed campaign report filing deadlines.

The office of Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett first agreed Duggan had missed the deadlines but later backtracked, saying there was a "miscommunication" within the clerk's office and Duggan's paperwork had been in order.

In 2013, Duggan was forced to run as a write-in for the August primary in his first bid for Detroit's top office. At that time, candidate Tom Barrow, who is also running against the mayor this year, questioned whether Duggan after moving to Detroit from Livonia met City Charter requirements for residency to appear on the Detroit ballot. 

In the end, Duggan, as a write-in, was one of the top two vote-getters. He and the late Benny Napoleon, then the Wayne County Sheriff, faced off in the November election, and Duggan won.

In 2015, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett won a reelection campaign via write-in votes.

The certified candidates for Pontiac's mayoral primary are: Jeremy Bowie, Wanda Denise Coates, former state Rep. Tim Greimel, and Alexandria Riley. 

Riley, formerly Pontiac's chief development officer, told The News in a statement that Waterman has served for quite some time and the campaign paperwork incident "makes it abundantly clear that the city is in need of new leadership and significant change."

Coates told The News in a Monday statement that she began community outreach in 2018 and has talked with 300 Pontiac residents this year on the campaign trail.

Greimel, 47, a former Oakland County Commissioner, said he moved to Pontiac a year ago and sees it as a community with enormous potential. But residents, he said "have not been well-served" by city government.

"More than any office I've held, being mayor of Pontiac would give me the chance to affect people's lives in a positive way,"If city government functions properly in Pontiac, we will have a huge positive impact on the day-to-day lives of families."

Bowie did not immediately return a request for comment.

The top two vote-getters will advance to the November election.

jdickson@detroitnews.com