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Jones riles Democrats with independent run

Detroit Council President Brenda Jones.

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones is pulling a last-minute, "long shot" maneuver attempting to upset former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib and win the two-year term to succeed former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. as a write-in candidate. 

With days to go before the Nov. 6 election, Jones filed paperwork with Wayne County on Friday declaring her intention to mount a write-in effort as an independent candidate. 

Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the Michigan Elections Bureau, confirmed that Jones' write-in declaration is valid.

Jones did not respond immediately Monday to a request for comment.

Her name won't appear on the ballot for the two-year term after narrowly losing the August primary to Tlaib, now the Democratic nominee to replace Conyers representing the 13th District in Congress.

But Jones won a separate special primary election in August and is the nominee to temporarily represent the district for the remainder of Conyers' unexpired term — about seven weeks from mid-November through Jan. 2. 

Given this, Jones’ move isn’t surprising but will take a lot of work running against the Democratic nominee in Tlaib and will present a “huge hurdle," said Mario Morrow, a political consultant in Detroit. 

“To run as an independent in this race could be very interesting since there’s no straight-ticket party voting. But it’s going to take a great deal of resources, education and energy to get the word out," Morrow said.

“Nothing is impossible, but it’s a long shot.”

"Time and common sense" are working against a successful write-in campaign, which Jones can't possibly achieve, said Jonathan Kinloch, chairman of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party.

"It's a major distraction from what all Democrats should be focused on, and that is to make sure every Democrat up and down the ticket is winning," Kinloch said.

"This is an unfortunate turn of events that will basically do nothing as it relates to the outcome. Rashida Tlaib will be our next congressperson for the full term. 

"This is offensive to me and others in the 13th Congressional District that Brenda Jones — a week before the election — would even think, play, hint at the possibility that she has a shot at doing anything other than being a distraction," he added. 

"The people spoke in the primary election."

Morrow said some people have been encouraging Jones to get into the race as an independent candidate since the primary, when Tlaib defeated Jones by 1 percentage point — 31.2 percent to 30.2 percent — in a six-person field.

The margin was 900 votes, according to official results.

“Her advantages are that she has good name recognition, she has access to resources and, if she pulls a great deal of support from the unions, that could rock the apple cart,” Morrow said of Jones.

Kinloch estimated it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, "if not at least half a million," to organize and educate voters for a successful write-in campaign in the district.  

But Jones appears to have little money for such an effort, reporting $8,100 cash on hand as of Oct. 17. Tlaib had nearly $166,990 on hand.

"Successful congressional write-in campaigns generally require three things: money, time and work ethic. If you can’t check at least two of those three boxes, don’t attempt it," said TJ Bucholz, a Democratic political consultant in Lansing who worked for Tlaib's campaign in the primary.

The last candidate to pull over a major write-in victory in Metro Detroit was Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in 2013 after he was kicked off the primary ballot for not meeting the city's residency requirements under the new City Charter.

The former Detroit Medical Center chief executive decided to re-enter the race at the request of the business community, which bankrolled his campaign.

Duggan raised $1.1 million in the primary, in addition to money raised by a separate, pro-Duggan committee. Duggan won the primary and a position in the general election, where he also was victorious.

Even though she lives outside the 13th District, Jones had been considered the front runner for the 13th District seat because of her name recognition after years on the City Council, where she was elected at large. (Members of Congress are required to live in the state but not the district they represent.) 

Jones, 59, had the backing of the powerful United Auto Workers union and other labor groups, as well as Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans.

Jones has not said whether she intends to resign her elected city post before taking office in Washington, saying last month she's consulting with experts.

House Republican leadership has said there's no precedent for allowing a member of Congress to also hold local elected office, but that it's "evaluating" the matter.  

Rashida Tlaib

Tlaib, 42, an attorney and community organizer, led fundraising in the 13th District contest and credited her campaign mission of "direct human contact" for securing her August victory.

"I am focused on moving forward and knocking on doors to elect my fellow Democrats up and down the ballot," Tlaib said in a Monday statement.

"I'm working hard to elect a governor we can work with and to take back the majority in Congress, so that I can get to work helping the residents of the 13th Congressional District who haven't had representation in the U.S. House for almost a year."  

She would be one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress after the November election, in which no Republican is on the ballot for the 13th District.

The Palestinian American focused part of her campaign on energizing Arab-American voters in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights.

She also ran on a platform of addressing Detroiters' concerns about water shutoffs, high car insurance rates, leaky fire hydrants and safer neighborhood intersections. 

The 13th District seat has been vacant for nearly 11 months since Conyers resigned in December.