Democrats crowd races for Detroit House seats

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

A crowded field of Democrats, including the daughter of one term-limited representative and the wife of another, are vying for two state House seats in Detroit districts that effectively will be decided on Tuesday.

In District 2 — which covers part of Detroit, Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Park — seven Democrats are battling to fill the seat of Rep. Alberta Tinsley Talabi, who can’t run for another term. Among them are Tinsely Talabi’s daughter, Carla Tinsley-Smith, who is making her first bid for public office.

The 32-year-old East Village resident has a background in public relations, marketing and advertising and employed as a communications executive for a health care insurance provider. She said she is focused on educating Michiganians, creating jobs, providing resources for entrepreneurs and addressing the gender pay gap.

Tinsley-Smith said she’s learned lessons about public service from her mother, but intends to bring new ideas to the table.

“I definitely think it’s time to take things to the next level and really bridge where we’ve been to where we need to go,” she said.

Other well-known names are retired Detroit police Lt. Willie Bell and former state legislator Bettie Cook Scott.

Bell, who lives in Detroit’s East English Village, served on the city’s police force for 32 years. In 2013, he was elected to the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners for District 4 and is chairman.

Among the top issues for Bell are crime, education, youth opportunities, job training and services for veterans. Bell, 71, counts his willingness to connect with the public as his strong suit.

“I’m not a politician. I’m a public servant,” he said. “If elected, I would be accessible to the people. ... They would get to know me.”

Cook Scott is a also veteran of the Detroit Police Department and had a four-year career in Lansing as a state representative in another Detroit district. The union-backed candidate said she has long been a voice for Detroit’s east side communities.

“I’ve been told I’m the champion for the people,” she said. “They believe I will do the right thing when I’m up in Lansing for the greater populous as opposed to for the elected leadership of the city.”

Cook Scott, a resident of Cornerstone, said the key issues for residents are Detroit Public Schools, a repeal of the state’s emergency manager law, teacher benefits and neighborhood schools. Other areas of importance, she said, are affordable auto insurance and job creation.

Other candidates are attorney and U.S. Air Force veteran Jeremy Henner, Detroit retiree Angles L. Hunt and attorney E. Regina Jones. Joseph Tate, a former National Football League player and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is endorsed by the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Political Action Committee.

Tate, 35, is making his first bid for public office and is the son of a Detroit fighter who died in the line of duty. Tate said he wants to carry on the commitment to public service instilled in his family.

The Jefferson-Chalmers resident says youth opportunity, education, public transportation and economic growth are his top priorities. His background in working with teams has prepared him for the role, he said.

“Drawing on past experiences, that’s what sets me apart,” Tate said.

Henner, a Grosse Pointe Farms resident who formerly lived in Detroit’s West Village, had a 20-year career in the military. He has worked for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and helped establish Veterans Treatment Courts in Wayne and Oakland counties.

Henner, 45, contends the district’s incumbent hasn’t engaged constituents and voters have lost faith. He wants to “restore integrity.”

“We have voters that are absolutely disenfranchised,” he said. “I want to make them part of the process again.”

Top concerns for Hunt are job growth, public safety and fighting for retirees and unions.

“I try to keep everyone connected, informed and involved in what’s going on,” said Hunt, 60, a West Village resident.

On her campaign page, Jones, a public defender, vows she will fight to give the disenfranchised a voice in Lansing.

Republican candidates in the race are Molly Augustine and Anthony Matthew Murray both of Grosse Pointe Park.

In District 9, which covers a portion of Dearborn and Detroit, seven Democrats are seeking the seat of the term-limited Rep. Harvey Santana, including his wife, Sylvia Santana, a lending officer.

Santana has more than 15 years of experience in the financial industry and is a micro-lending officer at Prosperus Detroit. She is the former president of the Warrendale Community Organization and says the most critical issues are a high-quality education, building up the neighborhood business corridors, affordable auto insurance and services for seniors.

Although this is Santana’s first run for public office, she said her experience with a husband who has a legislative career and her own connections to the community have prepared her for the role.

“I’ve been here the past 12 years on the ground, working hard, and I know what the community needs,” said Santana, 36, a mother of three who contends female leadership in Lansing is lacking and she’s aiming to be a role model to empower young women.

Others in the race include Detroiters Alicia Murphy, William Phillips and Gary Pollard, who serves on Wayne State University’s board and was a chief of staff in the state House and Senate. Regina Ross is a Detroit public school teacher and former Detroit City Council candidate.

Also seeking the post are Detroit Board of Education member Annie Carter and Tijuana Morris, a retired Detroit Police officer and activist. Both are advocating for the repeal of the state’s emergency manager law and improved education.

Carter said she has 40 years of experience in DPS, working in student records, attendance and as an aide. She’s also served as the Detroit Board of Education president and vice president.

“I’m honest, I’m fair and I listen to all the issues and try to work with all of my constituents,” she said.

The Democratic primary winner would face Republican candidate James Stephens of Dearborn, who is uncontested in the primary.