Whitmer taps Garlin Gilchrist II as running mate

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Michigan gubernatorial hopeful Gretchen Whitmer has named Garlin Gilchrist II of Detroit as her running mate and potential lieutenant governor.

Michigan gubernatorial hopeful Gretchen Whitmerhas named Garlin Gilchrist II of Detroit as her running mate and potential lieutenant governor.

The pick sets the stage for what is expected to be an expensive and combative race to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. Whitmer, a former state senate minority leader from East Lansing, will square off against GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette, who last week selected Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons as his running mate.

Gilchrist, 35, is the former director of Innovation and Emerging Technology for the city of Detroit and serves as executive director for the Center of Social Media Responsibility at the University of Michigan. He has never held elected office and narrowly lost his campaign to unseat Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey in 2017.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said Gilchrist is a "home run" for the ticket despite his relatively young age and lack of experience in political office. The official announcement was made Monday in Lansing at a closed road construction site in Lansing.

"I think he's an incredibly dynamic, young rising star," Dillon said of Gilchrist. "Somebody with the ability to appeal to younger voters and African-American voters, but also just, I think, every voter in the state of Michigan. He has a great story to tell."

Gilchrist emerged as a leading candidate in recent weeks as Whitmer focused on picking her running mate following her win in the Aug. 7 primary. While Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon was an early favorite for the post, recent buzz had centered around Gilchrist and state Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint.

Gilchrist lost to Winfrey by 1,482 votes in the 2017 clerk race, making a late surge but failing to overcome her strength with early absentee voters. A software engineer who previously worked for Microsoft in Washington state, his political experience includes work as a national campaign director for MoveOn.org, a progressive political advocacy group, and social media manager for former President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign.

A Detroit native, Gilchrist "chose to move back to be part of the revitalization of the city," Dillon said. "He could have gone anywhere in the country with his resume and credentials, and he chose to come back to Michigan.."

Gilchrist's lack of experience in elected office would be rare for a lieutenant governor.  Term-limited Lt. Gov. Brian Calley was 33 years old when he took office in 2011 but had already served in the state House for four years. His predecessors John Cherry, Dick Posthumus and Connie Binsfeld each spent time in the legislature.

Lyons, Schuette's pick on the GOP ticket, served three terms in the state House before becoming Kent County clerk.

Strategist Ed Sarpolus, who advised Gilchrist on his 2017 city clerk bid, said Gilchrist "knew his issues" in that race and proved an aggressive campaigner. "But he has not yet been tried on a larger scale."

Gilchrist could appeal to voters on the progressive left and may help round out a Democratic ticket dominated by white women, Sarpolus said. In addition to Whitmer, the November ballot will include incumbent U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, presumptive attorney general nominee Dana Nessel and presumptive Secretary of State nominee Jocelyn Benson.

Garlin Gilchrist II of Detroit is introduced as Democratic Gubernatorial hopeful Gretchen Whitmer's running mate on Monday in Lansing.

The November election will be a "grand experiment" for Michigan Democrats, Sarpolus said. "The GOP is going to say Whitmer is (Jennifer) Granholm 2 or Hillary (Clinton) 3, and Dems have to prove that's not the case."

A super political action committee supporting Schuette on late Sunday launched a new website attacking Whitmer and Gilchrist as "the most liberal ticket ever," citing his role with the MoveOn.org.

Neeley, the Flint lawmaker who had been considered a top contender to join Whitmer on the ticket, declined to confirm whether he was officially out of the running but said Sunday evening it was a "blessing" to have been considered. 

"We're going to be in full support of her initiatives moving forward to try to convince Michigan residents that her ideas and ideology will serve Michigan, in totality, better than the opposition ... ," Neeley said.

State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo of Detroit, whose name was floated early on as a potential Whitmer running mate, said she thinks Gilchrist, if officially picked, would help Democrats present voters with "a balanced ticket that reflects our state."

Democrats and Republicans are expected to formally nominate candidates for statewide office at their party conventions next weekend.