After move to Detroit, Thanedar files to run for Michigan House

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Democrat Shri Thanedar has filed paperwork to run for the Michigan House in his new home of Detroit, a city he carried in the 2018 gubernatorial primary despite losing the statewide vote to now-Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The deep-pocketed businessman, who last month moved to the Palmer Woods neighborhood from Ann Arbor, said Monday he is “seriously exploring” a run in the 3rd state House District but does not have to finalize the decision until next year's filing deadline. 

Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar acknowledges supporters during an informal get-together at the Horace L. Sheffield Jr. Center in Detroit, Michigan on August 4, 2018.

“I’m at a stage in life where I want to give back,” Thanedar told The Detroit News. “And the best way for me to give back is through public service through an elected office. I’m going to make a pitch to the people to give me an opportunity to serve them.”

Thanedar spent more than $10 million of his own money on his 2018 gubernatorial campaign but finished last in the three-way Democratic primary behind Whitmer and former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed.

He fared particularly well in Detroit, however, besting Whitmer by two percentage points in the state's largest city. Local voters “welcomed” him and made him “feel at home,” he said Monday.

Thanedar filed for the state House race less than a month after agreeing to an undisclosed settlement in a lawsuit alleging he inflated the value of a chemical testing company he sold a majority stake of in 2016, a deal that netted him roughly $20 million.  

He declined comment on the settlement Monday, telling The News that he and plaintiffs agreed not to discuss the terms in public.

“I am continuing to be a part owner of the company,” Thanedar said of Avomeen Analytical Services in Ann Arbor. “I own close to 40%, and I’m proud to be an owner of this company.”

The scientist businessman is an early entrant in what is expected to be a crowded primary in the reliably Democratic 3rd state House District, where current Rep. Wendell Byrd has served a maximum three terms and cannot seek re-election.

Longtime Democratic organizer and activist Al Williams finished second to Byrd in the 2016 primary and in July filed paperwork for another run.

Williams called Thanedar a “good guy” and welcomed him to Detroit but said “we’ll see what happens” in the 2020 primary.

“I think the everyday voters will look at a whole bunch of things, including who’s worked hard, and who knows policy and legislation,” he said, pointing to his own experience as a legislative aide in Lansing and other government jobs.

Williams said he's approaching the race as "a marathon and not a sprint," noting the primary is nearly one year away. "I'm taking my time, listening to voters, talking to voters about what their needs are."

Thanedar and his wife moved to Detroit in July and are still in the process of trying to sell their old home, a six-bedroom residents in Pittsfield Township that is currently listed at around $1 million.

“Interestingly, I met more neighbors in the last six weeks here in Palmer Woods than I met in the last six years in Ann Arbor,” he said. “People are friendly.”

Thanedar’s move set up the possibility of a high-stakes — and high-cost — 2021 campaign against Mayor Mike Duggan, who cruised to re-election in 2017 by defeating then-state Sen. Coleman A. Young II.

But Thanedar said Monday he’s focused on the state House.

“At this time, this is all I’m considering, and I’m considering it seriously,” he said, noting his next step would be to make an official announcement at some point in the future.