School district dean, youth mentor Toson Knight to run for Detroit City Council

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Toson Knight, a dean of students for the city's public school district and youth mentor, is the latest high-profile name to declare his plans to run for a City Council seat representing Detroit's east side.

Knight, 34, made his campaign announcement Monday in Eden Gardens Park in City Council District 4, lauding residents who "stand in the gap" to better the community.

"A lot of people forget the north side of 94 that is District 4, but I'm here to tell you that I will not forget you," Knight, a six-year resident of the district, said to a crowd of a few dozen residents and supporters. "I understand the issues that our people go through."

Toson Knight, a youth mentor and dean of students for the Detroit public school district, announced Monday that he is running for the Detroit City Council District 4 seat.

Knight joins former Detroit Free Press reporter M.L. Elrick and retired Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Virgil Smith in the running. 

The three are among those expected to vie for the district seat long held by incumbent Councilman Andre Spivey, who will seek an at-large seat in the 2021 race. 

Knight, founder of the nonprofit mentor group Caught Up, touted his connections to the community and history of working with businesses, faith-based groups and resident groups to rebuild the community.

Knight, dean of culture at Western International High School and former deputy district manager for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's administration, was joined Monday night by community groups and state Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit.

The east-side district is home to the East English Village neighborhood and to businesses such as Ascension St. John Hospital.

Toson Knight, a dean of students for Detroit Public Schools and youth mentor, announces his campaign for Detroit City Council District 4

Sandra Turner Handy, president of the Denby Neighborhood Alliance and head of the 9th Precinct Community Relations Council, was among the residents to speak Monday ahead of Knight's announcement. Turner Handy said she's felt underrepresented but believes Knight will carry her voice downtown.

"He's been in the community, he's part of the community and he's a member of the family fabric of this community," she said. 

In February, Smith told The Detroit News he was preparing to launch a run for the district seat, noting his son, a former state senator who struck a plea deal, would be one of his key advisers. 

Smith, a former state representative who become the first Black Michigan Senate floor leader in Michigan history, has said he feels strongly that he can lead District 4 and can remedy some of the issues the city is facing.

Smith’s son, Virgil K. Smith, who also served in the Michigan Legislature before serving time in the Wayne County Jail for shooting at his ex-wife’s car in 2015, said the campaign began collecting signatures in January. 

The elder Smith previously told The News "my son has had some troubles" but he's "addressed them in a way that has brought maturity to him."

Spivey last month said he will seek one of two at-large seats on the nine-member council. The councilman pulled petitions to gather signatures for an at-large seat. 

Elrick, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who lives in East English Village, formed a candidate committee in December. 

The "Soul of Detroit" podcast host is known for his investigative reports involving elected officials, including Spivey and other current and former City Council members.

Spivey’s chief of staff, Keith Jones, also has pulled petitions for the District 4 seat. As of Monday, Knight was the only candidate certified so far, Elections office records show. 

Detroit's council president earns $86,967 per year. Other council members are paid $82,749 per year. 

cferretti@detroitnews.com