'Yes, I am a Republican': Craig evaluating political options

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — In announcing his retirement, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Monday he's evaluating his political options but didn't immediately announce a run for Michigan governor.

Craig is expected to run in the Republican primary in a bid to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in next year's gubernatorial race, a source close to the chief told The Detroit News on Friday. He did not deny Friday that he plans to run against Whitmer as a Republican, saying as a "lifelong public servant" that he wanted "to continue to serve."

At the Monday event, Craig acknowledged that he's been a conservative for at least a decade and that he's not made a decision on whether he'll run for public office but said "I'm certainly evaluating my options" and "I'm not ruling it out."

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he is a Republican when asked about his politics during a Monday press conference where he announced his retirement effective June 1, 2021.

"Yes, I am a Republican. I'm conservative, and many of you already knew it," he told reporters during a Monday news conference at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters, noting he's taken that political position since transitioning from his role as a command officer in Los Angeles, a job he left in 2009 to become police chief in Portland, Maine.

"But as a police chief, I serve everyone, and that's important to say," Craig said.

The chief acknowledged he has discussed a potential candidacy with both state and national Republican officials.

More: Four emerge as possible candidates to be Detroit's next police chief

Ron Weiser, chairman of the state Republican Party, confirmed on Friday that he has talked with Craig and other potential contenders.

“I think he would make a fine candidate, should he choose to run,” Weiser has said. 

Republicans have been searching for a challenger with strong name recognition and cross-over appeal. 

If he were to run and get nominated, Craig would become the second African American to appear on Michigan's general election ballot for governor as a Republican. Former Wayne County Executive William Lucas ran unsuccessfully in 1986.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan supported Whitmer in the 2018 Democratic primary after trying unsuccessfully to recruit U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township to run. On Monday, he reiterated that support.

"My perspective is pretty simple: I think Gretchen Whitmer has been the best partner the city of Detroit has had in the governor's office in decades," he said Monday. "I will be supporting her."

Duggan said Craig brought stability to the department, noting that before his arrival the city had endured five chiefs in a five-year span.

"Morale was at an all-time low," Duggan said. "Chief Craig brought professionalism to the police department."

The mayor added that he'd tried to convince Craig to change his mind up until Sunday night, "but couldn't persuade him."

Craig said he's passionate about public service in a leadership role and that won't change with his departure from law enforcement.

When asked how long he'd been considering a transition to politics, Craig said he'd never really considered it, but added: "Believe me, politics are intertwined in the role of a police chief."

Craig said all of his public life has been in policing and he's come full circle.

"Candidly, there's some things I've seen in recent time, not just nationally but around the state, and I'm not saying what I'm planning on doing because again, I have not made a decision," he said. "But I am considering (running) and actually humbled and flattered so many Michiganders have come out and acknowledged it would be a positive thing if I decided to do it."

Craig will retire on June 1. In the weeks that follow, he said, he plans to make a statement about his political future. 

The chief declined to respond Monday to questions about Republican leaders like former President Donald Trump and whether he believes the claims about widespread election fraud in Michigan in the 2020 presidential election. 

"There will be a proper time and place for that," he said, "but it's not today." 

cferretti@detroitnews.com