Political newcomers battle to unseat Detroit council incumbents

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — A pair of incumbent council members are being challenged in November for their district seats by political newcomers hoping to shake up the city's leadership amid an FBI corruption probe that has entangled several other sitting members. 

The race for Detroit's District 1 pits longtime City Councilman James Tate against Krystal Larsosa, a youth advocate making her first run for public office. 

Detroit District 1 City Councilman James Tate, a North Rosedale Park resident, earned about 73% of the vote in the August primary. He first was elected in November 2009 and served on the council through Detroit's financial crisis and after its exit from bankruptcy. He is seeking another four-year term representing northwest Detroit.

In his bid for a fourth term, Tate is drawing on his record and connection to the district.

"I don't come from a long line of politicians," Tate, 46, told The Detroit News. "We don't have our name on buildings or on streets. But my intent and my actions are typically aligned, and people know that."

Larsosa, a wife and mother of three daughters, said she "never, ever" aspired to run for office, but is taking a prayerful approach to the run.

"If this is what God wants for me, this is what will be," Larsosa said. "Win or lose, we can elevate new voices and create new inspiration." 

The Nov. 2 election looms after high-profile raids were conducted last month at Detroit City Hall and the homes of Councilmembers Janeé Ayers and Scott Benson and their chiefs of staff. Benson, Ayers and their staffers have not been charged with any crimes. 

Benson is running unopposed for a third term representing Detroit's District 3. Ayers is vying to retain her at-large seat. 

Meanwhile, another veteran councilman, André Spivey, is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to a bribery conspiracy charge in federal court connected to the corruption investigation focused on Detroit towing operations and bribery allegations. 

Tate, in response to the ongoing investigation involving his colleagues, urged voters to "look at my record."

"It's easy to lump everyone in all together," he said. "My name is not a part of those conversations."

Tate, a North Rosedale Park resident, earned about 73% of the vote in the August primary. He first was elected in November 2009 and served on the council through Detroit's financial crisis and after its exit from bankruptcy. 

He's drafted multiple ordinances for the city, including controversial regulations for the operation of recreational and medical marijuana facilities.

Tate said he believes he will be judged as the councilman his district knows. He holds a monthly meeting where district concerns are addressed and government officials are brought in.

A District 1 meeting earlier this month featured new Detroit Police Chief James White. Another was planned with officials from the Great Lakes Water Authority, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, and DTE Energy to address what's being done to prevent flooding after summer storms.

Tate has said the top issues for the city are lifting more Detroiters out of poverty and ensuring residents have access to jobs, mental health and transportation services and other basic needs. 

In the next term, addressing blight, boosting homeownership and crafting a vacant land strategy for the city's Brightmoor neighborhood will be a key focus, he's said. 

Tate questioned the FBI's timing of conducting raids during an election season, and the slow pace of information.

"It's bad there's been a raid, and for a month nothing new has been said," Tate said. "More communication from the federal government should happen."

Larsosa admits Tate "has the name recognition" and that his margin of voter support will be tough to overcome. 

"But with all these indictments," she said, new leadership is needed. Voters, she added, "shouldn't risk it."

Krystal Larsosa, a first-time candidate for public office, is challenging Detroit City Council incumbent James Tate on Nov. 2 for the council's District 1 seat representing northwest Detroit.

"Someone had to step forward," Larsosa said. "Who else is going to do it?"

The Eastern Michigan University graduate has worked on juvenile justice in churches and Detroit Public Schools Community District and, if elected, has said she plans to give District 1 residents preference in policy and budgetary decisions. 

Larsosa's husband, Jasahn, ran in the mayoral primary. She served as his strategist then, and he's her strategist now. That, in addition to parenting daughters 5, 13, and 15.

Larsosa said she worries for Detroit and its neighborhoods. The streets are unsafe and with three young daughters, Larsosa said her family had considered leaving for the suburbs. In the end, they not only stayed, the couple decided to run for office.

District 1 covers northwest Detroit, including Old Redford, Brightmoor and Grandmont-Rosedale.

District 2 

In Detroit's District 2, Roy McCalister Jr. is facing Angela Calloway, who has argued there are two District 2s, "the haves and the have-nots."

McCalister said she understands that everybody wants something from a councilman. While he takes a suspicious approach to contractors, McCalister said he takes an open-door approach to residents. 

McCalister, a former Detroit cop who once headed up the homicide unit, said he believes service is the job of a councilman. 

"It's not hard to be up upright," he said. 

In 2005, McCalister ran as a write-in candidate in the general election. In 2009, he got 1% of the vote in a crowded field. In 2013, he ran for an at-large seat and lost.

Finally, in 2017, McCalister ran for a district seat. He won, defeating an incumbent and the council's then second-highest ranking member George Cushingberry Jr. 

McCalister created the mental health task force, which holds workshops and forums on mental health issues.

He views the job of the city councilman as a "liaison" between the people he represents and the government, whether it be city, county, state or feds. 

"We can't make them do anything," McCalister said. "The only thing we can do is build relationships."

McCalister said that District 2 is the highest tax-paying and highest-voting district in Detroit.

Calloway, 61, has never run for office, but has paid special attention to the nine senior centers in District 2. She said she's been to all of them at least three times, often to lead rounds of bingo.

District 2 Detroit City Council candidate Angela Calloway, answers a question from a caller during the virtual candidate forum alongside incumbent Councilman Roy McCalister Jr. Calloway, a political newcomer, is challenging McCalister in the Nov. 2 election.

Calloway believes "girl power" can lift her to office. 

"What I've met are elderly women who look like my mother and my grandmother," Calloway said. "I believe the way I win is if women come out in full force. If I can pull us all together, we win."

For the last two months, sisters of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, have been out canvassing with Calloway, wearing their trademark pink and green.

As a first-time candidate, she can't be sure if it's enough.

"You can't be sure until midnight on Nov. 2 and all the votes are counted," Calloway said. "But I feel confident. This is a humbling, expensive process."

Calloway acknowledged McCalister's advantage in name recognition. She questioned whether notoriety would help in November.

She claims that the federal investigation has left the credibility of the city's legislative body in question.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire — I don't believe the FBI is done," Calloway said. "You can't keep the same council and expect different results."