Former cop beats ex-con for Detroit Council seat

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Detroit — Retired police officer Roy McCalister Jr. will be the only new face on the Detroit City Council next year after scoring a decisive victory over former state Sen. Virgil Smith in a closely watched 2nd District race.

Smith was attempting a political comeback after resigning from the state Legislature in March 2016 and serving a 10-month jail sentence for malicious destruction of property after firing an assault rifle at his ex-wife’s Mercedes-Benz in 2015.

But McCalister won support from 59 percent of district voters, compared to 38 percent for Smith, according to unofficial results published by the city.

Elsewhere, incumbents held strong. Preliminary results awaiting certification show Council President Brenda Jones and Councilwoman Janee Ayers both won re-election to their two at-large seats.

McCalister and Smith were competing to replace Council Pro Tem George Cushingberry, who was kept off the ballot after losing the August primary. He was among write-in candidates who combined to receive less than three percent of the vote in the 2nd District.

McCalister, 63, has an extensive career in law enforcement, which includes his current post as an investigator with the Eastern District of Michigan Federal Defenders Office. He won the August primary over Smith, whose status for the ballot was in question for months because of his criminal case.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who won re-election Tuesday night, said McCalister is going to be "an excellent councilman" and said he "certainly has a great track record in the police department."

Smith had struck a plea deal with Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy designed to prohibit him from holding office during his five-year probationary period. A Wayne County Circuit Court judge struck down the provision as an unconstitutional restriction on voters’ right to choose their elected officials, but Worthy has appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Alaina Fruge, a 31-year-old radio producer voting at the Northwest Activities Center, said she voted for McCalister because she was concerned about Smith’s legal saga.

“He took a deal,” she said of Smith. “He should have honored his deal, and to me, that speaks volumes,” she said. “It’s not about his acts as a politician or what he would or wouldn’t do for the city.”

Dexter Smith, a 61-year-old retiree, also told The Detroit News he voted for McCalister for “no real good reason” beyond Smith’s tribulations.

“I heard something about it,” he said of Smith’s legal case. “And of course that helps with my decision.”

While all nine Detroit City Council seats were up for grabs Tuesday night, political pundits were expecting competitive races in only a handful of districts, including the 5th, where incumbent Mary Sheffield held off a challenge from Wayne County Commissioner Jewel Ware.

Sheffield won 64 percent of the vote, compared to 36 percent for Ware, according to unofficial results.

Rommie Gordon, who cast a ballot with his wife at Marcus Garvey Academy, said he was excited to vote for Sheffield because he thinks she’s brought a fresh perspective to council.

“She’s a much younger lady, so she can see some of the things now that the older ones can’t see,” said Gordon, a 70-year-old retiree and Vietnam War veteran.

In the race for two at-large seats, Jones won nearly 43 percent of the vote, according to unofficial city results. Ayers, vying for her first full term after she was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2015, was backed by 29 percent of voters. Former state Rep. Mary Waters fell short at 19.5 percent, followed by Beverly Kindle-Walker at 9 percent.

First District incumbent James Tate won re-election over challenger Tamara Smith, 71 percent to 29 percent with all precincts reporting in unofficial results from the county.

Third District Councilman Scott Benson defeated challenger Russ Bellant 63 percent to 36 percent, according to preliminary city results.

Fourth District incumbent Andre Spivey won re-election over challenger Latisha Johnson, 57 percent to 42 percent.

In the 6th District, incumbent Raquel Castaneda-Lopez defeated challenger Tyrone Carter 51 percent to 47 percent, according to unofficial city results.

Councilman Gabe Leland pulled away in his 7th District race against teacher Regina Ross, winning 56 percent to 44 percent with all precincts counted.