High stakes contests in Metro Detroit. Here are primary races to watch

Sarah Rahal Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

Metro Detroit voters on Tuesday could set up historic firsts in several key races that anticipate low voter turnout and an abundance of absentee ballots. 

Voters will narrow the field of mayoral finalists for November in Detroit, Dearborn, Pontiac, Sterling Heights and Taylor as well as several high-profile city council contests. Detroiters will also decide whether to sign off on a contentious proposal to overhaul the City Charter. 

In Taylor and Pontiac, incumbent mayors are waging write-in campaigns to retain their post. In Dearborn, the city this year could elect its first Arab American mayor, its first female mayor, or both. Voters will also thin a crowded field of 18 candidates for City Council in races to determine whether the panel will remain majority Arab American. 

Among the other high-profile contests are Detroit’s city clerk and multiple district and at-large council seats and a state Senate seat in Macomb County. 

"I think we're going to see some surprises," said Greg Bowens, a political consultant in Detroit. "There's a lot of pent-up angst, and the shadow of the delta variant (of COVID-19) is hanging over everyone even though we're running around mask-free. It's impacting elections in a way we haven't seen before."

Fear of the delta variant spiking in Michigan has driven no-reason absentee voting, which will likely be the majority of votes cast in Detroit, City Clerk Janice Winfrey said Monday. 

"We are living in what would seem like an end of the world movie, with an ongoing pandemic featuring new diseases forming, floods, massive mosquitoes, everyone's looking for the arch right about now," Bowens added. "That's led more people to raise their hand for public office to have a say in what's going on even if it has been uncontrollable."

Dearborn has seven mayoral candidates vying to be on voters' November ballots. Three of them, if elected, would be the first Arab American to hold the job; two would be the first woman.

The seven candidates competing to be Dearborn's mayor are City Council President Susan Dabaja, clockwise from top left, Hussein Berry, Gary Woronchak, Jim Parrelly, Kalette Shari Willis, former Council President Tom Tafelski and State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud.

"Dearborn's (seventh) mayor is going to be the race to watch," Southfield-based political analyst Mario Morrow said."... no one seems to know if anybody has this thing locked down or not. But it's historic and is something fun to watch and deserving because of the large Arab American population in Dearborn."

There are 14 new faces vying for seven seats on the Dearborn City Council. The 18-candidate race includes four hoping to keep seats for another four years: Robert Abraham, Erin Byrnes, Leslie Herrick and Michael Sareini.

Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars.

Indicted Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars and Deirdre Waterman, Pontiac's first female mayor, each are looking to win reelection through write-in campaigns. Both were disqualified for the ballot after failing to file campaign finance paperwork or pay fines ahead of signing affidavits to run for a new term. 

Write-in campaigns can make it difficult to advance, but they aren't impossible. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in 2013 was kept off the primary ballot over a residency requirement, but he prevailed in a write-in bid in the primary and went on to win his first term that November.

Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman

"It just adds to the formula of confusion and where we are with elections now," Morrow said. "This is becoming the norm of 'if I can't get on the ballot through the normal channels, I'll just go ahead with the write-in.'"

In Sterling Heights, Mayor Michael Taylor is facing two challengers and voters in Macomb County will narrow the field for a seat representing the 8th District in the state Senate. The seat is open after former Sen. Pete Lucido, a Republican, was elected Macomb County prosecutor in November.

'Voter apathy is real' in Detroit

In Detroit, Janice Winfrey is running for her fifth term as city clerk. Challengers are Kinda Anderson, Detroit Charter Revision Commissioner Denzel McCampbell, Michael Ri'chard, Jeffrey Robinson and Beverly Kindle-Walker.

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey speaks during press conference at the Department of Elections, in Detroit, August 2, 2021.

Detroit voters also will narrow the field of 10 candidates for mayor to lead the state's largest city. Duggan is seeking his third term as the first white mayor of a majority Black city. 

Among the most well-known challengers are former deputy mayor and Detroit school board president Anthony Adams and Tom Barrow, a perennial candidate and activist. Also running are minister Kiawana Brown; second-time runner Myya Jones; FOCUS: Hope community director Jasahn Larsosa; Detroit budget manager Charleta McInnis; past mayoral challenger Danetta Simpson; Art Tyus, who formerly ran for state representative; and publisher D. Etta Wilcoxon.

It's going to come down to who people recognize, said Karen Dumas, a communications manager under former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.

"This has been a kind of a sleeper campaign on both sides," she said of the mayoral race. "Duggan is pretty comfortable in his role as an incumbent and I don't know if or how many of the other candidates have been out and engaged in the community, that's going to be the determinant as to who will be the second person is."

There are ten candidates running for mayor of Detroit including: (top) Mayor Mike Duggan runs for his third term against former mayoral candidate Tom Barrow, former deputy mayor and president of Detroit School Board Anthony Adams, (middle row) D.Etta Wilcoxon, Charleta McInnis, Jasahn Larsosa, second-time runner Myya Jones, (bottom) Danetta Simpson, Art Tyus, and Kiawana Brown.

At least half of Detroit's City Council is guaranteed to welcome new faces this cycle. 

Detroiters also are being asked to vote on whether to approve permanent changes to the city charter in a ballot initiative known as Proposal P. It seeks to expand oversight in Detroit government and enhance resident quality of life, but opposers including Duggan's administration and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have argued some changes are considered illegal or would put the city back in bankruptcy. Here's what's in it.

Winfrey anticipates a 13 to 18% turnout for the primary, with twice as many absentee ballots cast than four years ago. She attributes the increase in absentee voting to the pandemic and said by Monday, about 42,000 absentee ballots had been returned to her office. 

Dumas said she wishes more people were engaged and that Tuesday's turnout will show that, "voter apathy is real."

Election Day

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Absentee ballots must be returned to local clerks by 8 p.m. 

Voters can check the status of their absentee ballot, find the location of area drop boxes, clerk office information and other election information at Michigan.gov/Vote

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

hharding@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Hayley__Harding