Challengers Garza, Woolley fend off write-in campaign of Taylor Mayor Sollars

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Taylor — State Rep. Alex Garza won Taylor's Tuesday mayoral primary election while City Council Chairman Tim Woolley advanced in the race to winnow the field for the November election and replace a criminally indicted mayor.

Garza, a second-term state lawmaker, won the primary in unofficial results with 35.5% of the vote, followed by Woolley with 22.1%, according to unofficial results released by the Taylor Clerk's office. Minister Jeff Jones was third with 21.8.%.

Mayor Rick Sollars, who is under indictment for federal bribery and wire fraud charges, appeared to lose after the unassigned write-in votes totaled 20.7%. The Wayne County Board of Canvassers is meeting Wednesday morning to certify the results and get the specific vote totals for write-in candidates.

Jones and Sollars, who as a write-in candidate without his name officially listed, could not be reached for comment. 

Taylor mayoral candidates, from left to right, Tim Woolley, pastor Jeff Jones, state Rep. Alex Garza and incumbent Mayor Rick Sollars.

"Even with the preliminary results, we've see now Taylor voters chose to go with new candidates for mayor," Garza said. "The incumbent looks like he's going to lose in this primary. We're looking forward to spreading our message about what we plan to do for our city moving forward."

Aneyshau Turnipseed, 31, said she supported Garza in the election, adding: "In my heart, he's what we need."

"Sollars ... I don't have anything nice to say," she said. "I'm not really a fan. I grew up under (former mayor) Kwame Kilpatrick in Detroit, so if I'm trying to protect my livelihood ... he just wasn't a good fit for me."

Jones, 60, is pastor of God's Family Room church on Beech Daly and ran to fix the city's image problem.

"Taylor has had its share of black eyes," Jones noted on his campaign website. 

Sollars was forced to wage a write-in campaign after failing to file campaign finance reports and pay fines prior to filing for reelection. He lost a court fight with the city clerk to get his name on the ballot.

Linda Pace, 65, voted for Sollars because she thought he did a good job as mayor.

"For what he's done previous to this indictment, he's been good. I've seen a lot of good from him," Pace said.

Garza, Woolley and Jones argued that Sollars' legal issues have hurt the city. Garza and Woolley contended the indictment has created unpredictability about Taylor's future. 

Write-in campaigns are difficult and require voter education, political experts noted, though Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan overcame the odds in 2013 with the aid of a multimillion-dollar campaign. Sollars' campaign slogan is "Stick with Rick."

Sollars faces 33 counts of federal bribery and wire fraud charges, and he stands accused of helping a developer obtain city-owned properties in exchange for free work on his home and vacation chalet. His federal trial is scheduled for January. Sollars has said he's "confident the truth will prevail."

He argued voters should have faith in his leadership and that he would be available to serve his term. Sollars insisted he will walk out of court free, vindicated, "head held high."

At 27, Garza is a former two-time Taylor City Council member and a former council chairman. He is currently serving his second term in the Michigan House of Representatives.

In 2013, Garza, then a 19-year-old student at the University of Michigan Dearborn, became the youngest person ever elected to Taylor City Council and the first Hispanic. 

Woolley, 51, is a lifelong Taylor resident who also served in the U.S. Army from 1989-92, during which he fought in Operation Desert Storm.

"I can't sit back and wait to see what happens," Woolley said. "There is too much unpredictability."

The council chairman said Taylor has made progress over the years. Woolley and Sollars' campaign websites both note the city's $9 million rainy-day fund balance, up from a $2.5 million deficit before they took their respective offices in 2014. 

"We've worked fairly well as a team," Woolley said of the City Council he now chairs. But the mayor's legal issues "threw a stick in the spokes" of progress, he argued.

Woolley presents himself as the "safe" choice: Experienced in politics and in life, but with no further ambition for higher office beyond the mayor's job.