The history of electing Detroit City Council members over the years has often been unpredictable and surprising. Yet, one predictable fact in the upcoming primary election, held on Tuesday, Aug. 3, followed by the general election on Tues., Nov. 2, is that City Council, the legislative body of Detroit’s government, will undergo a major facelift. This means of the nine Detroit City Council seats, seven representing geographical districts and two at-large (city-wide), there’s a possibility that after “this year’s primary and general elections,” four or more new council members could be seated at the council table.
After the April 20 filing deadline for individuals interested in running or re-running for council, the unpredictability and surprise factors came to fruition. Brenda Jones, the seven-year council president and holder of one of two “at-large” citywide seats decided not to seek re-election after elected to council in 2005. Likewise, District 4’s incumbent council member Andre Spivey, elected in 2009, announced he would not seek re-election. In District 6, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, elected to office in 2013, made it official that she wouldn’t run for re-election. And in District 7, council member Gabe Leland resigned before pleading guilty to a felony charge.
In District 2, incumbent council member Roy McCalister Jr. will run against challenger Angela Calloway, but their face-off will bypass the primary contest and advance to the general election in November. Scott Benson, the incumbent in District 3, is unopposed in the primary race and will advance to the general election. In District 5, incumbent and City Council Pro Tem Mary Sheffield, also unopposed in the primary, will move to the general election. In District 6, candidates Hector Santiago and Gabriella Santiago-Romero will face off in November’s general election, to determine who succeeds Castaneda-Lopez.
In essence, the only city council races in the “primary election” will be in Districts 1, 4, 7, and city-wide at large. The Michigan Chronicle is giving its endorsements in the following primary Council races. The Chronicle’s endorsements are based, in part, on the returned questionnaires from individuals running for a council seat in the Aug. 3 primary and in part on the Editorial Board’s research into each candidate’s previous experiences and skillsets.
City Council At-Large Chronicle’s Endorsement: Incumbent Janee Ayers
In seeking her second, four-year term, Ayers has done a good job on behalf of all Detroiters. She serves on two major committees critical to the health and wellbeing of Detroiters and the financial health and stability of the city. Ayers has been chair of the Budget, Finance & Audit Committee for four years and a committee member for six.
The Chronicle views this skillset valuable as the city must navigate financial issues on many fronts due to the pandemic and post-bankruptcy obligations.
“The next four years are crucial to the financial health of the city,” Ayers said in her submitted questionnaire to the Chronicle’s Editorial Board. “Bankruptcy allowed us to pause some of our financial obligations, particularly our pension obligations. The city’s Plan of Adjustment created in the bankruptcy process requires us to start making significantly higher contributions to the city’s two pension systems over the next few years. Because of this, financial responsibility and management will be one of my top priorities for this next term.”
Ayers is also vice-chair of the Council’s Public Health and Safety Committee. She has been instrumental in helping Detroiters, and small businesses receive needed resources and supplies during the 17-month – and counting – COVID-19 pandemic. Other accomplishments include creating the Returning Citizens Task Force, which helps released inmates connect to jobs and training and expungements. Ayers, a lifelong Detroiter, pledges to continue working to eliminate blight in the city, empower Black-owned businesses, and enhance opportunities for city youth to gain entrance to comprehensive skill trades training programs and subsequent employment.
Other at-large council candidates are Jermain Jones, Nicole Small, Mary Waters, and Coleman A. Young II.
District 1 Chronicle’s Endorsement: Incumbent James Tate
James Tate, elected to City Council in 2009, has lived in District 1 his entire life and knows the hot button issues that residents face daily. Tate has a reputation of being accessible, listening, building, and moving forward community partnerships and initiatives to empower Detroiters. Tate created the first district-wide “online” business directory.” He is a strong advocate for Detroiters to own and operate cannabis-related businesses in the city. Tate authored the Detroit Legacy Ordinance related to adult-use cannabis licensing. It was struck down in federal court in June. Yet, Tate remains optimistic about a possible appeal of the ruling.
“We are currently reviewing all options,” said Tate. “As we move forward I would like to make it clear that no adult-use licenses will be issued in the city unless Detroit residents are provided the ability to truly compete for the same wealth-building opportunities that other communities have benefited from in the cannabis industry.”
Amid the current pandemic, Tate has consistently provided needed equipment, tools, information, and resources to help Detroiters confront the COVID-19. He is equally involved in addressing Detroiters’ challenges as they seek to escape poverty and elevate to better opportunities.
“I want to continue to help remove barriers that challenge the ability for residents to positively impact the generational poverty that persists within their families,” Tate said in his written responses to the Chronicle Editorial Board. “Addressing this will transform several elements of our community from the crime level to educational attainment to employment opportunities.”
Other District 1 candidates are Darryl Brown, Quincy Coleman, and Krystal Larsosa.
Chronicle’s Endorsement: Virgil C. Smith
Virgil C. Smith has an extensive background and unique skillset that the Chronicle believes will greatly benefit citizens of District 4. Smith’s experiences in public service date back to 1977 when he was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate in 1988. In 2001, Smith was appointed Chief Assistant Prosecutor by then-Wayne County Prosecutor and now mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan. Smith was a distinguished Third Circuit Court judge in Wayne County for 16 years, eleven as the Presiding Judge in the Juvenile Division and five as the Chief Judge.
“I want to use my extensive experience in the legislature and on the bench to help families in the District,” Smith wrote in his submitted questionnaire to the Chronicle.
Policing/Public Safety is a top concern for Smith in evolutionary manners to meet the changing times.
“I believe the Detroit Police Department has to become more of a community policing unit based on positive interactions, partnerships with community neighborhood organizations, and develop a more shared problem-solving system, such as the Green Light Program. At the end of the day, residents want and need to feel safe in their environment,” Smith wrote in his questionnaire to the Chronicle’s Editorial Board. “My goal is to work with our Police Department to grow, expand, and incorporate this philosophy into the social mission of our Police Department.”
Smith pledges to help local Black businesses navigate the city’s procurement department.
“As a member of the city’s legislative body, my goal is always to protect domiciled Black Detroit-based businesses,” Smith said.
Other District 4 candidates are Anemashaun Bomani, Michael Elrick, Toson Jewell-Knight, Latisha Johnson, Daivon Reeder, and Kenneth Snapp.
District 7 Chronicle’s Endorsement: Fred Durhal III
Fred Durhal III has an impressive background in politics, which the Chronicle feels exemplifies integrity, service, and leadership. From January 2015 to January 2019, Durhal was the elected State Representative for Michigan’s 5th House District. While just 37 years old, Durhal would bring a wealth of vital experience to City Council to empower youth, families, and adults of all ages and ethnicities.
The Chronicle believes that Durhal’s most vital attributes are his legislative, budgetary, governmental, and community experiences. While many challenges are facing Detroit over the next four years, one of the most pressing is for the city to succeed at attaining financial/fiscal stability. Durhal points to The Plan of Adjustment that the City of Detroit filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in February 2014.
“Ensuring the budget remains fiscally stable, meets the requirements of the Plan of Adjustment, and the resumption of full pension payments in 2024 are imperative,” Durhal said in written responses to the Chronicle’s Editorial Board. “To maintain the services of the citizens, promote Detroit’s continued growth, and ensure solvency, responsible decisions must be made within our budget. I have served as the Minority Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations Committee (Ranking Democrat). The budgetary experience that I have gained from the Michigan
Legislature will provide much-needed experience to the City Council as Detroit seeks to maintain fiscal stability and comply with the Plan of Adjustment, avoid the budgetary shortfalls produced by the COVID-19 pandemic, and seek ways to increase Detroit’s ability to generate revenue.”
Durhal says he will champion for more affordable housing for Detroiters and create ways for homeowners to facilitate needed home repairs.
Other District 7 candidates are John Bennett, William Davis, Regina Ross, JoAnna Underwood, and Angy Webb.