Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan flexes clout, mostly scores with Dem wins

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was initially skeptical of whether Democratic candidate Gretchen Whitmer could win the race for governor. He’s now backing Whitmer, Tuesday’s primary winner.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan played kingmaker Tuesday, introducing Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer at her victory party some seven months after trying to woo another candidate in the race.

Duggan staked his political capital on getting strongly and publicly behind Whitmer and several other Democrats, particularly opponents of lawmakers who helped defeat the mayor’s proposed overhaul of auto insurance.

The scorecard is mostly positive for Duggan, with caveats:

  • Whitmer won the primary in a rout statewide, but lost the city of Detroit to millionaire and fellow Democrat Shri Thanedar.
  • Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, a Duggan ally, lost narrowly the 13th Congressional District to former state lawmaker Rashida Tlaib in the primary race.
  • Former Duggan aide Fayrouz Saad lost big in the 11th Congressional District to Haley Stevens.
  • Duggan-endorsed candidates in the state House and Senate won seven races and lost four (although some were still close Wednesday, and results remain unofficial).

“There were some ups and downs, but overall it was a victory for him. In the big names and big races, Duggan’s slate won,” said Al Williams, a political consultant and former membership director of the state Democratic Party.

“You can say he went 7 and 4, but he won the races he really targeted. It was a big night for him.”

Republican pollster Steve Mitchell agreed, noting the mixed won-loss record doesn’t reflect the strength of Duggan’s influence.

“We don’t know what the margins would’ve been had the Duggan machine not gotten involved in the governor’s race or some of these other campaigns,” Mitchell said.

“It’s easy to look at the marquee races and say the mayor had problems. Just looking at it from my perspective, I think he had a good” result.

Playing hardball in the legislature

In state races, Duggan played hardball against lawmakers who helped defeat auto insurance reform in 2017, backing opponents of state Rep. Fred Durhal II of Detroit, who lost to Marshall Bullock, a former neighborhood manager for Duggan; and former Rep. Brian Banks, who lost a bid for Senate against Duggan-backed Adam Hollier.

Duggan-backed state legislature candidates also benefited from billboards throughout southeast Michigan bemoaning high car insurance and saying, “We Need Adam Hollier in Lansing,” “We Need Marshall Bullock in Lansing” and the like.

The nonprofit behind the ads, Detroiters for Change, is not disclosing where it gets its money, and the state Bureau of Elections is investigating whether the nonprofit broke campaign finance laws by advocating for specific candidates, the Metro Times reported last week.

The nonprofit also paid for negative ads targeting Durhal and Banks, said Williams, an aide to Durhal.

Duggan had some big misses as well: His former campaign manager Rico Razo lost in a state House race to Isaac Robinson.

“The question is, does the mayor have any coat tails? He got some energetic people elected, (but) if he had coat tails he would’ve delivered Detroit for Whitmer and he couldn’t,” said Steve Hood, a political consultant and Detroit media personality.

At the top of the ticket, Duggan once was so concerned about Whitmer’s electability that he led an effort with union leaders to recruit another candidate, such as U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, into the race, as Bridge Magazine first reported.

But Duggan endorsed Whitmer in February, and has since led her on several neighborhood tours and a get-out-the-vote party last weekend.  

The fact that Whitmer –  who lives in East Lansing –  had her victory party in Detroit, with Duggan on stage, is testament to his clout, Williams said.

Mitchell said Whitmer faced significant disadvantages in Detroit because she is white and viewed as an establishment candidate. Even so, she only lost by a few thousand votes.

Duggan also wasn’t able to help Jones win in a crowded field to succeed U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr.

Carl Ramsey, who lost to Tlaib in a state House race in 2008, said it shows Duggan’s influence is no match for big money. Tlaib raised significantly more money than the other five candidates in the race.

“Machine politics is completely dead in the city of Detroit,” said Ramsey, 48.

“(Jones) had the mayor, labor unions, and most of the ministers’ support and she couldn’t pull it off. That opens the door for any candidate that can out-fundraise their opponent.”

The race has no Republican candidates, so Tlaib is slated to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress. A significant portion of her fundraising came from national donors excited by that prospect, Mitchell said.

Other African American candidates in the race also siphoned votes from Jones, Mitchell said.

“The fact is (Duggan) chose to get involved in tough races to see if he could make a difference. I suspect he made a difference,” Mitchell said.  “He just couldn’t pull them over the finish line.”

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Rob Pollard
Wed, 08/08/2018 - 2:00pm

Look, I get political reporters love the idea of "kingmakers" and behind the scenes maneuvering, but how can you remotely square these two sentences:
1. “We don’t know what the margins would’ve been had the Duggan machine not gotten involved in the governor’s race or some of these other campaigns,” Mitchell said."
2. "Whitmer won the primary in a rout statewide, but lost the city of Detroit to millionaire and fellow Democrat Shri Thanedar."

The *one* place Duggan would have real influence, he delivered...squat.

And where else is she going to have her victory party. Grand Rapids? Please. Lansing? Way too "inside" politics? Ann Arbor? Maybe, but the home of Rick Snyder and the "far" left?

Nope, Detroit makes the most sense, as it is extremely Democratic, and the heart of the region she'll need to beat Schuette.

If Duggan can help juice the Detroit turnout and actually work on the campaign (besides the last week) to win in November, then he brag about something. But for right now, Duggan had very, very little to do with Whitmer's primary win.

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 9:18am

Yep! Duggan is a big month A H!! were was he in Nov of 2016 when that right wing tea bagging Ruth Johnson destroyed 75000 ballets from Detroit that NO one seen but her and her republican workers giving Michigan to tRUMP!!!! NOT one word out of his big lying month!!!

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 8:32pm

Hmmm let me guess ... you are a Democrat?

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 9:22am

Duggan is a closet republican,,, Just remember he was NOT living in Detroit when he ran BUT he was backed by Snyder the snake to run. backed by that right wing tea bagging Security of state ruth Johnson to run and Backed by the right wing controlled MI Sperm court!!!

Erwin Haas
Sat, 08/11/2018 - 3:41pm

News flash. Toxicologists, pubbahs and publich health “experts” laid end to end point in different directions.
I’ve reviewed to some extent the C8 literature, the backbone of chemicals like PFOS, PFAS, Teflon and the itchy fire retardant saturated uniforms that we on flight status in the armed forces wore in and around aircraft.

There was an Austrialian study that condluded that there is no toxicity.

The only other extensive study was around a Dupont plant in northern W. Virginia which was sued around 2006 for contaminating the water supply and so funded a poorly done epidemiologic study with 70 million US dollars. The area is in authentic Appalachia; I have seen an adult with lethal hookworm infection from nearby. The healthy ones leave for Texas and the residua are sickly, so the population is made out of bent timber that is difficult to compare to normal populations. The 3 authors offered anyone 400 dollars to submit to a health evaluation and about 60k did. The questionnaire asked about diagnoses, loading the dice in favor of problems and never delving into the possibility that C8 might improve health.
They produced a series of about 20 papers, most showing that no effect on various aspects of health. Others showed some weak to moderately strong association with diverse health problems like ulcerative colitis, cancer of only loosely associated organs like testis, kidney, prostate, Hodgkins. Others intimated problems with the thyroids of children but not of adults, and so on….
All of the articles concluded with expressions of uncertainty about the statistical power of the findings. “The numbers are small.” “These results could have arisen by chance.” kind of waffling. Nowhere did I find comparison to the health issues of similar folks, you know, that kind that the writers that I see published in Mlive or in Bridgmi would refer to sneeringly as “hillbillies.”
The lawyers got ⅓ of about 500 million that was levied against Dupont.
In my campaign for Michigan’s 26th Senate district I call for more careful study before altering the criteria of 70 PPT and fully endorse this author's level headed analysis before caving in to yet another hysterical scream from our agonal news media.

Shannon Gates-Feahy
Sun, 08/12/2018 - 9:28am

I am glad for Marshall and especially Adam. If the choice was a habitual criminal with over 5 felonies and IVY league grad with a background in urban development, I think that district FINALLY made an intelligent choice. It was getting ridiculous. The fact that Aiyash came in second is a testament to that community waking up. I didn't have a horse in that race, but I was watching it closely because my mom lives in the pointes. Yes, Hollier got Duggan support, but he also worked his tail off. He was EVERYWHERE. I've met him twice at events and fundraisers. Brian should NOT have been given a chance to govern again. He deserved his loss, he thought he was going to pull it off easily and got arrogant. As for Brenda, I don't know that she worked hard enough for it either. She made some assumptions. Gretchen's machine was unstoppable. Even Obama couldn't win against a woman right now. Now it's about uniting this party for the tougher races.

Ben W Washburn
Sun, 08/12/2018 - 10:15pm

Duggan's biggest and most important WIN in this primary was totally missed by all of the media. That was the stealth question on Detroit ballots asking if a voter: favored a revision of the Detroit City Charter. Probably not more than 1 or 2% of the folks voting on this seemingly bland question knew that if this issue passed, that this new Charter Commission which would be authorized by it, had already been hand-picked by the Mayor and Dan Gilbert. Nor did they know that the totally revised Charter adopted just 6 years ago had actually only been in full operation for a mere two months, because of fall-out from the bankruptcy. There was yet simply no factual reason to be concerned about any needed revisions.
The two biggest changes in Detroit governance enacted by the revised 2012 Charter was to amplify the oversight powers of the City Council and the Police Commission. Those powers had been specifically added because of the abuses by our former mayors. It should
of course be no surprise that Duggan would want to reverse these provisions, nor that big-time investors like Gilbert would prefer to be able to deal with city authorities who can make outrageous backroom deals with no significant public oversight. Time and again, folks who have such powers have shown themselves to be more than willing to give away the public purse for pennies on the dollar, so long as their deals can be concealed.

So, how was this issued maneuvered onto the ballot?

When the Charter Revision question was last presented, it was given broad public notice, and more than 100 persons filed to become candidates to be on the Commission. This time, no notice was given. The question was placed on the ballot after it was too late to sign-up to be a candidate. The only people who signed-up were those insiders who had been hand-picked. And they just happened by accident to be folks who work for the Mayor or for Dan Gilbert. Surprise, surprise!

So, who was civically responsible for spreading the word and drumming-up democratic interest? The folks who placed this issue on the ballot were a committee of just three, the Detroit Election Commission. It's made-up of the City Clerk, Janice Winfrey, the President of the City Council, Brenda Jones, and the Mayor's Corporation Council. Hey, I would not expect the Mayor's guy to do anything more than he or she did. So why would Winfrey and Jones shirk their civic duty? Well, Winfrey came close to losing her last election. Jones wanted to follow John Conyers to D.C. Both were particularly vulnerable. But, this is how sausage is made in the Big City.

The wording of the issue itself was very carefully curated. It was written to sound like an advisory question. How many of the voting public would understand the critical difference between a "revision" and "an amendment"?

The issue was placed on the ballot by the Election Commission at the last possible moment, so as to avoid any notice to the public at large.

The media was engaged without any understanding that they were being manipulated. Just two days before the primary, Nolan Finlay wrote an article decrying the obstructionists in the City Council.

I spent 25 years working as the legal and policy counsel to the legislative body of Wayne County, and half of that time was in opposition to Mike Duggan, when he was the day-to-day honcho for the McNamara administration. Mike does get things done, so long as you hold his feet to the fire. I have voted for and have supported him as Mayor. BUT, I can also say that you must always hold his feet to the fire. I can also say that you can not place much trust in the legislative oversight body. In my experience, only a third of them tend to be trustworthy. You have to also birddog and hold the other 2/3rds to the fire as well. Only when you are holding both sides equally accountable, can you truly expect to have a responsive, responsible and effective local government. Don't get rid of them, because then you open yourself up to untrampled corruption.