Records: Mayoral candidate Benny Napoleon bankrolled campaign with big suburban donations

Mayoral candidate Benny Napoleon, who caused a media firestorm this week after suggesting he’s a more authentic Detroiter than his white opponent, has relied predominately on suburban builders, developers, CEOs, lawyers and business owners to bankroll his campaigns.

In fact, about 90% of the more than $250,000 he raised over the past year as Wayne County sheriff has come from outside of the city, a Motor City Muckraker analysis of campaign finance records shows. More than 60 wealthy movers and shakers from the suburbs in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties contributed at least $1,000.

On Oct. 9, Napoleon held a fundraiser at the posh Shenandoah Country Club in West Bloomfield, where seats were dominated by Oakland County realtors and developers.

His biggest supporters? Ten executives from Trenton-based Fritz Enterprises, a large scrapping operation with facilities in Taylor, Detroit and other cities. The executives donated a combined $11,000.

Even Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun chipped in $2,500 last year.

But when Napoleon was campaigning in Detroit this week, he turned up the us-versus-them rhetoric, saying he won’t allow outsiders to dicate the city’s future.

“It’s our Detroit, and we’re going to keep it for Detroiters,” Napoleon said after a speech on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at New Bethel Baptist Church on Tuesday. “This is where we make our stand. This is a defining moment for Detroit.”

Shenandoah Country Club

Napoleon is taking a precarious campaign risk during a volatile time in Detroit, which is slipping closer to bankruptcy and a state financial takeover. Many Detroiters perceive state and suburban officials as opportunists bent on stealing city assets and neglecting lower-income residents.

In an obvious attempt to paint his opponent, former Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan, as an outsider, Napoleon took a swipe at Palmer Woods, a beloved and relatively affluent Detroit neighborhood where Duggan recently moved.

“Hell, no,” Napoleon said at the influential church, “Palmer Woods is not Detroit.”

Napoleon sought to clarify his statement Thursday, saying he meant that Palmer Woods has a high quality of life not enjoyed by most neighborhoods.  Someone with experience in the hard scrabble areas should lead the city, Napoleon said.

Many observers believe Napoleon hurt his fundraising machine in the suburbs by making divisive statements.

Only time will tell.

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Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Living on the city’s east side, Neavling explores corruption, civil liberties and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.    

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.