Duggan’s political machine pumps money into fight over revisions to charter

Downtown Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Mayor Mike Duggan and his political machine recruited a team of well-funded allies to run for a commission that will have authority to dramatically change how the city operates and how much input residents have.

Some are top employees for billionaire Dan Gilbert. One has received tens of thousands of dollars helping run Duggan’s mayoral campaigns. One is an outspoken advocate of charter schools, and another worked for Gov. Snyder.

The eight candidates, many of whom recently moved to Detroit, are financially backed by influential Duggan supporters, the Detroit Regional Chamber and two political action committees that were created in the past month.

The candidates are among 15 Detroiters vying for nine seats on the city’s Charter Revision Commission in the Nov. 6 general election.

Joanna Underwood

“They are mailbox candidates,” said Joann Underwood, one of six candidates who are not tied to Duggan and are part of the People’s Slate. “How can an average person like myself raise that kind of money to run for the Charter Revision Commission? We see how the neighborhoods are deteriorating under Duggan.”

The victorious candidates will have three years to propose amendments to the city’s rulebook. The amendments can vary from imposing term limits on city officials and altering the ethics c0de to requiring more or less oversight and transparency over elected officials. The commission can recommend redistributing powers among elected and appointed officials and can even change the form of government from a mayor to a city manager.

Two elected members of the Detroit Police Commission, which is tasked with oversight of police conduct and the department’s budget, said they have been alerted that Duggan’s administration wants to strip authority from the board.

Duggan’s office dismissed it as a “rumor” and even claimed the mayor was not backing any candidates.

“The mayor did not support opening the charter and has not endorsed any candidate,” mayoral spokesman John Roach said.

But here are the facts:

The Detroit Regional Chamber, which has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Duggan’s mayoral campaigns, forked over $70,000 in the past three weeks to the two PACs supporting the eight candidates. The chamber declined to comment for this story or explain why it’s throwing so much money into the race.

The chamber has been virulently opposed to public input on private developments and corporate welfare.

One of the PACs, Detroit Forward Together, is led by a Lansing political consultant, Dennis Denno, who received tens of thousands of dollars working for Duggan’s campaigns. Denno also declined to comment.

Duggan’s political consultant, Graham Davis

Three of the eight candidates – Emily Dabish, Graham Davis and Laura Hughes – received $3,000 each from attorney David Fink, who rakes in a fortune representing the city on issues ranging from Detroit’s towing scandal and the Downtown Development Authority’s repeated violations of the Open Meetings Act.

Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the biggest financial supporters of Duggan, donated a combined $3,500 to Quincy Jones, Dabish and Hughes.

And Hughes, a former top executive at Strategic Staffing Solutions, received $6,800 from her former boss, Cynthia Pasky, who launched Duggan’s write-in campaign in June 2013. She also served on the board of directors for the Detroit Medical Center when Duggan was the CEO.

Here is a closer look at the eight candidates:

  • Emily Dabish is a strategist for Gilbert’s Rocket Fiber, lives in Midtown and used to work for Gov. Rick Snyder. She donated to Duggan’s campaign.
  • Graham Davis is a political consultant who raked in more than $10,o00 since December working on Duggan’s campaign after he was elected to his second term. Davis lives on Detroit’s waterfront and is part of the ironically named Detroit Neighborhoods First PAC.
  • Quincy Jones is the director of the Osbourne Neighborhood Alliance and received a donation from Blue Cross Blue Shield, which had more than 150 employees donate to Duggan’s mayoral campaign last year.
  • Carol Weaver worked for Emergency Manager Robert Bobb, who took over Detroit Public Schools, closed dozens of schools and created an enormous budget shortfall. She received a $1,000 donation from the Miller Canfield PAC, another major supporter of Duggan.
  • Michael Griffie is an attorney and outspoken supporter of charter schools and a former principal of Cornerstone Schools, a for-profit business that hires uncertified teachers.
  • Laura Hughes is a former top executive at Strategic Staffing Solutions, and she received a maximum $6,800 donation from her former boss, Cynthia Pasky, who launched Duggan’s write-in campaign in June 2013. She also received a $6,800 donation from James Nicholson, president of PVS Chemicals, who donated a whopping $100,000 to Duggan’s Turnaround Detroit PAC in 2013. She also served on the board of directors for the Detroit Medical Center when Duggan was the CEO.
  • Karissa Holmes, who lives downtown, is a legal counsel with Gilbert’s Rock Ventures.
  • Byron Osbern, a journeyman electrician, received a donation from Duggan’s campaign chairman, Rico Razzo.

Nicole Small, one of the six candidates on the People’s Slate, said the eight candidates are part of a political machine that has ignored the struggling neighborhoods and are in favor of corporate welfare that has benefited billionaires such as the Ilitches, Gilbert and Pistons owner Tom Gores, all of whom contributed to gentrification using tax dollars.

Nicole Small

“We deserve dignity and respect,” Small said. “There is so much we can do to protect the people, but greedy people are getting in the way of that.”

The other candidates on the People’s Slate are Tracey Peters, Barbara Anne Wynder, Taylor Harrell and Denzel Anton McCampbell.

The Charter Revision Commission will cost taxpayers more than $1.5 million. The commission has the authority to amend the city’s charter, but each amendment must be approved by voters.

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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.