A heavily funded and dishonest campaign funded by outside groups and Mayor Duggan’s political machine fell short Tuesday after the hand-picked candidates failed to gain majority control over a a commission that will have authority to dramatically change how the city operates.
The right-leaning Detroit Regional Chamber and other outside groups helped raise more than $160,000 to support eight candidates for the nine-member Charter Revision Commission. But only four of them were elected following a strong grassroots campaign by community activists.
The Chamber-backed candidates who won seats are Laura Hughes, a former top executive at Strategic Staffing Solutions, which was integral to launching Duggan’s write-in campaign; Karissa Holmes, a top attorney for billionaire Dan Gilbert’s Rock Venture; Carol Weaver, who worked for Emergency Manager Robert Bobb at Detroit Public Schools; and Quincy Jones, the director of the Osbourne Neighborhood Alliance.
Four of the six candidates on the People’s Slate, which raised only a few thousand dollars and championed the rights of neighborhoods, won seats on the commission. The ninth candidate, Richard Mack, who has no official ties to any of the groups, won the ninth seat.
The chamber-backed candidates were funded by two political action committees – Detroit Neighborhoods First and Detroit Forward Together. The Detroit Regional Chamber poured more than $90,000 into the super PACs and waged a disinformation campaign by falsely claiming that the other candidates wanted to remove counsel districts from the charter.
Duggan’s close friend and fundraising partner Dennis Archer Jr. donated $5,000 to the Detroit Neighborhoods First PAC on Oct. 30.
The chamber and leaders of the PACs, including a Lansing political consultant, have refused to say why they’re supporting the candidates and why they dumped an unprecedented amount of money into a special commission election.
Duggan is even denying involvement in the campaign.
Motor City Muckraker first reported about the largely secret campaign last week.
The People’s Slate candidates who won a seat on the commission are Nicole Small, Joanna Underwood, Tracey Peters and Barbara Ann Wynder. They support more checks and balances and advocate neighborhoods over downtown and Midtown, where many of the chamber’s businesses are.
The People’s Slate said the PAC 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.
The PAC candidates who did not win a seat are Emily Dabish, a strategist for Gilbert’s Rocket Fiber and former employee of Gov. Rick Snyder; Graham Davis, a political consultant who has raked in tens of thousands of dollars working on Duggan’s campaigns; Michael Griffie, an attorney and outspoken supporter of charter schools and a former principal of Cornerstone Schools, a for-profit business that hires uncertified teachers; and Byron Osbern, a journeyman electrician who received a donation from Duggan’s campaign chairman, Rico Razzo.
A lot is at stake when the commission begins meeting early next year to consider changes to Detroit’s charter, which essentially is the city’s constitution. They 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.
All proposed amendments to the charter must be approved by voters.
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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.