Reflections on the Detroit Mayoral Elections

For political animals like us in Detroit, it is important to reflect before heading back into battle, or worse, retreating. I read with interest the analysis of Chokwe Lumumba’s victory in Jackson, Mississippi. A son of Detroit, he was at the pulpit at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church for a rally for Benny Napoleon on the Friday evening before the Detroit mayoral elections. I attended, at the last possible minute, the “Thousand Women for Benny” event at the urging of Helen Moore. The music was inspiring and a lot of Detroit’s who’s who who had not taken the money were there. Some who had taken the Duggan money were there. But there was a clear understanding of what was at stake. Having been part of the recount of the primary election out of sheer curiosity, I was certain that the election was a done deal, even the Friday before. But I could not help but admire the faith of the crowd. They were hopeful, but I did have the sense that we all knew the fix was in.

I have participated in voter registration for many years, dating back to the Coleman Young era when I was first old enough to vote. One day I got a call from the Mayor’s office saying,” You Mexicans better get down here and get deputized because y’all—- don’t vote.” I went with a few others to get deputized and we were sent out to the streets to do voter registration. Even when we registered people and offered rides to the polls, we had very low turnout. During the Obama election, some election “irregularaties” occurred, keeping Michigan Democrats out of the primary. Obama was not on the ballot for the early voting because the state Democratic party held an early convention, causing Michigan to be denied the right to seat delegates at the national convention. At that time, most of us had heard that Governor Granholm was supporting Hillary Clinton. The result of the penalty was that no presidential candidates would be allowed to campaign in Michigan and their names would not appear on the ballot for the early voting.

Meanwhile, a text message drama from two years prior surfaced. Somehow, all that mattered was a texting scandal that flooded the news media and we were bombarded with Kilpatrick stories. Detroit does not, and has never cared who slept with who, so it took a great deal of effort for the press to make the texting scandal matter. It literally had to block all other news and messages and bombard us with Kilpatrick misdeeds. We had to vote “uncommitted” for Obama because his name was not on the ballot and he was not allowed to campaign in Michigan. But that did not stop Hilary Clinton from coming to Michigan to campaign, in violation of the party’s own mandate. But Detroit did manage to get out the vote for Obama, despite all obstacles in our way. But the turnout was not what it could have been.

Fast foreward to the Bing/Cockrell mayoral race. This is even hard to write about; the most uninspiring political moment we have lived in my voting life. Bing won that race; Cockrell had been the incumbent mayor due to Kilpatrick leaving office. We had six elections in two years and were completely destabilized by the ordeal. So few people went to the polls that it was said by pundits that less than 12% of the eligible voters came out to vote.

So I was quite curious when I heard that Duggan – who didn’t even live here long enough to file to run for mayor – was a write-in who got such a huge number of votes that he was a finalist. We heard that he had been promised all the money needed to “win” the seat. But I am a cynic about voter turnout, having lived this reality for so long. Voters in Detroit would not write in God if he walked up and asked them to. But somehow, thousands of voters, many with identical handwriting, wrote in Duggan.

Back at Mt Zion on election Friday… a pastor thanks Chokwe and his delegation who had come to cheer us on in Detroit for Benny: ” Our friends from the South are here with us.” I was undone by the irony. Chokwe Lumumba, mayor of Jacksonville, Mississippi, in Detroit to help us.

We have a lot of work ahead of us.

Most encouraging to me is the band of warriors who fight corruption, even as powerful as Jones Day is. It was reassuring to see the real ballots cast for Duggan, even if the board of canvassers did nothing to address the obvious theft of the primary. Take heart, Detroit. We are bruised, but not defeated.