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Tuesday’s primary in Detroit showed dismal voter participation, at less than 15%, but it also highlighted the desires of those who did turn out to cast ballots in local races like City Council.

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Twenty-two Detroiters appeared on the City Council primary ballot, and there were 789 write-in candidates. Voters determined who would advance to the general election in November. At least three of the seven districts are guaranteed new council representation in 2022, in addition to an open at-large seat. 

City Council members represent voters within a geographical district and propose and pass ordinances while also managing the City’s budget. As voters dwindled down the list of potential candidates, those running say that Detroiters want solutions-driven and accountable representatives. The candidates advancing to the general election say primary results have made voters’ priorities abundantly clear: infrastructure, neighborhood stabilization, economic opportunity and safety.

What Detroiters care about

Every City Council hopeful has categorized housing or neighborhoods as a priority. Some identified affordable housing, blight removal and equitable home ownership as potential solutions. Almost every City Council candidate has identified blight as an issue in Detroit, but few are fans of the City’s current demolition program, funded after voters’ approved a ballot initiative in 2020.

An unforeseen issue that has risen in almost every district this summer is infrastructure, largely due to heavy rains that caused massive flooding. 

Districts 2, 3, 5 and 6

Races in Districts 2, 3, 5 and 6 were already determined for the general election. Councilman Roy McCalister Jr. will run against Angela Calloway as he seeks to keep his seat in District 2. McCallister serves on the mental health task force and has supported new housing developments for seniors and economic opportunities for Detroit’s small businesses. Calloway’s campaign targets clean parks, safe streets and better schools. 

President Pro Tem Mary Shefield of District 5 and Scott Benson in District 3 are running unopposed. Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez is not seeking re-election in District 6, where Hector Santiago and Gabriela Santiago-Romero will compete in November. 

According to Santiago’s campaign website, he is prioritizing community health, economic opportunity, safe neighborhoods, justice system reform and expanding access to city services. Santiago-Romero’s campaign priorities are safety, environmental justice and housing. 

All other districts, and the at-large seats, required a primary race.

District 1

Councilman James Tate, the incumbent for District 1 on Detroit’s northwest side, surpassed all other candidates in the race with almost 9,000 votes. His opponent in November will be Krystal Larosa, who garnered just over 1,500 votes. Tate has spent the last two years leading Detroit’s work to bolster economic opportunity for Detroiters in the adult-use marijuana business, and has supported housing developments while on Council. Larosa, who campaigned with her husband, Jasahn Larosa, who ran for mayor, is prioritizing “clean, safe, prosperous neighborhoods,” according to her submission to a Voter Guide published by BridgeDetroit and the Detroit Free Press.

District 4

A more contentious race brewed on Detroit’s far east side in District 4, where seven potential candidates were on the primary ballot. The district’s current councilman, Andre Spivey, did not seek re-election and was arraigned earlier this week on a federal bribery conspiracy charge.

Latisha Johnson, a longtime Detroiter and active community ambassador campaigned with a promise for equitable development through affordable housing. She was the leading vote-getter in the district’s primary, with 2,628 votes, followed by Mike “M.L.” Elrick, a former Free Press reporter, with 2,015 votes. Virgil Smith, a retired judge and former state lawmaker who was the first Black state Senate floor leader in Michigan history, finished in fourth.  

Though Elrick’s campaign has focused largely on safe neighborhoods and economic opportunity, the former reporter said that Detroiters have told him that infrastructure is a major concern following mass flooding across the city in late June.  

“When I got into this race in January, we did not have a flood that broke the hearts of almost everybody in our district, and may break the budget of almost everybody in our district,” Elrick told BridgeDetroit.

Johnson did not return calls for comment. 

District 7

Residents in District 7, on Detroit’s far west side, haven’t had council representation since May, when Councilmember Gabe Leland resigned due to corruption charges. Fred Durhal III edged out Regina Ross for the top spot by almost 500 votes. They’ll face off in November.

Ross told BridgeDetroit and the Free Press that public safety, business development and home ownership are top priorities. 

“They’re looking for a leader, someone who’s going to have their concerns in mind, someone who is looking out for them and who understands the issues of what they are going through,” Ross said. 

She said voters have shared their worries about flood damage, property taxes, and safe neighborhoods.  

She previously ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2017 and the state House in 2016. Acknowledging this is her third campaign, Ross said voters should ask candidates, ‘What can you do for me?’ and, ‘What are you going to do to help my neighborhood?’” to make their decision for the general election.

Durhal, a former state representative and minority vice chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee, has been concerned about the City budget throughout his campaign. Durhal told BridgeDetroit that, like Elrick, voters have voiced the need for policy solutions toward stronger infrastructure. He said eliminating blight and a stronger focus on public safety will benefit Detroit neighborhoods. According to Durhal, creating speed bumps, prioritizing water affordability and decreasing blight are neighborhood solutions that voters in District 7 are looking for.

“I can tell you, as I’m knocking on doors, there are folks speeding up the street 60, 70, 80 miles per hour,” Durhal told BridgeDetroit. “A lot of residents have been crying out for speed bumps and increased police presence to kind of deter that.”

At-large

The most anticipated race was for the City Council at-large seats, where incumbent Janeé Ayers, who received 34,513 votes, and Coleman Young II, who received 34,157 votes, were the top vote-getters. They will compete against Mary Waters, who had 26,026 votes, and Nicole Small, who had 11,989 votes. Voters in November will choose two candidates from the field of four.

In Ayers’ time on council, she established a task force to support formerly incarcerated residents and returning citizens. She’s also been outspoken on blight and helped seniors get property tax relief. 

Small, who served as vice chairwoman of Detroit’s Charter Commission, said Detroiters deserve a water affordability plan, home repair help and a strategy for more “equitable opportunities.” 

“The City has found a way to give away tax subsidies to the wealthy but failed to address the issue of overassessment for Detroit homeowners,” said Small. 

In a recent interview, Waters also named property tax overassessment as a major concern, and said neighborhoods need economic development. Waters also said police need more mental health resources, and she is against facial recognition technology.  

Young served in the state House and Senate, and is the son of Detroit’s first Black mayor, Coleman A. Young. He unsuccessfully challenged Mike Duggan for mayor four years ago. 

Young said Tuesday that voters want infrastructure solutions, coronavirus relief, safe neighborhoods and employment solutions. Young said he is equipped to be the accountable and transparent representative that Detroiters are asking for.  

“When I ran for mayor, there were a lot of things about myself that I needed to change,” he said, adding that he has lost almost 100 pounds. “Mentally, I had to make the decision, do I want to be a leader who tears down and destroys, or am I going to lift up and build? And I chose the latter.”

Olivia Lewis is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. She was formerly a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer and the Indianapolis Star. She has also worked in philanthropy for the Kresge Foundation, the Council...

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