Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield is photographed at an August 28, 2023 community event at Kadesh Baptist Church. (BridgeDetroit photo by Quinn Banks)

Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield is making preparations for a possible run for mayor in 2025, sparking interest in how her vision for the city’s future will resonate with voters who have largely stayed home in past elections. 

Mayor Mike Duggan has not announced whether he plans to seek reelection after a decade in office, and Sheffield’s candidacy is not official – she formed a campaign committee that allows for fundraising but hasn’t yet committed to run. However, her potential candidacy is notable for a few reasons: Sheffield, 36, is a young Black Detroiter with deep connections to communities, a record of advancing legislation aimed at supporting vulnerable residents and she represents a fast-changing district where tensions between developers and longtime residents are frequently exposed. 

If elected, Sheffield would be Detroit’s first woman mayor.

“She’s been clear that this is what she wants and you have to respect the fact that she has earned her place in this discussion,” said former state representative Adam Hollier, who Sheffield beat in 2014 to secure her first term on the City Council. “It makes sense for her to be the first one out, she was considering running for mayor last time and Mayor Duggan said he was going to run again. She’s said ‘judge me based on my record,’ and I think that’s what people should do.” 

Sheffield was the youngest council member in Detroit’s history when she took office in 2014 at the age of 26. She was chosen by her peers to lead as council president in 2022 after running unchallenged for a third term in District 5. Sheffield also comes from a family of politically-influential change-makers. Her father, the Rev. Horace L. Sheffield III, serves as executive director of Detroit Association of Black Organizations. 

Sam Riddle, a longtime political consultant in Detroit, said it’s far too early to forecast a 2025 race but voters could be receptive to putting a Black woman in the position after a decade of leadership under Duggan. 

Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield is photographed at an August 28, 2023, community event at Kadesh Baptist Church. (BridgeDetroit photo by Quinn Banks)

“I believe it is time for a Black woman to be the mayor of Detroit,” Riddle said. “Goodness knows enough men have served as mayor of Detroit and screwed it up.” 

The formation of a campaign committee in August is a legal step required for candidates to seek office, but Sheffield said it’s purely to explore the potential of running in 2025. Sheffield is sure to spend time meeting with community leaders and donors before making a formal announcement. 

She released a statement this week after the Detroit Free Press broke the news of her campaign committee, but declined to comment when BridgeDetroit talked with her a few hours later outside Duggan’s charter-mandated community meeting. 

“Over the last 10 years, I have devoted my life in service to the residents of Detroit,” Sheffield said in the statement. “While I have accomplished so much during my tenure on Council, I am constantly trying to find ways to do even more knowing the needs of Detroiters are still great.” 

While Sheffield has bonafides as a progressive voice on affordable housing and equitable development, it’s yet to be seen whether she has support of major donors and community leaders that can hold sway in Detroit elections. Any candidate also needs to get voters to the polls, a tall order in a city where turnout has lagged below 25% in mayoral contests since 2009 and hit a low point of 18% in 2021. 

“The streets of Detroit still are not voting,” Riddle said. “ I’m not convinced that Mary Sheffield has established a relationship with the real streets of Detroit. She has a relationship with street organizations that have benefited from the largesse of the Duggan administration, but I question whether she has a connection with the Detroit that does not vote — that you’ve got to get out to vote if a Black candidate is to win.” 

Sheffield brought on “national campaign expert” Nick Rathod, a Democratic political operative who served as former President Barack Obama’s liaison to the states and managed one-time presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke’s unsuccessful campaign for governor of Texas in 2022. Sheffield’s committee record keeper is listed as Peter Ballon of Wisconsin-based political policy firm Uprising Strategies.

Sheffield was not made available for an interview this week, though she spoke about her vision with the Detroit Metro Times, saying she’d put a priority on a “people-driven approach.” 

The phrase reflects a legislative agenda Sheffield announced in 2018 called the “People’s Bills,” which aimed to close racial wealth gaps in the city. Some of the items have been accomplished, including a parking fine discount, legislation to create more oversight of surveillance technology contracts and a trust fund for affordable housing developments. Sheffield has backed other initiatives to create a reparations task force, an industry standards board for arena workers, a new legal defense program for low-income renters, income-based water rates, and some relief for overtaxed homeowners.

Other issues remain, including reforming Detroit’s assessment process and community benefits ordinance, securing additional funding for the Right to Counsel legal aid program, strengthening requirements for city-funded construction projects to hire Detroiters or pay fines and changes to inclusionary housing amendments that require subsidized developments to set aside a portion of housing units for low-income residents.

“Nobody is perfect, but President Sheffield has been damn close,” said Theo Pride, an organizer with the nonprofit advocacy group Detroit People’s Platform. “She has distinguished herself as somebody who is determined to put legislation on the board that addresses the needs of working-class and low-income Black Detroiters.” 

Pride said Sheffield has been a skeptical voice on the council when developers have sought tax breaks and subsidies for their project. She was the lone “no” vote against a $615 million state brownfield plan for the District Detroit downtown real estate project, though she later supported $56.6 million in other tax breaks.

“It was inconsequential, quite honestly, it had no impact on the outcome,” Pride said. “It could be perceived as a lot of political theater, but if we are considering the political game, what Mary Sheffield is doing is signaling to community ‘I stand with you. I got you.’ Even though it didn’t change (the outcome), what it did was allow her to lean into her commitments to community.” 

The District Detroit vote carried weight for activist groups opposing what they view as taxpayer-funded handouts for wealthy developers, but Karen Dumas, a Detroit News columnist and former official in Mayor Dave Bing’s administration, said it’s unclear how the decision would play into a future campaign. 

“All votes from council are strategic,” Dumas said. “It’s something she’s going to put in her coffers to say ‘look I voted against it,’ when everybody knew all along it was going to pass. I don’t know how much water that’s going to carry for voters.” 

Brightmoor resident Louella Pizzuti said she appreciates Sheffield’s work to improve Detroit’s property assessment process, but she’s not tuned in to mayoral politics. 

“She’s been an advocate for our most vulnerable,” Pizzuti said. “But I don’t even know what we should look for in a mayor.” 

Candidates for 2025 unclear 

Ten candidates ran for mayor in the last go-around. The filing deadline for the 2025 elections is April 22, 2025, leaving plenty of time for other candidates to jump in the race. 

“What has appeared to be important to (Sheffield), as a council person, are the people in the neighborhoods who have often been overlooked or taken for granted,” Dumas said. “If she can effectively channel that energy into the polls, she may have a shot, but it’s also going to depend on who else throws their name in the ring and whether we end up splitting the vote as we often do in this city and state.” 

A handful of prominent names – including Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Detroit Public Schools Community District board member Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, Metro Detroit Black Business Alliance CEO Charity Dean, FOCUS Hope Executive Director Portia Roberson, Ignition Media Group CEO Dennis Archer Jr., and Rev. Solomon Kinloch – surfaced this week in conversations BridgeDetroit had with political observers about potential candidates. 

Duggan himself could also choose to run for re-election. A spokesman said Friday that Duggan will decide next year. Many Democrats expect he’s gearing up to take a shot at governor in 2026, though Duggan hasn’t committed to either office so far. 

Sherrod Brookns, who lives in District 3 on Detroit’s northeast side, said he voted for Duggan in 2021 and would likely do so again if he ran for re-election. Brookns said he’s unfamiliar with Sheffield’s record in office. 

“There’s been improvement as far as entrepreneurs getting funding, I think he’s been the best since Mayor Coleman Young as far as business support,” Brookns said. 

Sheffield’s City Council campaign committee had $123,000 in available funding as of July 20 and raised $15,000 since the start of the year. Recent donors include her father, business owners in District 5, community organizers and Political Action Committees tied to the Detroit Regional Chamber, Henry Ford Health and a Detroit police union. 

For comparison, Duggan’s campaign committee had $56,509 in cash on hand in July but he raised more than $2 million during the 2021 race. Duggan earned 69,329 votes when he was last re-elected. Sheffield’s City Council race was limited to residents living in District 5, and she earned 12,789 votes the same year while running unopposed. 

Riddle said fundraising fuels a campaign, but it’s not the deciding factor. 

“Turnout is the major issue,” Riddle said. “Will your dollars be spent in a manner that generates turnout, especially from majority-Black Detroit? It’s a huge challenge for those that would be mayor.” 

Pride said one thing is sure: The race will come during an inflection point in the city’s economic resurgence. 

“There’s some serious divides, you either love what the (Duggan) administration has done or you hate it,” Pride said. “Folks who love it are all in on the idea of this downtown live, work, play model. People either dig that vision and the type of growth of downtown and adjacent areas or you are a neighborhood person like myself that doesn’t go downtown often and you see neglect of the average neighborhood to the benefit of downtown development.” 

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  1. The question is not whether it is time for “a black woman” to be mayor of Detroit. The question is whether Detroit will support the community-minded work ethic and competence of Mary Sheffield over the externally controlled, dysfunctional traditional power broker system that has made Detroit a shambles for decades.

  2. We’ll see how it shakes out. Though if Duggan runs for reelection, I’m not confident that a challenger will have enough to win over residents and voters that have been impacted positively by his leadership. Further, any challenger would need to be able to build the connection that they won’t disrupt the city’s progress while establishing that they can address unmet needs.

    Things (cleanups, redevelopment , etc.) are also seemingly picking up the pace from my observations.

  3. Maybe I’m wrong, but as a 5th District constituent of Mary Sheffield, I’m not excited about the possibility of her running for the mayor’s seat–this because she and her staff seem to pay little attention to the nuts-and-bolts of improving the 5th District to be a worthwhile place to reside. Her office has not been responsive to me and has never followed-up with correspondence about problems or issues raised. Council member Sheffield seems to emphasize her media presence and promotes “30,000-foot” visionary issues/ideas rather than the on-the-ground, less-glamorous challenges of making the City work day-to-day. An effective mayor needs the “big” aspirational ideas as well as a detailed focus on service delivery day-to-day for the residents, business community and visitors Detroit needs desperately to flourish once again. Sheffield may lack the latter skill set.

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