Detroit's next city councilperson: know the candidates
Detroit's next city council person will be either a union activist, a guy with a spotty voting record, or a felon -- not all that different from previous council members, when you think about it.
But this crop of candidates stands out in other ways.
So here's a look at what they hope to do -- as well as a look at some things they wish they had never done.
Sigmunt J. Szczepkowski Jr.
If the name Sigmunt J. Szczepkowski Jr. sounds familiar, it should -- he runs for office almost as often as Detroiters run from pit bulls.
He says he wants to bring common sense to common council.
Szczepkowski also has a message for potential voters: "I want all my constituents that have felony records to know that you can vote."
He says this is an important issue because he is a felon.
About 20 years ago, Szczepkowski pleaded no contest to assault charges. He says the real bad guy was someone who broke into his home. Szczepkowski claims he was merely defending his domicile.
Szczepkowski wants to replace Janee Ayers, who the council selected in early 2015 to replace Saunteel Jenkins.
Ayers says she wants to work on spreading prosperity to Detroit's neighborhoods. She also wants to make Detroit safer, and help find jobs for Detroiters with criminal records. Ayers says she takes pride in her office returning calls within 24 hours -- unless, I've found, that call comes from a Detroiter who is also a reporter (ML)
Responsiveness is also an important issue for Eric Williams. Williams teaches law at Wayne State University. He says he wants to make government more transparent.
Williams believes there needs to be a better balance between the interests of residents and business owners. He says he will work to make sure that Detroit does not become what he calls an "urban center of inequality, catering to a few while the majority struggle to get by."
While Williams is hoping Detroiters will take the time to vote for him, he admits that he, himself, should have made more of an effort to get out to vote more often. We found that Williams failed to vote in six of the 10 elections held since he moved back to Michigan -- including the 2013 Detroit city primary election and general election -- which just happened to be the last time Detroiters got to vote for City Council.
David Alexander Bullock
David Alexander Bullock came close to winning a council seat in that 2013 election. And he's not about to give up now. If elected, he says he will work on improving communication between Detroiters and their elected officials. He says he will be more responsive to neighborhood concerns. And he will improve Detroiters' access to employment training and opportunities.
One opportunity Bullock hasn't taken full advantage of is the opportunity to vote. Bullock failed to vote in 20 of the 33 elections held since he registered to vote in Detroit in 2002. Some of those elections occurred at the same time Bullock was president of the Detroit branch of Operation Rainbow Push -- an organization that emphasizes voter registration.
And there's more: City voting records show that Bullock occasionally listed this church as his home. State law says you must register using your home address. Bullock says that was his home. He says he lived like a monk up on the third floor.
John W. Cromer
John W. Cromer has the kind of record most politicians would run away from -- but he's actually running on it. Cromer was a drug addict who shoplifted to support his habit. That put him behind bars for 13 years.
Helping ex-cons get work is one of his top issues. Cromer has been working for years to make city contractors stop asking job applicants if they have been convicted of a crime. He says: "If you're going to get city money, then you're going to help us with our city issues and one of those issues happens to be that a lot of our citizens are affected by having a criminal past." Cromer says his criminal past is an asset in this race, telling us: "A lot of people we put them in office and they go to jail. I've been there and done that." He claims to have helped more than 10,000 people find jobs with companies large and small.
But Cromer needs some help paying his income taxes. Michigan has filed three liens on unpaid taxes dating back to 2007. Uncle Sam wants to take the biggest bite, seeking more than $5,000 in unpaid 2005, 2006 and 2007 income taxes.
Cromer says his tax problems are just one more reason to vote for him.
"If I get this job," he told us, "I'll be able to pay them."
Detroiters will narrow the field to two candidates on Aug. 2. They'll pick a winner on Nov. 8. Because the winner only gets to finish a term that started nearly three years ago, whoever wins the race will be back before voters in a little over a year, facing a new batch of competitors.
And we'll be back, too, keeping an eye on them all.
Contact M.L. Elrick at 248-552-5261 or firstname.lastname@example.org