Who Will Rep the Heart of Detroit in the Michigan House?

State House District 4 includes Hamtramck and the heart of Detroit.

As Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press recently noted, primary election races don’t get nearly the attention they deserve. Detroit would probably vote for anyone over a  Republican candidate, so the August 2 primary races are critically important to determine who represents us in the Michigan Legislature.

With that in mind, Detroit Democrat introduces our first-ever candidate questionnaire for the woman and men running to represent District 4, the heart of Detroit (plus Hamtramck!) in the Michigan House of Representatives. Why District 4? Well, it’s where this writer happens to live, and I figured that I, at least, should try to make an informed decision.

The candidate questionnaire included ten questions addressing issues of concern to the district, including public subsidies for billionaires, the dismantling of democracy, and how we might possibly do something about this unfortunate state of affairs. To find out how candidates weighed in on these issues – and what their favorite local restaurants are – read on.There are 7 candidates running in the Democratic primary for House District 4, and candidate questionnaires were e-mailed in early June to the five candidates for whom we could locate a valid e-mail address. Two candidates – Osborne community development leader Quincy Jones and Hamtramck councilman Mohammed Hassan – gave no response after repeated attempts at contact. Responses from the three candidates remaining – Wayne State PhD student Charles Bell (CB), incumbent Rose Mary Robinson (RMR), and DPS teacher Tracy Russell (TR) – are reproduced below.

From left: Charles Bell, Rose Mary Robinson, and Tracy Russell.

It’s interesting to note that Bell is a PhD student in sociology at Wayne State University, while Russell is a DPS teacher, and incumbent Rose Mary Robinson is known by some colleagues as “the Professor” for her insistence on reading all legislation that comes before her.

Academic inclinations aren’t the only thing the three share, however. Despite their varied backgrounds, all three are strong progressives. It is, indeed, their selection of local eateries where they show the greatest diversity of responses.

  1. Why did you decide to run for office? What’s a concrete experience you had that led you to that decision?

CB: I decided to run for office because I felt my community was being neglected by policymakers. I believe it is important for the voices of marginalized populations to be represented when policy decisions are made. Given my background as a social inequality researcher and my personal experience navigating the social problems in our community, I believe I am the best candidate to move House District 4 in the right direction.

RMR:  In 1970, I was elected the first woman to the Wayne County Commission.  Katherine Shavers and I were elected at the same time. I ran to stand up against corruption. 46 years later there is still corruption and the system is rigged by Super PAC money and lobbyists.

TR: I was compelled to stand up for the students and families I serve as a DPS teacher given the crisis in public education  I was one of the 23 defendants the school district sought to enjoin for speaking out about the deplorable conditions for students and teachers.  Further, the legacies of the following icons, Coleman Young, Richard Austin, and Charles Wright, resonate with me to fulfill my ambition to be a public servant.

  1. How do you assess Mike Duggan’s first two and a half years as Mayor of Detroit?

CB: Mayor Duggan has done a good job initiating conversations around critical social issues such as auto insurance and blight. However, I would like to see our Mayor adopt a more vocal and inclusive approach to moving Detroit forward. While the focus on Detroit’s revitalization is undoubtedly situated in Downtown Detroit, I believe the Mayor must do a better job at shaping Detroit’s comeback as a social phenomenon that will improve the lives of every Detroiter. Currently, there are many Detroiters who believe the Mayor does not care about issues of crime and poverty in the neighborhoods. Mayor Duggan must work to address the concerns of Detroiters from all backgrounds, not only those in Downtown Detroit.

RMR:  We have seen an improvement in the delivery of city services.  I would like Mayor Duggan to increase his focus on investing in the neighborhoods.  There seems to be an over concentration of resources in certain areas. By working together, more progress will be made.

TR: I am not impressed with Mike Duggan. When I reflect on comments of the previous mayors, Cockrel and Bing, on numerous occasions they stated they were not afforded the resources Duggan has been privileged to, so I see a lot of smoke and bubbles. Since Mike Duggan brands himself as a “turnaround” specialist, I worry about the strides being made being sustainable post-Duggan era. I know when a political machine is amassing strength, alternative voices are stymied.

  1. How do you assess Rick Snyder’s tenure as Governor of Michigan?

CB: Rick Snyder has done a terrible job as Governor of Michigan. In Rick Snyder’s tenure, he has cut several tax credits for low income residents, passed horrific “Right to Work” legislation, and played a critical role in the ongoing water catastrophe in Flint, MI. I believe Rick Snyder should face criminal charges due to the complete neglect of duty in regards to Flint residents, and he may be the worst Governor in Michigan’s history. I can only think of one other Governor who has created long-lasting devastation in our state on a similar scale as that of Rick Snyder. [Editor’s note: Governor John Engler.]

RMR: Rick Snyder does not address the needs of District 4 residents.   He has been a complete failure.

TR: Rick Snyder is a disgrace to democracy. His “extreme wing” politics support the worst attributes in people. When I pledge allegiance to the flag our greatness is summoned as Americans.  The time has passed when people suffer indignation after indignation on his watch.

  1. What do you think, in retrospect, of the Detroit bankruptcy process, and what is your stance on the state’s emergency manager law?

CB: I believe it is terrible that Detroit was allowed to decline to the point where it needed to declare bankruptcy and is clear that we need new leadership to make sure it never happens again. I also believe unfair revenue sharing agreements contributed to Detroit’s bankruptcy and Detroit retirees were exploited. Their pensions were protected by Michigan’s Constitution and no one should have ever touched them…The Emergency Manager law is very problematic in that it overrides the voice of the citizens in every municipality. In a democracy, no law should override the voice of the people.

RMR: I will not be satisfied until the fiscal adviser and financial review commission are gone.   Detroit should be governed by its elected officials and not financial institutions.  I oppose emergency management.

TR: I lamented a lengthy period of time for the city and its residents to receive the distinction of the only municipality to file for bankruptcy.  I lamented for the pensioners who suffered the most. The Emergency Manager law is an affront to democracy.

  1. Had you been in the Legislature at the time, would you have voted for the legislative package that enabled construction of the new Detroit Red Wings arena, funded primarily by taxpayers? Why or why not?

CB: No I would not have voted for the new Detroit Red Wings arena if I were in the legislature. In my response to question 4, I mentioned there were several “schemes and deceptions in play” and the use of money in the school aid fund to pay for the Red Wings arena is one of the most blatant examples. Detroiters deserve the best education and we have more urgent social problems to address, therefore a new Red Wings arena should not be a priority on the list. I believe the fact that the Red Wings Arena took priority over K-12 education in Detroit, should open many eyes to the need for new leadership in our legislature.

RMR: I would have voted no. I requested an advisory opinion from the Attorney General questioning the misuse of school aid funds for the arena.

TR: No, I would have voted differently. Billionaires can pay for their arenas.

  1. Do you support the Coalition for Detroit Schoolchildren’s set of proposals for education in Detroit? Why or why not?

CB: I believe the state should assume the debt it created while providing oversight to Detroit Public Schools. I also believe the district should have a clear transition from emergency management to local control. While I believe there needs to be a regulatory body in place to manage the opening and closing of schools (i.e. public and charter), I am not a firm believer in the Detroit Education Commission. I think it is important to consider all the alternatives before adding more bureaucracy to our education system because while entities are designed with the intent of being non-partisan, they often become another arm of a political party.

RMR: I believe in a democratically elected board. The Coalition includes a number of contractors.  I support the views of local taxpayers.

TR: Yes, the coalition is engaging the community. However, more of the community needs to be involved.

  1. What do you think of the Regional Transit Authority’s proposed regional transit plan? How about the state’s proposed widening of I-94 through District 4?

CB: I believe the Regional Transit Authority has proposed a viable plan to improve transit in the Detroit area. I believe widening I-94 by eliminating the grass slopes will improve transit and it will not result in the destruction of housing in the immediate vicinity. Detroit has been plagued with transit problems for several decades and I applaud the Regional Transit Authority’s effort to present reasonable solutions to this problem.

RMR: There is definitely a need for a regional transit system to get people to work, places of worship, recreation and for their healthcare needs.    But the present plan does not adequately address Detroit’s needs.

TR: I am researching the proposed ideas and will comment later.

  1. If you could get one thing done in the Legislature next year, what would it be and why?

CB: I would like to ban the use of zero tolerance policies in our education and legal system. Research shows in Michigan approximately 20,000 students drop out of school every year and the primary predictor for school dropout is school suspension. Additionally, research shows if those 20,000 students graduated high school and earned the average wage for a high school graduate, Michigan would see a significant revenue increase. We are losing revenue by investing in a system that harms our children. Lastly, state budget records show Michigan spends more money on incarceration than higher education. Counter-productive policies of this nature must be addressed in order for us to invest in areas that will advance our state.

RMR:  I have many ongoing legislative pursuits:  environmental justice; protecting school aid funds; increasing food stamps; presumptive parole; release of the aged and infirm from prison; expansion of FOIA; and the limiting of government powers on forfeiture.   I also have many other civil liberty issues I am working on.  It is important to protect our Constitution.  I have about 20 issues I could mention.

TR: I will defend public education.

  1. Michigan’s Democrats have lost control of both houses in the Legislature as well as the Governorship. What do you think Democrats need to do to rebuild the party?

CB: I think Democrats need to talk to the people in our state. While technology has given us numerous mechanisms to reach people, research shows the most effective communication is face to face. Democrats need to talk to the residents and gain a holistic understanding of the difficulties Michiganders face. For example, when we discuss the academic performance of our children many policymakers ignore the social factors that shape a child’s perception of education. It is difficult for our young people to believe education will lead to promising opportunities when they see violence, rampant unemployment, burned homes, and classrooms that lack the proper materials. By understanding the challenges families endure in our state, Democrats will be in a better position to fight for the changes that will move our communities forward.

RMR: Perhaps they should communicate more with constituents and spend less time seeking donations from lobbyists.

TR: The Democratic Party has capitulated to the right too often and lost touch with its base. The solution is progressive change whereby the party attracts the best and brightest people.

  1. What’s your favorite place to grab a bite to eat in District 4?

CB: My favorite place to eat in District 4 is Royal Kabob restaurant. The food is great and the service is excellent!

RMR: In response to question 10, I would say Krakus, a Polish American restaurant in Detroit.  But there are numerous honorable mentions including Honest John’s, the Turkey Grill, and the Circa Saloon.

TR: My favorite eatery on any given night is the food bar at Whole Foods and Bucharest.

The Choice

While they offer varying responses on eateries, the political leanings of all three of these candidates are clearly more similar than different. (You can also peruse the websites of Bell, Robinson and Russell for more information.) All three are believers in small-d democratic values, and decisions on which one to support will need to depend more on whether one prefers a veteran lawmaker like Robinson or a fresh voice like Bell or Russell.

Whatever the outcome, we thank each candidate for running in the primary and allowing us to exercise our democratic prerogative. Don’t forget to vote this Tuesday, August 2! Polls are open 7 am – 8 pm, and you can find your polling location at this link.

2 thoughts on “Who Will Rep the Heart of Detroit in the Michigan House?”

  1. I am interested in a candidate who will address the structural deficiencies in the way the state funds municipalities, as well as the insurance redlining.


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