“This is a monumental City Council election.” –Christine Ferretti, The Detroit News
And it’s all happening amid concerns of corruption on city council. Two councilmembers — Gabe Leland and Andre Spivey — have resigned due to charges related to their positions on council. And as part of a probe into towing contracts in the city, the FBI recently raided the homes of councilmembers Janeé Ayers and Scott Benson, both of whom are running for reelection.
Listen: What to watch in 2021 Detroit City Council elections.
“There’s been a whole range of various malfeasance issues in city government that have been leading up to this next election,” says Eli Newman, a reporter for WDET who covers Detroit city government. But Newman notes that for the two incumbents who are caught up in the FBI’s probe, there’s little information as to what the investigation involves, their individual involvement in it, or the scope of the investigation.
“This idea that any kind of federal interference might disrupt these kinds of things — council members are able to do their work until they admit any kind of criminal culpability,” he says, noting that former Councilmember Leland continued to serve for two years in his role after being indicted.
Christine Ferretti covers Detroit City Hall for The Detroit News. She says this year’s council elections are some of the most important we’ve seen in years.
“This is a monumental City Council election,” says Ferretti. “For the first time since around bankruptcy, we’re seeing a guarantee of at least four new members.”
She says the FBI probe doesn’t necessarily spell doom for incumbents such as Ayers, who is likely facing a close race against former state Sen. Coleman Young II.
“We’ve seen things like this throughout the decades in Detroit. And I think people either aren’t engaged enough or they feel they’re going to wait and see,” she says.
Sheila Cockrel is CEO of the voter education group CitizenDetroit and a former member of Detroit City Council. She says she’s concerned that the FBI’s probe could influence voters’ behavior and choices leading up to the election, which she says is a problem considering the lack of information on what their involvement might actually be. She’s most concerned it might have the effect of causing Detroiters not to vote at all in those races.
“My biggest concern right now is that I was very surprised that the federal government did these raids so close to the election cycle,” says Cockrel, who says it’s critical that voters participate in local races like this. “That decision is just as important as voting for president, in my opinion.”