A few weeks ago, we asked for your nominations for metro Detroit's worst politicians. We took your suggestions, tossed our own ideas around, and came up with this list of our region's worst political dreck. The decision-making process didn't take into account policy only because good people can disagree on matters of policy. Rather we tried to identify those elected officials who have proven themselves to be dishonest, ignorant, cowardly, allegedly corrupt, two-faced, or just plain embarrassing.
1. Troy Mayor Janice Daniels
Daniels, like many conservative politicians, opposes gay marriage. Fair enough. We can even give her a pass for calling gays “queers” on Facebook, an incident that took place before she was elected. The problem with Daniels is everything else.
Earlier this year, she picked an unseemly public fight with longtime Troy City Manager John Szerlag that led fellow Republican Brooks Patterson to publicly rebuke Daniels and defend the widely respected Szerlag. He later left Troy for a job in Florida. Daniels also tried to pass off medically incorrect misinformation about the supposed dangers of “the homosexual lifestyle” to high school students. When she was called on it, she doubled down on her specious claims. Last month, she confused a long-standing Troy civic organization with the “Democrat Party” while presenting a commendation to a local resident—even though the proclamation she was reading from listed the civic organization.
Daniels tops this list because Troy’s part-time mayor is basically empowered to preside over the City Council, yet she’s managed to turn this modest role into a platform to make Troy a national laughingstock. The good news is Daniels' reign as metro Detroit's worst politician may not last much longer. She faces a recall on tomorrow's ballot.
2. Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano
You probably thought the Wayne County executive was going to be our worst local politician, didn’t you? It would’ve been a good guess, but Ficano falls just short of the top prize. The thing about Ficano is, for all the controversy swirling around Wayne County, very little seems to tie directly to Ficano. That’s not meant to be a compliment. So many people around Ficano seem dirty in some way that Team Ficano looks like the Nixon Administration circa 1973. Even if we learn Bob Ficano is personally pure as the driven snow—nobody is that clean—it’s hard to ignore how he let the likes of Turkia Mullin and Azzam Elder, among others, drain the county coffers on his watch.
3. Detroit City Councilpersons Joann Watson, Kwame Kenyatta, Brenda Jones
These three city councilpersons, along with Andre Spivey, opposed the city’s consent agreement with the State of Michigan. As is their right. But unlike Spivey and the rest of council, Watson (pictured), Kenyatta, and Jones have made it a point to skip Council sessions dealing with the now-approved consent agreement that governs the city’s finances. Voting one’s conscience should always be respected. Not showing up for work is a different story.
4. U.S. Representative John Conyers
John Conyers is a legend, a lion of the House, and blah, blah, blah. He’s also a very old man who looks like Johnny Unitas in a Chargers uniform—well past his prime. The bigger problem: Conyers’ wife, Monica, is in jail for public corruption. He has refused to speak about that topic. His silence has left his constituents without straight answers to valid questions like: Did John Conyers know his wife had city contractors paying their children’s Cranbrook tuition? Did the financial relationship between Monica and Jim Papas influence his decision to break with his fellow Michigan Democratic Congressman John Dingell and support Papas’ deep-injection well in Romulus? Can John Conyers explain why, when Monica was clearly a mentally unstable grafter, he told voters in 2005 they needed “to put Monica work for Detroit.”? John Conyers: The cowardly lion of the House.
5. Warren Mayor Jim Fouts
When any administration finds its appointees are under federal investigation, the top man should make this list by default. With Fouts, there’s also weird persona (did you see his Clinton impression on Colbert?) and his dictatorial instincts. Fouts complains about FOIA as though transparent government is an unnecessary burden on public officials. Rather than pushing a common-sense anti-smoking ordinance through City Council, he unilaterally tried to ban smoking within 100 feet of public buildings. A judge told him it was unenforceable. Then he threw a temper tantrum. There are these things called the rule of law and legislative process. Public officials who don’t understand them or refuse to respect them are ipso facto terrible.
6. Thad McCotter’s empty chair
Oh, Thad McCotter. Between his campaign’s petition fraud and the sudden resignation from Congress, Thad should be a shoe-in to make this list. However, he’s no longer an elected official and therefore not eligible. His now-empty chair in Washington is another story. McCotter’s district has been without representation for months. Granted, Congress has been in recess for much of that time, but emergencies happen. You may remember 9/11 and the financial collapse that sent Congress back to Washington during the ’08 election season. If something like that had happened again this fall, the voters in Michigan’s 11th District would be without a voice in Washington.
Tomorrow’s election likely will be insufficient remedy. Republican candidate Kerry Bentivolio, if you believe his brother and his teaching record, may be mentally unhinged. Democratic candidate Syed Taj is likely a preferable neighbor than ol’ Krazy Kerry. Politically, he’s not exactly in sync with this conservative district carefully drawn by the highest constitutional standards to be a safe Republican seat.
7. Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh
This guy. Charles Pugh could give an aspirin a headache. Pugh voted for the consent agreement, then he decided the Corporation Counsel should challenge its legitimacy in court. Pugh said he’d consider supporting a plan to make Belle Isle into a state park, if the city could opt-out of the deal after ten years instead of the proposed 30-year lease. The lease’s proposed length wasn’t arbitrary. It was tied to the length of a state bond issue that would have funded the island park’s improvement. Politicians sometimes miss the details. Pugh didn’t grasp the executive summary. He’s also endlessly hyped his weight loss effort, in what can only be described as an attempt to become the next Peter Nielsen. There is no creature more insufferable than someone trying to build their “personal brand,” especially when we’re paying their salary.
8. The Rev. Reverend David Murray, Detroit School Board Member
Let’s brainstorm some reasons why a person might be unfit to serve on a school board. How about if a judge stripped them of custody rights of their children? That person probably doesn’t belong on a school board, right? Meet the Rev. Reverend David Murray of the Detroit Board of Education! Murray has a small COGIC congregation and also legally changed his name to Reverend. He was forced to give up custody of his then-13-year-old adopted daughter in 2009. Murray was accused of, among other things, denying his kids food. How does Murray respond to such allegations? Here’s what he told WDET's Craig Fahle: “If children, particularly children you did not birth, if they become inadequate in terms of their own behavior and ability to have structure or accept structure then the best thing to do is to let them go.”
Lest you think Murray is an uncaring monster: “If it was my birth children I may have put up a bigger fight.” Of course you would, Rev. Reverend. Of course you would.
Honorable Mention: Speaker of the House Jase Bolger
Bolger’s inclusion on this list was a source of much discussion inside Deadline Detroit’s global compound. On one hand, he’s from Marshall. That’s not metro Detroit. On the other hand, like Rick Snyder and Debbie Stabenow, he’s a statewide official and represents all Michiganders. Our state representatives elected Bolger to lead them, so we indirectly elected Bolger. And he embarrassed the entire state with his unethical attempt to juke a Grand Rapids state representative election earlier this year. Bolger recruited Democratic state Rep. Roy Schmidt to switch parties. Switching parties is ok, but Bolger had Schmidt wait until the filing deadline to announce the switch and encouraged Schmidt to recruit a straw man opponent to run as a Democrat. What do you call a person who thinks such a stunt is a good idea for democracy? A dirtbag, regardless of where he may lay his head.