Detroit City Council Candidate Guide: Six hope to replace a felon in District 7

June 29, 2021, 10:32 PM by  Violet Ikonomova

Clockwise from upper left: Fred Durhal III, Regina Ross, John Bennett, Angy Webb, William Davis, Joanna Underwood.

Updated Oct. 12:

Fred Durhal III and Regina Ross won the primary election and will be the only candidates on the ballot in the Nov. 2 general.

Original post June 29:

Voters this fall will have a rare chance to tip the balance of power on Detroit City Council, with four of nine seats up for grabs on a body that typically votes with Mayor Mike Duggan.

Nearly two dozen council candidates will appear on the primary and November ballots. Primaries will be held in Districts 1, 4, 7 and for two at-large, or citywide, seats. There will be no primary in Districts 2 and 6, where the two candidates in each race will automatically advance to the November ballot. District 5 Councilmember Mary Sheffield and District 3 Councilmember Scott Benson are meanwhile running for re-election unopposed.

The departing councilmembers are Council President Brenda Jones, who holds one of two at-large seats; Raquel Castañeda-López, of District 6; and Andre Spivey, of District 4. Gabe Leland, of District 7, recently resigned before pleading guilty to a felony.

Over the coming weeks, we'll be rolling out survey responses from council hopefuls in races with an Aug. 3 primary. The following are responses from the six candidates on the ballot in District 7.

You can learn more about the at-large candidates here.

John Bennett 

John Bennett: "What about us?"

1) Tell us a little about yourself:

I was born in Detroit raised in what is now the 7th District. My family moved on Appoline street in 1969. As an adult I settled in District 7 where I purchased my home on Cheyenne street 21 years ago. I've only ever run for city council in Detroit. First 2009 and then again in 2013 when I lost to the now former City Councilman Gabe Leland by 50 votes. After that I wasn't sure I wanted to be involved in politics anymore but I kept getting asked by everyday Detroiters, neighbors and friends what I was going to do and why wasn't I running anymore. It was those people who led me to this point. They want clean, honest, trustworthy government.

As for my District, my neighbors want safe, quiet streets. So the police have to show when called. The drag racing must be stopped. Blighted buildings must come down and most important to my neighbors is stopping the growth of the junked car lots. Currently there are more than 40. We feel neglected in District 7 which is why I coined the phrase “WHAT ABOUT US.” We want the people downtown to understand there aren't six districts, there are seven. We maybe the last in numbers but by no means should we be the last in recognition and resources.

(In addition to what's contained here you will find more on my website: www.electjohnbennett.com.)

2) What do you see as the primary issues holding back Detroit?

The primary issue holding back Detroit is lack of accountability. There is no accountability from government or its partners. If we have that and people are acting accordingly and ethically in their assigned roles we could avoid many of the problems we have and deliver quality services to the people.

3) What steps will you take to address those?

If I'm elected I intend to hold everyone at every level of government accountable and use the power I have as a city council person and my office to obtain the right action as opposed to wrong behavior.

4) Why should voters elect you over your opponents?

I think I'm the best candidate for the job. I have the experience of having worked in city government for 20 years (as a Detroit police officer) and most importantly I'm not looking for a job. The majority of the people I'm running against have had their names on ballots several times for numerous positions. That could lead one to question their level of commitment. I've ever only sought the office of city council and that's because I'm singularly focused on the people of Detroit and the residents in the 7th District.

5) Are there any council decisions with which you've disagreed since 2014? What are those?

I'm sure there are numerous council decisions I could take issue with but I will give them the benefit of doubt in that they were privy to more direct information that I didn't have. In general, anytime you're voting against the interest of the people and not protecting city workers, I'm concerned.

6) Are there any mayoral agenda items with which you've disagreed since 2014? What are those?

It goes without saying that I've often disagreed with Mayor Duggan in how he goes about his job. I'm often not sure whose best interest he holds. However, given the fact that I may have to work with him, I will keep an open mind and have an open door in order to best serve my constituents. I think they would want me to do so. We are all accountable to the residents of this city. Sometimes I think that gets lost.

As an elected official I want Detroiters to feel like my word means something. We must honor our promises as a city to our city workers and city residents. It will be my duty to hold people accountable and I want the residents to hold me accountable as well.

William Davis 

William Davis: "The Land Bank should have to adhere to the same building codes as our residents."

1) Tell us a little about yourself:

I started my career of 34 years at the city of Detroit Waste Water Treatment Plant as helper and advance to the shift manager. I served as chief union steward for AFSCME Local 207, helped organize the UAW WWTP supervisor union, where I also served as first chief union steward. After retiring, I became president of the newly formed Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association to challenge the City of Detroit's bankruptcy declaration, Detroit Chapter president of the National Action Network, and was elected Detroit District 7 police commissioner, where I serve as chairperson for the budget subcommittee.                  

2) What do you see as the primary issues holding back Detroit?

● Neighborhood blight/Detroit Land Bank
● Lack of resources for District 7 (we need recreation centers, parks, community police centers, broadband internet, and more libraries)
Police reform/crime prevention/better police response times, economic opportunities for Detroiters, Detroit bankruptcy/PA 436 (Michigan’s emergency manager law)
● Generation of additional revenue sources to ensure fiscal sustainability.                                                         

3) What steps will you take to address those?

The steps I will take will be to form a working alliance with a majority of city council members to push for better control of the Detroit Land Bank and to downsize the Land Bank, which should have to adhere to the same building codes as our residents. By downsizing, we create more economic opportunities and less blight (by freeing up homes for Detroiters). Detroit should be doing more to help Detroiters move up the middle class.

4) Why should voters elect you over your opponents?
I have more overall government and community service experience. My first elected position 40 years ago was on the University City A Citizens District Council, where I served as co-chair. I have been with the Barton-McFarlane Neighborhood association for five years, elected Detroit Precinct Delegate #410 for five years, and as District 7’s elected police Commissioner, I have been to more community meetings than anyone running.

5 & 6) Are there any council and/or mayoral decisions with which you've disagreed since 2014? What are those?Yes, many. Here are a few: Not challenging the emergency manager more on Belle Isle park, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Detroit Water and Sewage Department. A failure to create a true water affordability plan. The same for the mayor, who I also believe did a poor job with paperwork and recordkeeping for federal funds.

Fred Durhal, III. 

Fred Durhal III: "I disagree with the lack of funding and resources that have been deployed within the city budget for District 7."

1) Tell us a little about yourself:

I am a proud Detroiter. In my tenure as the former State Representative for Michigan’s 5th House District, I served as the Assistant Democratic Leader of the House and the ranking Democrat over the House Appropriations Committee. I currently serve our state as the community liaison for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). I am also a dues paying UAW Member and member of multiple community organizations.

2) What do you see as the primary issues holding back Detroit?

● The stabilization of its neighborhoods and challenges with blight and illegal dumping.
● Public safety, health, recreational access, and community accessibility to retail.
● Fair and affordable housing, property tax and assessment of antiquated property taxes.
● Jobs, economic development, and small business growth.
● Generation of additional revenue sources to ensure fiscal sustainability.

3) What steps will you take to address those?

● To stabilize neighborhoods, the demolition of abandoned residential and commercial building structures must be funded adequately and accelerated in the areas that are of most need. The steps that I would take to ensure that this issue is addressed is to work with the Detroit Demolition Department to assess the properties that have been on the demolition list for the longest time, and prioritize demolition or rehab if possible depending on structural stability.
● To address the issues of public safety, we must improve police response time by working to hire more officers and increase their pay within the city budget commensurate to other cities and municipalities. Additionally, create programs that promote implicit bias training, sensitivity training, and strengthen police and community relations.
● District 7 lacks a dedicated facility to enhance health, social and total body wellness for its residents. As the next City Councilman for District 7, my goal is to facilitate building a facility for the constituents in this community from funding within the city budget and the building of philanthropic partnerships with organizations.
● Work with federal, county, and state housing agencies to educate the community and deploy the available resources to create affordable homeownership, responsible mortgages, and eviction prevention for low-income families. Also, promoting priority access to Land Bank-owned properties to legacy Detroiters.
● Work to create more job opportunities for city residents. Ensure job opportunities for workers. Work to protect union worker’s rights under new and existing contractual agreements within the city government. Work to hire more union workers where feasible as it relates to city contracting. Promote skill trades, vocational programs, and youth development by building partnerships with unions, businesses, and community organization by creating funding sources for programming. Finally, encouraging entrepreneurship programs and funding them within the city budget.
● Working to create an environment that will be conducive to attracting new businesses to come to Detroit and create a larger tax base to generate revenue. Additionally, ensuring that our spending is fiscally responsible and does not violate Detroit’s Plan of Adjustment.

4) Why should people elect you over your opponents?

Experience. As a former State Representative I had the opportunity to serve on key committees in our State. As the ranking Democrat over the House Appropriations committee, I worked on a $56 billion budget that funded key programs and priorities that delivered over $1 billion of resources for the citizens of the City of Detroit. Additionally, serving in legislative leadership, I am the proud sponsor of Public Act 111 of 2016, over 20 pieces of legislation, and the co-sponsor of many public acts. As a member of the Detroit City Council, I will utilize my legislative and budgetary experience to improve the lives of the residents of my district and the entire city.

5) Are there any council decisions with which you've disagreed since 2014? What are those?

While I am appreciative, agree, and commend much of the hard work and decisions that our Council has made, I disagree with the lack of funding and resources that have been deployed within the city budget for District 7.

The lack of resources mentioned includes but are not limited to: A focused and concerted effort to prioritize funding for the demolition and rehabilitation of structures within District 7, as it is one of the hardest hit districts; limited funding for parks and the building of a recreational center within the District; limited funding and deployment of speed bumps within the neighborhoods of District 7; limited revitalization and development of commercial and retail corridors within District 7.

6) Are there any mayoral agenda items with which you've disagreed since 2014? What are those?

While there are many mayoral agenda items that I agree have improved our city, I have historically disagreed with the mayoral agenda and support of the D-Insurance Plan that advocated to change Michigan’s No-Fault Insurance Policy. While I believe the mayor and I shared a common interest in ensuring that Detroiters receive fair and affordable car insurance rate relief, we disagreed on the method in which it could have been achieved.

Regina Ross 

Regina Ross: "Taxes and city service fees are increasing and services are decreasing."

1) Tell us a little about yourself:

Regina Ross was elected to District 7's Community Advisory Council, where she serves as president. In this role, she is focused on assisting residents in District 7 with questions and solving problems.

Ross serves Detroit’s youth as a certified teacher, developing great minds, positive dispositions, and academic achievement. She has been named Teacher of the Year on 3 occasions. As the president of the BCP (Beaverland, Constance and Parkland) Block Club, she is assisting neighbors with community needs. 

Ross is dedicated to families, community, and educational services. Being recognized for her extraordinary community work, Oprah Winfrey honored her with a two-week vacation in Australia. Her community work started with the group Building Bridges in Detroit and continues with Keri’s Korner Community Group, where she is director. She is also a program director and coordinator at Wayne State University and Detroit public schools.

Currently, Ross serves as a precinct delegate, Statutory Executive Board Member of the 13th Congressional District, and statewide representative of the Progressive Caucus for the 13th District.

2) What do you see as the primary issues holding back Detroit?

Our city's poverty level, which is between 35% and 40% according to the 2019 Census. Underemployment and unemployment, a lack of health benefits, decent affordable housing, clean water, wages and police mistrust, among other issues. 

3) What steps will you take to address those?

For poverty, underemployment, and unemployment, I have and will be creating more partnerships for training and job creation. For affordable housing, water, and wages, I will have an advisory committee. With police mistrust, I recommend a better system of operation, to provide our city with better policing and safer communities. These can be obtained through improving accountability and transparency. Police violence, (some) Detroit police officers are not able to legally testify, deemed to be uncredible.

I will be involved with committees and department staff wanting to reverse and improve accountability, transparency, and restoring integrity in our police department. My input includes providing training such as racial bias, documentation of data, including legal knowledge training. Other changes can include the set up of Civilian Complaint Review Boards, recruiting an increasing more professional workforce, revealing activity with broader adoption of body-worn cameras, and of course, constraints, and shootings.

4) Why should people elect you over your opponents?

I will represent the people of our city; I will make correct and fair decisions for the people. I will be a voice for them. I bring skills such as negotiation, budgeting, management, program director and coordinating skills. As a union representative of 15 years, I have obtained negotiation and budgeting analysis skills as well as leadership skills.

5) Are there any council decisions with which you've disagreed since 2014? What are those?

I disagreed with the City Council's decision to allow Gabe Leland to vote on items that have and will affect the citizens of Detroit after he was indicted. City Council did not speak up about property overtaxation, water shut offs, water price increases. The council did not implement impact fees effectively for the Red Wings and Pistons Community Benefits Agreements, and other business negotiations.  

6) Are there any mayoral agenda items with which you've disagreed since 2014? What are those?

I disagree with the mayoral agenda that does not protect citizens and taxpayers. Our taxes and city service fees are increasing and services are decreasing. Many residents need to be employed with living wages. The issues I disagree with of city council is the same for the mayoral agenda.

Joanna Underwood 

Joanna Underwood: "The primary issue holding back Detroit is racism."

1) Tell us a little about yourself:

Joanna Underwood currently serves on the Detroit Charter Commission and is the chair of its Economic Growth and Development Committee. She is the founder of the Detroit Black Women’s Council, a lifelong Detroiter, community activist and organizer. A proud mom to 11-year-old Anthony, Joanna is a Certified Nursing Assistant and has been on the Covid-19 frontlines throughout the pandemic.

2) What do you see as the primary issues holding back Detroit?

The primary issue holding back Detroit is racism. With 80% of the City’s population being African American, this permeates throughout city politics, economic disadvantages, public education, and disproportionate sentencing, which all prevent generational wealth accumulation in the Black community. Over the past two years, it has come to light that Detroit homeowners across the city have been over-assessed of property taxes by over $600 million. Some families lost their homes due to this practice, causing an increase in homelessness and displacement of residents. Since 2014, there have been over 100,000 residents with water shutoffs including during the most recent pandemic of Covid-19, but also has affected Hepatitis rates and breakouts across the county.

3) What steps will you take to address those?

I have already taken steps as a charter commissioner to address some of these issues by making revisions to the Charter that will directly benefit Detroiters with a Homeowner Relief Program that will address the issue of over-taxation of property taxes, and a Water Affordability Program that creates a pathway to eliminating past-due water bills to help with reconnection.  As a City Council member, I plan to renegotiate the contract with Great Lakes Water Authority, do a city audit on the Detroit Assessors Department, and increase the budget line for local neighborhood improvements.

4) Why should people elect you over your opponents?

I have a proven track record as an activist and elected official in a fight for the people and producing real policy results. I have fought against illegal dumping and have successfully participated in and advocated for over 20 cleanups of illegal dumping sites. My passion and drive for community service and the people of Detroit are unmatched.

5) Are there any council decisions with which you've disagreed since 2014? What are those?

There are too many to explain, however, the Community Benefits Agreement Ordinance of 2017 is disastrous for Detroiters (Editor’s note: an alternative, grass roots version of the proposal Underwood supported was defeated at the ballot) by stealing money from Detroit Public Schools and giving funds to corporate stadiums over children’s education, and adding an unnecessary drainage fee to all Detroit water bills. The ordinance that requires landlords to register their properties and bring them up to compliance does not include enough enforcement against slumlords and (results in them raising rents to unaffordable levels). The City Council over the years has consistently voted against residents in favor of big corporations getting tax breaks, monetary funding, and choice city contracts.

6) Are there any mayoral agenda items with which you've disagreed since 2014? What are those?

The Chrysler (Stellantis) deal created displacement of local residents and resulted in millions of dollars worth of blight tickets removed from slumlords that own property in the area. Mike Duggan’s failed demolition program diverted federal money from the Hardest Hit Fund that was sent to save homes, but instead went to select demolition companies instead of saving the homes of thousands of homeowners in desperate need. To top this off, the mayor said he was going to tear down 40,000 homes by 2017, but only did 20,000 homes resulting in another blight bond for $250 million that will cost taxpayers an additional $240 million in interest and fees while allowing for the creation of more blight.

Angy Webb

Angy Webb: "I am faithful to my community."

1) Tell us a little about yourself:

My work experience was 10 years at the American Lung Association as a Tobacco Prevention Specialist. I worked on smoke-free initiatives that stopped smoking in the workplace. I volunteered for five years with the Detroit People's Platform, planning for a Community Benefits Ordinance to be brought to the ballot. I am also the founder of Joy Community Association and REVIVE Detroit.

2) What do you see as the primary issues holding back Detroit?

Education is key for progress, so our children must be planning to prepare for careers, and adults without skills should be educated too.

I am also concerned about TIF money that belongs in our libraries and educational institutions going out to development and other unintended sources.

I also want to create a policy to protect future city worker pensions.

3) What steps will you take to address those?

To protect education we must protect education funds and programs like college courses while in high school. TIF funding must be protected to be designated to educate our youth and adults. Pensions should be money protected legally -- not to be used, but given only to workers that earned it.

4) Why should people elect you over your opponents?

People who know me know I am faithful to my community. I am an advocate for the people, and I go above and beyond the call to see change happen.

5 & 6) Are there any council and/or mayoral decisions with which you've disagreed since 2014? What are those? Are there any mayoral agenda items with which you've disagreed since 2014? What are those?

I did not agree with the initial opposition of the Community Benefits Ordinance by many council members. I also feel that the water situation has become a big problem in Detroit when it was turned over to the water authority. The mayor appeared to support Council on both issues.

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