Weeks ago, the Detroit mayoral race had come down to a contest between Mike Duggan, former head of the Detroit Medical Center, and Benny Napoleon, now the Wayne County Sheriff.
But this was expected to be the most exciting and significant mayoral election in forty years. Then, to everyone‘s shock, a Wayne County circuit judge ruled this week that Duggan wasn‘t qualified because he failed to meet the residency requirement.
Detroit law says candidates have to be a qualified voter in the city for at least a year prior to the date they file to run. Duggan, who lived in Livonia most of his adult life, moved to Detroit and registered to vote on April 16 of last year. The filing deadline for mayor was this May 14th, so he thought he was fine. However, he turned his paperwork in early.
He filed to run on April 2nd. He could have waited for another month, but just wanted to get it our of the way early.
But Tom Barrow, a perennial candidate who has run and lost three times, sued, saying Duggan filed before he was qualified. And on Tuesday, Wayne Circuit Judge Lita Popke ruled Barrow was right, and that Mike Duggan’s name had to be removed from the ballot. This is likely not the last word on this. Duggan has vowed to appeal, and Barrow has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to step in, bypassing the Court of Appeals to save time, since primary and absentee ballots need to be printed soon. How this will all play out, nobody knows.
Race is never far from the surface in Detroit. But this cannot be construed as a case of a black judge ruling to keep a white candidate from running for mayor. Judge Popke is a white woman and a former insurance litigator appointed to the bench by Governor John Engler.
What this does do, however, is raise the curtain on our crazy patchwork quilt of residency and eligibility requirements. Last November, Gary Peters was elected to Congress from Michigan’s 14th District. What is interesting about that is that he didn’t live there. Legally, congressmen don’t have to even pretend to live among the people they represent. But the mayor of Detroit does.
Now there is no doubt that the only reason Duggan moved to Detroit last year was so that he could run for mayor this year. But he is hardly the first politician to move for political reasons. Laws and regulations are necessary things, but in this case, you might think it would make sense to let the voters decide whether or not Duggan is Detroiter enough to be mayor.
Especially since he appears to be being penalized for getting his work done early. But in any case, it would seem to me we need a clearer and more consistent system of residency standards. Though I’m not planning on holding my breath till that happens.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.