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Lon Johnson

Lon Johnson

By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Detroit Democrats say they are disenchanted with Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson after a meeting last week. Johnson was in Detroit outlining a strategy for next year’s gubernatorial race, seeking African American support. However, Johnson has not articulated a relevant platform or collaborated with local leadership, some say.

Wayne County Commissioner Martha Scott who is also leader of the 13th Congressional District — the second largest congressional district in the state — says Johnson’s presentation was “disrespectful.” She asked at the meeting why he had not responded to any of her letters to him.

Scott questioned Johnson’s efforts to include Black leadership in state efforts.  “You have to treat people with respect if you want them to give you their all,” says Scott who believes it is necessary to work together. “Unless we get some state reps, senators that will help Detroit and surrounding areas, nothing will be any different than it is now.”

“I’ve been disenchanted with the party,” says Carolyn Brown who recently joined the party. “It has been silent about emergency management, the bankruptcy and issues affecting African American communities.”

Emergency management has disenfranchised almost half of the state’s Black population and is a violation of the Voting Rights Act, according to a lawsuit filed by the Detroit NAACP. Critics believe emergency management suppresses the vote, makes it impossible to develop new leadership and most importantly replaces elected officials with a dictatorial financial manager. The policy has almost unilaterally been applied to mostly African American local governments and the MDP has been silent on the issue.

“The majority of people haven’t been properly informed and don’t realize the gravity of the situation. MDP hasn’t done a good job to educate the populace and provide proper leadership as a group.  We’ve lost very serious ground. Detroit leadership is no longer democratic. They lost that. They need to be much more in tune with African Americans and properly inform and educate people across Michigan,” says Brown.

Local activist Valerie Glenn said she has seen Johnson’s plan “six times” and she believes he has failed to understand Detroit Democrats’ key concerns.

“Until I see something from him where he is actually going to give a definitive statement on bankruptcy, the water department, Belle Isle, Emergency Management, I don’t see the people of Detroit coming to his defense to get rid of Snyder,” says Glenn.

In a phone interview, Johnson told the Michigan Citizen Democrats have to turn out and vote. “When the people of Michigan vote, Democrats win; when they don’t vote, we don’t win.” The party chair responded to criticisms he has not sought input from Detroiters.

“I’ve conducted numerous African American and Detroit-specific meetings throughout the spring,” Johnson said.  “We had a good turnout and identified (their) concerns and took input about how to address those concerns.”

Johnson says the party leadership took some time off with Detroit events because of the mayoral and council races. He says now the races are over, they’re starting their operation to turn out the over 227,000 identified Democratic African American registered voters who did not vote in 2010.

Johnson went to Detroit Dems hoping to implement a program based on research showing the importance of Black turnout. In 2008 and 2012, nontraditional voters changed the outcome of the elections to ensure a win for President Barack Obama.

In 2013, Johnson ousted former chair Mark Brewer with the help of the UAW and traditional Detroit Democrats who were looking for a change in state party leadership. At the time, Johnson promised more Black leadership within the MDP and a Democratic office in the city among other priorities.

Many including Glenn and Brown believed Johnson represented a new beginning for the party but have been disappointed by recent moves including the selection of former U.S. House Rep. Mark Schauer of Battle Creek as the MDP choice for governor. Brown says she is unfamiliar with Schauer and disappointed the MDP did not seek out the Detroit perspective on a candidate for governor.  Glenn says the Schauer selection represents the same insider politics.

“He’s picked a person we don’t know anything about.  He has not asked anyone from Detroit if they’re interested in Shauer being our gubernatorial selection. It’s being controlled by the unions and leading up to us not winning this election at all,” says Glenn. “We’re going to end up with the same people in that coordinated office making $8-10,000 a month and won’t end up with anybody who’ll make sense for us as a community.”

Glenn also recalled how the MDP failed the grassroots when many believe they refused to offer significant institutional support to Lansing Mayor Virg Benero. In the primary, Benero beat Andy Dillon, who went on to work for the Snyder administration. Dillon was seen as the party favorite.  Scott says the same lack of party support holds for Black candidates. “When they put African Americans on a ticket, it doesn’t mean anything because they don’t give them the money to win,” says Scott.



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