Wayne County exec. candidates
DETROIT — Sixteen names are on the official candidate list for the office of Wayne County Executive.
Detroiters and residents in the other 42 Wayne County communities will have to wade through the long list of familiar political family names and political veterans looking to unseat incumbent Robert Ficano. Ficano’s administration has been marred by federal investigations, a failed jail project and a $175 million budget deficit.
Five contenders have emerged in the contested race: State Rep. Phil Cavanagh, son of former Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh; Warren Evans, former Wayne County Sheriff and Detroit Police Chief; controversial incumbent Ficano; Wayne County Commissioner Kevin McNamara, son of former Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara; and Westland Mayor William (Bill) Wild.
A recent poll conducted by Washington-based Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights has Evans as the front runner at 29 percent, with Wild a distant second at 14 percent, and Cavanagh and McNamara trailing at 13 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Ficano came in last place.
The Michigan Citizen sat down with four of these five candidates to discuss their plans if elected.
ROBERT FICANO, Wayne County Executive
Seeking a fourth term in office, Ficano says he’s running on his record.
“Who was at a protest for Right to Work, before it was fashionable?” he asked. “I came up with op-ed pieces opposing right to work, (I was) engaged in protests challenging Right to Work in the governor’s office and both Michigan chambers.”
He also said he was the only candidate to raise his own money to privately oppose Proposal 2, the 2006 vote to end Affirmative Action, and was vocal against the Supreme’s Court recent decision to uphold the ban of affirmative action in Michigan.
Despite the recent scandals plaguing his office, Ficano appeared confident and unabashed by what many see as failures in his administration: federal and county investigations into corruption, an unfinished jail project, questionable severance packages to appointees, a bloated administration (reportedly 174 appointees) and $175 million budget deficit.
He praised his deficit elimination plan he says has been tentatively accepted by the state.
“Everybody said we wouldn’t be able to get it passed by the state (and) Board of Commissioners. Now there is no discussion of an emergency manager for Wayne county … and we don’t anticipate that’s going to be an issue…”
Some say Ficano’s plan is setting the county up to be taken over.
The plan includes employee/union cuts, the sale of the downriver wastewater treatment plant and deeper cuts to the prosecutor and sheriff’s offices.
Ficano says his plan addresses major faults of what he sees happening in the criminal justice area, and goes after three areas that are the responsibility of the state.
“Seventy-two percent of the general fund goes to criminal justice,” he said. “This last budget round everybody else took a 20 percent cut. Ficano says the prosecutor and sheriff’s offices received more funds than the previous year, $4.5 million and $9.5 million respectively.
“You got all of us down here fighting for scraps, and you got the state with a $1.1 billion surplus. The state cut the prosuctor’s grant. It was a total of $7 million, because the county matched it. We let (Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s) office keep the $3.5 million even though the grant was eliminated.”
Ficano says the state has failed in three areas: competency, mental health and the crime lab.
“There is a 60-day rule, if you’re charged with a crime, you have to have a competency exam within 60 days (to determine if you’re eligible to stand trial),” he said. “They’re way behind. When they blow past the 60 days, we’re eating the cost … that’s the smallest cost. Then there’s mental health. When (then Gov. John) Engler closed Lafayette Clinic, they in essence started to criminalize mental health issues (you have 150-200 beds of people in Wayne County jail of people who shouldn’t be there). To bond them out or tether them — they’re homeless, if you can’t bond out or tether out, (they) sit in the jail — it’s tremendously expensive. (In) the crime lab, there were issues with ballistic part, but the other parts (the DNA or other parts) were fine. There was no evidence those parts were compromised. They closed the whole lab, and now all goes to the state. Wayne County and Detroit stand in line with Oakland, Macomb and Monroe.
“Normally it might take 10 days, people have been waiting in jail up to nine months. That’s what drives a lot of the costs, all those areas are controlled by the state.”
Regarding the ongoing federal investigation into public corruption where several Ficano appointees have been convicted of various crimes, Ficano says people can be assured “nothing is going to happen to me.”
“The buck stops with me…We’ve been completely cooperative (with the federal investigation),” Ficano said. “Anybody if they’ve done something, if they’ve broken the law something should happen to them. There have been a couple of people, and like with anything else in life … you trust people sometimes… It turns out it didn’t work out the way (I) thought it was going to happen. We’ve dealt with those individuals.”
Ficano says his administration has since instituted an ethics board, and an ethics ordinance has been passed.
“People can be pretty assured … I can guarantee nothing is going to happen to me, you can look at my account… Nothing has been subpoenaed,” he said. Although he has not yet received a clearance letter from the FBI, he expects to receive one.
WARREN EVANS, former Wayne County Sheriff and Detroit Police Chief
A transparent administration is what voters can expect from an Evans administration, says the political veteran and former city and county top cop, who came under fire in 2010 when a 7-year-old was fatally shot during a raid by Detroit police officers under Evans’ leadership
“What transparency means to me is if I’m going to publish a number that we’re dealing with then that number’s got to be the number,” says Evans who is willing to include all parties and the public in solving the counties problems, even if it makes the work “twice as hard.”
The ability to manage, Evans says, is key, adding many of the county’s problems are due to Ficano’s leadership.
“We have to put the right people in the right places. The past 12 years, the current county executive, the numbers he gave at the beginning were never the numbers at the end. The worst thing you can do is base something on flawed numbers,” he said.
Evans says cuts may be inevitable.
“The county has 180-something appointees. You can’t afford to have that in a time where workers are woking harder than they have before with less benefits and fearful about their futures… We’re going to have to cut and we’re going to have to seek outside revenue,” he said.
“So my plan is not to do things on the backs of workers. But if there’s more giving that we all have to do, then at least let it be an honest give where people see that I’m asking them to do their part — not to do the whole part or not to do something I’m not willing to do, which is what I see now.”
Evans says, regarding the unfinished jail, “We have thrown $150 million down the drain… If you listen to people, specifically the county executive, it’s always a spin off: ‘I didn’t have control over that, or somebody else did this or that.’ At the end of the day that’s what leadership is about. You’re at the helm, don’t blame somebody else. Let’s figure out how to clean it up.”
New leadership is an opportunity to go forward says Evans, to change the paradigm at Wayne County that has existed for the past 30 years.
“It’s not about Ficano; it’s always been ‘big me, little you. If I win the race, I’m the county executive, and it’s my job to keep an elbow on everybody else that I can drop an elbow on.’”
Evans says this practice and the fiefdoms created in the county must end. He says while he’s not for regionalization, he’s looking forward to regional cooperation.
“When I say ‘regional,’ I mean we have regional issues, regional concerns, regional stakeholders and we ought to work together where we can. I’m not naive enough to think our politics are all going to be the same. So there are times where we’re going to be significantly at odds about things, but I’m not going to pick up my toys and go home. I’m going to say this is what we can’t deal with, now let’s go over here and talk about what we can deal with.”
The expansion and growth of Detroit and its population is also on Evans radar.
“Half of the county is Detroit,” he said. “We need entrepreneurs, but we need to create an atmosphere where those entrepreneurs are comfortable raising their kids.”
As executive, Evans says he’ll be looking at each of the 43 communities in the county to see in what areas support is needed. He says he plans to have an ombudsman for small businesses that will report directly to him.
“That person’s job is to get out there, and meet the players in the community, the small businesses organizations. What are the issues? What is it that people are trying to do? Then (we’ll) cut out the red tape so we can do it…”
Regarding the death of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones, Evans said, “the officers followed the policy and procedures of the department at the time. When I reviewed that case, (I saw) that was a procedural problem we had to try to fix. I will never be comfortable that a young child died… Maybe if I had been there long enough … (that would have been something we would have changed).”
BILL WILD, Mayor of Westland
Bill Wild says his focus will be the Wayne County budget.
“I want to get our arms around the budget, bring everybody to the table, just like I did in Westland,” Wild told the Michigan Citizen.
Facing a projected $50 million deficit when elected mayor in 2007 to Wayne County’s third largest city, Wild has balanced the city’s book, and under his leadership, Westland has a three-year balanced budget and a $5 million surplus.
“We were able to do that without cutting services and asking residents for millages,” says Wild.
The second-generation businessman says, “the zeros might change, but you do projects the same way,” about taking on a $2 billion budget at the county level.
“I’m not going to come in and figure out a way to fund the county executive’s current budget. We’ll sit down and see what the priorities of the county are moving forward. We’ll all probably agree it’s public safety. We’ll figure out at what level of public safety we can provide and we’ll fund it and work our budget down from there.”
Wild says he knows that’s not something that can be done overnight, but a Wild administration will make changes people will notice immediately.
People’s focus is on deficits, severance packages and scandals, says the Westland Mayor. He wants to focus on improving quality of life, bringing in jobs and economic development.
“(These are) the reasons why people live in this area,” he said.
Transparency, shared services, diversity, economic development is what voters can expect form Wild, whose campaign slogan is Wild 4 Wayne.
Contrary to Ficano’s position, Wild maintains emergency management is a looming threat over the county.
“The Wayne County Executive (office), in the past, was based on enriching friends. You’ve got to have a regional look, you’ve got to have (economic) diversity. The (current) county executive goes to China, (and we) haven’t seen any of that result in jobs. “You’ve got to focus on job creation. People say government doesn’t create jobs, but you can create an environment where business people will invest and build businesses that create jobs.”
Wild says he will use his local preference ordinance model implemented in Westland to help rebuild Detroit so that people in the city with nearly 50 percent unemployment will have jobs.
“I think it has to be a mindset that people use local businesses. On TV they’re saying, ‘Pure Michigan.’ ‘Buy American.’ It’s something that can be done. In Westland, it’s paid off.”
KEVIN MCNAMARA, Wayne County Commissioner
“A dinosaur,” is how Wayne County Commissioner Kevin McNamara describes the county government he’s campaigning to lead.
“County governments do not work very well. Wayne is an absolute disaster. It takes care of itself and not its residents,” says McNamara. “I’m running to take (Wayne County) into the 21st century.”
McNamara says he will focus on streamlining services the county provides. The biggest problem he says is duplicated services.
“I’m going to get rid of the myriad of redundant services. It will take six months to a year to complete,” he said.
He gave the example of new businesses having to go throughout the bureaucracy of having city, county and sometimes state inspections.
“In 43 cities, almost everyone has an economic director, health groups, engineering departments. We pile on to that. It’s an inefficient system,” he said. “We have to get to the point where we’ve got one department for all these people.”
Another problem he says is not knowing the actual cost to run the criminal justice system.
“We don’t know what it costs to operate the prosecutor and sheriff’s offices. They’ve been messed up for so long. When you underfund the prosecutor, the first thing is the court is going to spend more money but run inefficiently. The first person that needs to be funded is the prosecutor 100 percent to find out what it costs to fund the jail and the court.”
McNamara who sits on the board of the Wayne County Airport Authority says he’s already been a part of making improvements there. He plans to continue with providing mass transit.
“(Mass transit) is a little bit harder, because it involves losing profits for the airlines. Every dollar that’s taken out of the airport in revenue for metro cars has to be made up by the airlines, and so they’re really fighting that.”
Yet, he says if elected, it’ll be a “simple thing” to implement public transit.
“It’ll be a matter of six months for the bus. The rail is a little ways off.”
If elected, McNamara says he plans to use Wayne’s wealthy to influence state support.
“When my father went up to the legislature, he didn’t take the unions and the NAACP because (the state) knew they were going to back him. He went up there with Ford. He went up there with Gilbert, Penske, Nicholson and Matty Maroun. He went up there with people they have to listen to. We have more millionaires with skin in the game than Oakland and Macomb counties. The Republican legislature has to be reminded of that.”