Politics and crime are like peanut butter and jelly. They were just made for each other. Only in Detroit would have the field of mayoral candidates be convicted felons. Or maybe Chicago. Or maybe Baltimore. Or maybe…. never mind.
Only in Detroit would half the field of mayoral candidates be convicted felons. Or maybe Chicago. Or maybe Baltimore. Or maybe…. never mind.
There have been only Democrats in the mayor’s office of Detroit since 1962, a period of 55 years that has been marked, coincidentally (or not), by extreme government corruption. The poster city for Democrat governance, this will be Detroit’s first mayoral election since it emerged from state control under Michigan’s emergency manager law.
Half of the eight mayoral hopefuls on Detroit’s primary ballot next week have been convicted of felony crimes involving drugs, assault or weapons, a Detroit News analysis shows.
Three were charged with gun crimes and two for assault with intent to commit murder. Some of the offenses date back decades, the earliest to 1977. The most recent was in 2008.
Political consultant Greg Bowens said there are candidates with past hardships in every election cycle. It’s not something unique to Detroit or the political arena in general, he said.
“Black marks on your record show you have lived a little and have overcome some challenges,” said Bowens, a former press secretary to Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and NAACP activist. “They (candidates) deserve the opportunity to be heard, but they also deserve to have the kind of scrutiny that comes along with trying to get an important elected position.”
Tuesday’s Detroit mayoral primary election is the first since the city exited bankruptcy in 2014. The field of eight will be narrowed to two who will face off in the fall.
Under state election law, convicted felons can vote and run for office as long as they are not incarcerated or guilty of certain fraud-related offenses, or crimes involving a breach of the public trust. The Detroit News reviewed the backgrounds of all the mayoral contenders.
While some refute circumstances that led to their criminal convictions, three said their past is a motivating factor in their decisions to run.
The two who have polled ahead of the field, incumbent Mayor Mike Duggan and state Sen. Coleman A. Young II, the son of the city’s first black mayor, have no criminal records. Nor do candidates Edward Dean and Angelo Brown.
First-time contender Donna Marie Pitts, 58, has multiple felony convictions dating back to 1977, according to court records in Wayne and Oakland counties.
Although she denies wrongdoing in the past cases against her, Pitts is open about her convictions.
Pitts, who says she has a business management degree and experience in carpentry, told The News she wants a “better way of life” for Detroiters.
“I don’t hide it. God has brought me out,” said Pitts, who wants to improve health care services, and tackle crime and work on rebuilding the community. “I hope (voters) don’t look at it as negative but as my experience, and I can help. I want to fight for them.”
Shootout over disputed bill
In 1977, Pitts was convicted of receiving and concealing a stolen 1977 Oldsmobile. She was sentenced to a year of probation.
A decade later, she was charged with two counts of assault with intent to murder and two firearm offenses in connection with two separate shooting incidents on March 24, 1987, Detroit Recorder’s Court records say.
According to transcripts, Pitts was involved in a shootout with the owner of a collision shop and auto clinic on Greenfield in Detroit in a dispute over a repair bill.
In September 1987, a jury convicted Pitts of the lesser offense of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, less than murder, in the shooting involving the shop owner as well as a firearm offense. Jurors acquitted Pitts of charges connected to the incident involving the officer.
Pitts was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison, plus two additional years for the firearm offense. She served about four years and eight months and was paroled June 1, 1992, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Pitts had another run-in with police in Troy in September 2000 when she was stopped in a residential neighborhood and arrested for fleeing and eluding and operating a vehicle without a license.
Pitts later pleaded guilty to not having an operator’s license and disobeying a police signal. She was placed on six months probation, which was discharged in September 2001.
Most recently, Pitts was convicted of firearm possession and carrying a concealed weapon under a March 2003 plea agreement stemming from a traffic stop in Dearborn Heights, Wayne County Circuit Court records show.
Pitts was stopped by police on Dec. 2, 2002, on Ford near Norborne for an improper plate and failure to wear a seat belt.
A .38 caliber handgun — which Pitts said belonged to her sister — was found on the front floor board of the truck. She was ordered to serve 40 to 60 months in prison in April 2003. She was paroled in August 2006, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Pitts contends she’s been wronged by the courts and police, and she disputes many of the allegations in each criminal case, saying she was discriminated against.
If elected, she said she will combat “discrimination and racism” and advocate for an overhaul of the justice system.
Despite her past encounters, Pitts said she supports law enforcement: “There’s a lot of good officers. I just ran into a couple bad situations.”
‘Overcharged’ in shooting
Fellow candidate Danetta L. Simpson has a 1996 felony conviction out of Oakland County for assault with intent to murder.
The 46-year-old former cosmetologist and salon owner has made past bids for state representative, Detroit’s school board and City Council. Her prior interaction with the criminal justice system, she said, has fueled her desire to seek public office. Simpson said she represents a “new spirit” for Detroit.
“I was a wrongfully convicted felon, overcharged for a crime I did not commit,” said Simpson, a mother of four, who contends the witness in the case “lied on me.”
According to court records, Simpson pleaded no contest to assault with intent to commit murder — any term of years up to life in prison — in exchange for dismissal of a firearms offense.
The incident stemmed from a complaint made by a woman who’d been living with the father of two of Simpson’s children. The woman alleged she’d received threatening phone calls from Simpson and court records say a confrontation later ensued in which Simpson fired a gun. No one was injured.
In court transcripts, the woman accused Simpson of pulling up in a van and screaming at her to come outside. She said Simpson then pointed a gun at her and fired, striking part of a doorway about two feet from where the woman was standing, court records say.
Simpson pleaded no contest on the day of the 1998 trial. She later tried to withdraw it, but her attempts failed. She was put on probation for one year and discharged Sept. 30, 1999.
Simpson said she’s running for mayor to “correct what’s wrong and make it right.”
“I’m not out here just to run for name recognition. I’m someone different. I’m someone new,” she said. “I want to help lift the city independently for the people.”
A ‘frivolous’ conviction
Another candidate, Articia Bomer, a document specialist who touts a culinary background and musical talents, was charged in 2008 with carrying a concealed weapon.
Bomer, who put together a five-minute extended commercial and musical CD to promote her bid for office, said she’s running for mayor on a platform of “preservation, restoration and revitalization.” She’s pushing for tax reform, better services for Detroit’s homeless and seniors and tougher penalties for bad landlords.
The 45-year-old said her conviction is “frivolous” and “wrong.” It isn’t her focus and she doesn’t believe “that should hinder me.”
Court records note Bomer was approached by police while sitting in a 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass parked at the curb in the 9300 block of Whitcomb on July 25, 2008. A search turned up a .38-caliber pistol with four live rounds. Bomer said the weapon was not hers.
She said she had just purchased the vehicle, the prior owner was a gun-carrier and several others had been driving the car.
Ultimately, she was convicted during a bench trial in January 2009 and sentenced to a year of probation and was successful in completing it, records say.
“I want voters to know that they should never judge a book by its cover,” she said. “I am a law-abiding citizen.”
Help for ex-offenders
Candidate Curtis Christopher Greene was charged with a felony at age 19. Greene, an author, said he’s since turned his life around by earning marketing degrees from the University of Phoenix and writing three books.
But Greene, now 32, said his past continues to hold him back. He struggles to find employment and wants to implement programs that will help ex-offenders, like himself, facing similar challenges.
“I came from a crime-ridden area,” Greene said. “My life, I believe it was very complex growing up.”
Greene was charged in 2004 with fourth-degree fleeing and eluding police during an attempted traffic stop in Harrison Township as well as delivering and manufacturing marijuana.
He was sentenced to 18 months’ probation under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, meaning his conviction would be dismissed if he met all probationary requirements. Under the agreement, the fleeing and eluding charge was dropped, Macomb County Circuit Court records show.
Greene violated probation in July 2005 when he was arrested and charged with uttering and publishing a fraudulent check in Gratiot County, a felony.
The case was not prosecuted. Instead, Greene pleaded guilty that September to conspiracy for uttering and publishing and was sentenced to six months in the Gratiot County Jail.
Greene also pleaded guilty to violating his Macomb Circuit Court probation. The violation triggered an extension of his probation term and his youthful trainee status revoked, court records say. He was discharged in September 2007.
The activist and ordained minister previously sought a council seat and is touting a seven-point plan to rebuild Detroit. It addresses jobs, discriminatory lending and access to meaningful employment for convicted felons with academic achievement.
Other areas include blight and a “pie-in-the-sky” vision for a 3-million-square-foot “Mall of Michigan” that would rival suburban shopping centers, he said.
“I believe I’m the one to change the city,” Greene said. “Something put this in my heart to do it now.”