Will voters in one of the most crime-ridden cities in the country be able to stomach voting for a convicted felon? Residents of Detroit are about to find out. Half of the candidates running in next Tuesday’s mayoral primary – the first since the city emerged from Bankruptcy protection in 2014 – have felony convictions on their records, according to an analysis of criminal records by the Detroit News.
In what we must admit is a masterful attempt at spin, one political operative said the felony convictions make the candidates more relatable because they show the candidates have each "lived a little."
“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.”
Michigan election law stipulates that 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 top two finishers in the primary will go on to face off against incumbent mayor Mike Duggan, who is running for reelection. Duggan has received endorsements from a host of powerful unions, including the Detroit Metro AFL-CIO and the powerful public employees’ union AFSCME.
Mayoral candidate Donna Marie Pitts has multiple felony convictions dating back to 1977, according to the News. Pitts says she was discriminated against and wrongfully convicted, and is “open” to discussing the circumstances that led to her convictions.
“I don’t hide it. God has brought me out,” said Pitts, who wants to improve health care services, and tackle crime and 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.”
Her rap sheet includes convictions spanning from 1977 to 2003. Charges vary from operating a vehicle without a license to assault with intent to murder.
“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.
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.”
To her credit, Pitts says she supports law enforcement, adding that “there’s a lot of good officers. I just ran into a couple of bad situations.” Pitts isn’t the only candidate with a conviction for an assault with intent to murder charge. Fellow contender Danetta L. Simpson has a 1996 felony conviction for it out of Oakland County. The 46-year-old former cosmetologist and salon owner previously ran for a seats in the Michigan legislature, as well as the Detroit school board and City Council, says that she was “overcharged” for a crime she didn’t commit after an altercation with a woman who had been living with the father of two of Simpson’s children.
“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 2 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.”
Articia Bomer, another candidate, was charged in 2008 with carrying a concealed weapon, but says the weapon wasn’t hers. She was ultimately sentenced to a year of probation, which she completed successfully.
“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 piston 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.”
Curtis Christopher Greene, an author and marketer with degrees from the University of Phoenix, was charged with a felony at age 19. Greene, who says he grew up in a “crime-ridden area,” struggles to find work and wants to implement programs to help ex-offenders.
“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. 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.”
Detroit wouldn’t be the first American city to elect a convicted felon. Providence, R.I. famously reelected Vincent “Buddy” Cianci after he was convicted and imprisoned during the 1980s for beating and torturing a longtime acquaintance who allegedly had an affair with Cianci’s wife. He was arrested again during his second stint as mayor and convicted of racketeering, for which he served another prison term. When he died in 2016, he was reportedly contemplating yet another mayoral bid. Former Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was also reelected after being convicted on drug charges stemming from a surveillance tape of him smoking crack.
Who knows? Maybe former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who pleading guilty to felony charges including obstruction of justice and perjury, will throw his hat in the ring, too.