Oh my.

When Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel appeared on WJR-AM radio this week from the annual Mackinac Policy Conference, host Frank Beckmann, in stuttering tones, declared that Hackel’s surprise on-air declaration was, “for a talk-show host, like mining for gold.”

Without any nuance, Hackel declared that fellow Democrat Tony Marrocco, the Macomb County Public Works Commissioner who’s facing a tough election challenge from retiring Republican Congresswoman Candice Miller, is corrupt.

The executive said Marrocco has flexed his political muscles by engaging in a “pay to play” system for years in which those business owners who do not make generous campaign contributions to Marrocco are punished. These developers, contractors and construction company executives, Hackel said, are denied government contracts and permits. In contrast, those who play the game are rewarded.



“With my current public works director in Macomb County … (the political protocol) seems to be more a ‘pay to play.’ If you’re going to be part of this process where you come to these (Marrocco) fundraisers, then you’re going to benefit from these contracts. If you don’t, your permits and contracts are going to sit on the backburner,” said the Macomb Township Democrat, Miller’s most ardent supporter in this campaign.

Marrocco, the 24-year incumbent known for his elaborate, expensive re-election fundraising parties, shot back some 20 hours later.

In a statement issued to Politics Central at 3 a.m. on Thursday, Marrocco said: “It is sad to see Mr. Hackel throw out these disgusting accusations in order to support Congresswoman Miller’s run for one more government pension. Instead of carrying her water, maybe the county executive should look into her failed record on water quality and the environment.  I look forward to showing the voters of Macomb County why Representative Miller is wrong for the job, and why the county executive is just plain wrong.”

It’s the first week of June and this race for public works commissioner (aka Drain Commissioner) has already become nasty – even brutal. Assuming Miller and Marrocco cruise past their August primary election opponents, they will not reach the final showdown until the Nov. 8 election, 158 days from now.

Miller Portrait


Some eight hours after Marrocco made his statement, the Miller campaign issued a press release applauding Hackel for his plan to hire an outside firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Marrocco’s office. By definition, the office oversees sewer systems, drain construction and maintenance, soil erosion and pollution controls, and anti-flooding measures. The public works boss has dismissed Hackel’s push for new scrutiny, calling it a waste of money and a “political witchhunt.”

“It is stunning that there is any hesitation regarding an open review of the public works finances considering these funds belong to the taxpayers,” Miller said. “Every taxpayer should be able to understand why there has been such an alarming increase in sewage service rates around the county over the past few years and why the public works commissioner keeps raising rates on our communities. If there is nothing to hide, then let the sun shine in.”

Eleven minutes after that Miller press release, Marrocco launched an attack in a counter-release. Referring to Miller’s concerns in recent months about the Enbridge oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, Marrocco called on the congresswoman to “stop lying” about her voting record on oil industry issues and specifically pipeline safety.

While Miller declared in a TV interview that Enbridge Line 5 might have to be shut down due to new infrastructure concerns, Marrocco pointed out that the lawmaker voted in 2012 and again in 2011 against measures in Congress that would have tightened pipeline standards.

“No wonder Candace (sic) Miller is worried about the integrity of Enbridge Line 5,” said Marrocco. “As a member of Congress, she refused to do anything to make those pipelines safer.”

“… It seems that when Congresswoman Miller’s big Washington donors got involved, she cared more about taking their money, than protecting the Great Lakes. … Miller only became an environmentalist when it was clearly in her interest.”

And there’s much more. Here are some of the points of contention as these two candidates prepare for a long campaign slugfest:

  • Marrocco expressed dismay over the “huge” water rate increase of 4.3 percent for the suburbs announced by the new Great Lakes Water Authority. The public works director said suspected rate increases are why he opposed the 2015 formation of the GLWA, which took over control of the regional water system from Detroit. Hackel countered that sewer rates, an area where Marrocco has considerable authority, have risen far more. In Sterling Heights, for example, homeowners have seen a 120 percent increase in the cost of sewer services over the past seven years, he said.
  • Marrocco taxpayer-paid signs

    This large sign in Macomb Township is not part of the Tony Marrocco re-election campaign, it was paid for by Macomb County taxpayers.

    Large signs paid for with tax dollars, approximately 4-feet by 8-feet in size, have popped up at locations along major Macomb County sewer lines and waterways. These new roadside signs prominently feature Marrocco’s name. One sign that recently appeared in Macomb Township declares that “no dumping” is allowed in the Middle Branch of the Clinton River. But the sign misleadingly refers to the waterway as the Middle Branch Drain – as in, a body water under the jurisdiction of the drain commissioner. That is not true. Hackel and the Miller campaign claim that some of these signs were erected by a Marrocco team of government workers on a weekend, which resulted in time-and-a-half pay for the crew. Hackel calls them defacto campaign signs.

  • While Hackel is criticized by Democrats for backing a Republican, the Republican Committee of Northern Macomb County has entered the fray. The RCNMC has filed a complaint claiming that Marrocco has violated the county ethics ordinance. One assertion is that the incumbent Democrat held a press conference in April at his office where county Clerk Carmella Sabaugh and county Treasurer Derek Miller announced their re-election endorsements of Marrocco. That would seem to violate ethics rules that prevent the use of county property or county employees who are “on the clock” from engaging in politics activities.
  • Miller has hammered away at Marrocco’s failure to comply with the ethics ordinance for the past four years. That set of rules is designed to expose any potential conflicts of interest by county officials or employees. In response, the public works commissioner finally filed the required financial disclosure statement last month. When the Miller camp pointed out deficiencies in the filing, Marrocco followed up with a revised disclosure statement that revealed seven financial ownership shares in property that have links to the oversight of his department or other county agencies in various ways.
  • In the WJR radio interview, Hackel went so far as to resurrect a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against Marrocco 12 years ago. The public works director had allegedly hired a stripper/girlfriend to work in his office, according to Hackel, and in less than a year she took legal action that claimed she was sexually harassed by her boss.

What has become abundantly clear so far is that Marrocco, who has routinely breezed to re-election, realizes that he is in for the political fight of his life. And Miller, who portrays herself as the clean-water candidate, will  hit some choppy waters as she tries to defend pro-business votes in Congress that reflect the views of Washington Republicans, not Macomb County voters.


Main photo courtesy of WJR-AM radio