Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said this morning that former county commissioner Fred Miller deserves the blame for ex-county clerk Karen Spranger’s election in 2016 and her subsequent chaotic reign in the clerk’s office.
Milller, a Mount Clemens Democrat, lost to Spranger by a narrow margin in the 2016 November general election and he’s now making another run for clerk after Spranger was removed from office in March.
At a forum held at Macomb Community College’s center campus in Clinton Township, Hackel asserted that it was a controversial scheme by Miller — an attempt to run unopposed in the 2016 Democratic primary — that led to Spranger emerging as the unlikely clerk.
These “shenanigans,” Hackel explained to the crowd, involved a plan in which longtime clerk Carmella Sabaugh tried to give Miller a huge leg up in the 2016 race. Sabaugh had filed for re-election but then she withdrew her candidacy and announced she was retiring just hours before the candidate withdrawal deadline.
Only Miller knew of Sabaugh’s true intentions and about the vacancy that was forthcoming. That gave him the opportunity to file at the 11th-hour, while other potential clerk candidates were unaware of what would soon transpire.
The smoking gun that gave away the plot was a Miller campaign video, which was accidentally posted online, that showed him giving a speech to the camera about his candidacy and Sabaugh’s retirement – a week before Sabaugh’s surprise announcement had occurred.
“There is one name on (the upcoming) ballot you shouldn’t vote for,” Hackel told the crowd this morning in an agitated tone, “and that’s the guy (Miller) who set us up for 15 months of pain and agony under Karen Spranger.”
If Sabaugh had announced her plans to retire several weeks or months ahead of time, the Macomb executive said, numerous high-quality candidates could have surfaced for the Democrats and Republicans. Under normal circumstances, he suggested, Miller and Spranger may not have survived the primaries and advanced to the general election.
In the GOP primary for clerk, Spranger won by a small margin over three other Republican contenders. Democrats had held the county clerk position for several decades prior to the stunning win in November 2016 by Spranger, a political gadfly who barely campaigned for the post.
Miller’s apparent scheme didn’t work perfectly as planned. Rather than running unopposed in the August 2016 primary, he successfully defeated two Democratic candidates, including Warren City Clerk Paul Wojno.
Hackel, sensing that some type of political trick was in the works, said he had urged Wojno to hang around the county Elections Department on filing day 2016 just in case Sabaugh planned to withdraw and a pre-picked insider candidate swooped in. Wojno filed in the final minutes, though he did not mount a major effort during the ensuing primary campaign.
The county executive’s claim that a more robust field of candidates would have emerged two years ago is evidenced by the group of 17 candidates — 11 Republicans and six Democrats, including several current and former elected officials — currently running in the upcoming primary and general elections to fill the vacancy left by Spranger. Hackel, who faces re-election this year while encountering a small group of longshot candidates, is backing state Sen. Steve Bieda, a Warren Democrat, for the clerk’s job. And he makes no bones about working against Miller’s attempted comeback candidacy for clerk.
Hackel’s remarks today came during an MCC class for seniors on current politics, part of the college’s Society of Active Retirees (SOAR) program.
He told the retirees that he is especially upset that Miller had claimed several weeks ago that he deserved the appointment as temporary clerk since he lost to the candidate (Spranger) who was later deemed ineligible to run in 2016 and should not have had her name on the ballot. Instead, the Macomb Circuit Court judges chose a longtime county administrative employee, with no interest in running for the office, to fill Spranger’s term through the end of the year.
A Macomb Township Democrat, Hackel applauded the judges’ decision and again referred to Miller’s election manipulation plan of 2016.
“You cannot reward that kind of behavior,” he said.