As Macomb County voters go to the polls today, a number of intriguing races are headed to the finish line, with numerous controversial candidates hoping to sneak in under the wire.
The most surprising news in this primary election season has to be the anemic contest to replace disgraced former county prosecutor Eric Smith, who resigned earlier this year after getting hit with numerous federal indictments on corruption charges.
Former assistant prosecutor Jodi Switalski is the only Democratic candidate running aggressively for the seat. Tom Rombach, former president of the Michigan Bar Association, and retired Macomb Circuit Judge Mary Chrzanowski seem to be lagging.
In particular, Chrzanowski, running on her reputation as “Scary Mary,” a hard-nosed judge, has flopped in the fundraising department. Other than $50,000 of her own money, the Chrzanowski campaign has attracted relatively few contributions. Her biggest donor by far? Bombastic defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who pitched in $7,150.
Switalski, wife of Circuit Judge Mark Switalski, has taken a novel approach to her campaign. Though this is a primary election, she is brazenly running against the frontrunner on the Republican side, state Sen. Pete Lucido. Switalski campaign literature refers to Lucido as “Our Opponent,” with that big, bold message plastered across a famous photo of Lucido shouting support at a Donald Trump rally.
Macomb’s ‘culture of corruption’ not much of an issue
It’s rather amazing that corruption was rarely raised in the weeks and months leading up to today’s vote — even in the prosecutor’s race, where the Smith scandal looms large – after more than two dozen officials and government contractors in the county were convicted of criminal charges over the past four years.
One botched attempt to go after “Macomb County’s culture of corruption” was aimed at damaging longtime county Democratic Party Chair Ed Bruley, a candidate for county commissioner. For some reason, campaign mailers pasted together pictures of Bruley alongside Smith, one of Bruley’s many enemies in the party, and former Clinton Township trustee Dean Reynolds, who was convicted of bribery and tried to oust Bruley as party chair some years ago.
Though the mastermind behind this literature is a mystery, it clearly benefits Bruley’s main opponent in today’s 9th District Democratic primary, businessman Vito Strolis. And it is Strolis who was allies with Reynolds, not Bruley, as he gave the trustee several donations prior to his conviction.
Mailers accusing Bruley and one of his liberal Democratic allies, Julie Matuzak, also a county commissioner candidate in the Mount Clemens area, of racism have raised some eyebrows. The literature relies entirely upon inflammatory remarks by a Detroit church pastor. The outcome of those two races could have lasting reverberations in Macomb County politics.
Brutal battle for congressional seat
In one of Macomb County’s most consequential races, the battle for an open U.S. House seat created by the abrupt departure of 10th District Congressman Paul Mitchell, has turned into a mess. This contest in Michigan’s reddest House District, which includes all of north Macomb and a portion of Sterling Heights, features a GOP primary that will determine the November election.
But the two chief opponents in the primary, state Rep. Shane Hernandez of St. Clair County and businesswoman Lisa McClain, have spent large amounts of money trashing each other.
This nasty race has focused almost entirely on who is most undeniably loyal to President Trump and his policies and who is a true conservative Republican. The third candidate in this Republican brawl is former Selfridge Air National Guard Base commander Doug Slocum, who is equally wedded to Trump but has steered clear of the Hernandez/McClain battle in part due to a limited amount of campaign funding.
Township plagued by corruption, lack of ethics
At the local level, contests for township board seats are most intense in Macomb Township, where two former board members have been convicted or indicted on corruption charges while additional ethics issues plague the township government.
An unprecedented 18 candidates seeking four trustee seats emerged in the Republican primary in this roiling, heavily GOP community. County Commissioner Leon Drolet, a widely known anti-tax fighter, gave up his county seat to run for township treasurer.
Township Supervisor Janet Dunn has faded from view amid the various controversies plaguing the community, leaving voters with a rather strange race for the municipality’s top job.
Former supervisor Mark Grabow, who lost re-election in a landslide four years ago, has essentially enjoyed a free ride in this 2020 GOP primary. In the 2016 campaign, Grabow was throttled by criticism that he literally had “blood on his hands” – a reference to a 1990 incident when Grabow worked as an ambulance company dispatcher and was blamed for a 141-minute delay in sending an ambulance to an emergency situation that led to a man’s death of cardiac arrest.
In addition, Grabow won election to the supervisor’s position in November 2008 at the same time that he was facing a citation for violating a township ordinance because his limousine service was illegally located in a rural, non-commercial area of the township. According to news reports, what followed was four years of ignoring township decrees and Grabow entering into a lengthy court fight, which he lost.
Grabow’s opponent is a political newcomer with a surname that is as good as gold in Macomb County politics. Businessman Frank Viviano is hoping the Vivano magic continues for him as numerous namesakes have won election to seats ranging from the Michigan Supreme Court to Shelby Township trustee.
Macomb’s kooky candidates
And now we come to the kooky candidates of Macomb County. A win today by any of these misfits would serve as just another black eye for this county.
First, we have former county commissioner Kurt Kramer of Chesterfield Township trying to make a comeback by running against his wife for the 8th District. The former Republican is hoping to win today’s GOP primary and then face his wife, Lyubov Arestova, in November if she wins the Republican primary. Kramer hasn’t had much luck in political or marital issues as he is on his fourth marriage and has lost five elections in recent years.
Second, we have another former county commissioner, Nicki Brandenburg of Macomb Township, who claimed in 2008 that her then-husband was injecting her with poisonous drugs in her sleep and practicing witchcraft on her.
Another candidate of head-shaking consequence is Republican Jackie Ryan, who served as ousted clerk Karen Spranger’s chief deputy and devotee. Ryan is running for county clerk, in effect to carry on the reign of her old boss. When Spranger was about to be booted from office by the courts in 2018, Ryan declared that federal marshals would be arriving to protect Spranger from any removal attempt by the judiciary.
And we have GOP county Treasurer Larry Rocca who, like Spranger, narrowly scored a fluke victory in 2016 when Trump was winning big at the top of the ticket. He was elected as the county’s tax collector though it was reported that Rocca had defaulted on a personal loan and suffered a court judgment to pay $26,000 to a bank. He was delinquent on his property taxes five times in a 10-year period. And he was fined by the state for improperly handling reserve accounts at his real estate office.
Rocca faces a potentially significant challenge in today’s primary from Sherri Murphy, who served as deputy treasurer under the late Ted Wahby and Candice Miller.
The list goes on, with controversial figures such as state Rep. Steve Marino of Harrison Township, Islamophic bigots Jazmine Early and Paul Smith running for state House in Sterling Heights, Jim Perna for county commissioner and oddball Mike Wrathell making a bid for sheriff.
As the vote totals trickle in tonight, let’s hope that the winners are not any individual candidate, but the educated, common-sense voters who prevail.