Some local Republicans are worried about potential political fallout as one of beleaguered Warren Mayor Jim Fouts’ most loyal allies, City Council President Cecil St. Pierre, was elected over the weekend to a key GOP post.
At the state Republican convention in Lansing, St. Pierre outmaneuvered GOP stalwarts and was selected as party chairman of the 9th Congressional District, which includes portions of Macomb and Oakland counties.
In his new position, St. Pierre will play a role in party fundraising, political messaging and candidate recruitment as district chair and as a GOP State Committee member. Some Republicans fear that his close ties to the controversial mayor, who faces calls for his resignation, will hurt the party’s efforts.
As council president, St. Pierre has emerged as one of Fouts’ biggest defenders against criticism of racist and sexist comments the mayor made while secretly being taped.
In what one GOP activist described as a “coup,” St. Pierre narrowly defeated James Nowc, the 9th District vice chair who had been expected to ascend to the top post, in a preliminary January vote that was made official at the state convention.
Democratic campaign consultant Joe DiSano, an outspoken Fouts critic, gave the GOP reason to worry about St. Pierre earlier this month. DiSano posted on Facebook and Twitter: “I hope Cecil St. Pierre wins his bid for chair of Michigan’s 9th District GOP. We can tie every GOP candidate in the 9th to Mayor Jim Fouts.”
The 9th District, represented for many years by Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak, consists of southeast Oakland County and it stretches east to Lake St. Clair, comprising nearly all of Macomb County south of M-59. That includes the city of Warren.
If St. Pierre emerges as a liability for the 9th District GOP due to his reputation as a Fouts favorite, the ripples may be felt all the way to Washington.
Politico reported last week that the Republican National Committee plans to target the veteran incumbent congressman for defeat in 2018, though Levin has breezed to re-election in the past several election cycles.
Though the 9th has been labeled a solid Blue District in the past, Democratic support there at the top of the ticket dropped from 57.2 percent of the vote for Barack Obama in 2012 to 51.5 percent for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton last November.
In the run-up to Friday’s 9th District chairmanship election, St. Pierre further strengthened his allegiance to Fouts when he led the effort at council meetings to delegitimize the tapes, leaked to the media, in which Fouts spouted hateful remarks against blacks, women and the developmentally disabled.
The council president seemed more concerned about the source of the recordings than the content of the mayor’s rhetoric.
“We need to find out who is behind these tapes,” St. Pierre said near the end of a long, emotional council meeting in January that featured more than two hours of public comment. “Our city is divided. These tapes are causing real damage.”
The mayor claims the tapes are doctored but one prominent audio expert has said he is unaware of any technology that would seamlessly manufacture a voice like the one in the Fouts’ recordings.
Yet, St. Pierre insists the controversy over the tapes is the product of a “rigged media.”
After the January meeting, a fairly comical event took place as St. Pierre repeatedly tried to dodge questions from a WDIV Channel 4 news crew about his unwavering defense of Fouts’ claims that the tapes are fake.
The attempted evasions by the council president led to the City Hall parking lot, back into City Hall, down an obscure hallway, back into the council chambers and then back into the parking lot. St. Pierre, an attorney, spotted a policeman and told him that he had been assaulted with a microphone by the WDIV reporter. The council leader asked for and received a police escort to his car.
Clearly flustered, St. Pierre repeated the phrase “rigged media” nearly a dozen times during the 3-minute encounter.
The mayor has complained about media coverage of the tapes – just as he complains about media coverage on countless issues – but even Fouts has not claimed that the media is behind some conspiracy to propagate phony tapes.
The Channel 4 video was posted on the 9th District Facebook page prior to the convention with this anonymous comment: “Vote for consistent, reputable, honest people.”
Within minutes of his selection as district chair, St. Pierre became embroiled in his own controversy over supposedly racist remarks, this time in reference to comments made at the caucus meeting that he reportedly declined to repudiate.
At the close of Friday night’s 9th District caucus, a candidate for vice chair, David Wilkinson, rose to give remarks and was allegedly greeted with anti-Semitic remarks by some of the activists on hand.
A comment on the district Facebook page, posted anonymously, said: “What an utter embarrassment to witness the new 9th executive board shout out anti-Semitic chants at one of our Vice-Chair candidates. And the new Chair Cecil St. Pierre did nothing to intercede. I think they should be sanctioned from State Committee. This is not a case where someone’s voice was dubbed.”
Others responded that the candidate arrived as the meeting was wrapping up – or just after the meeting was adjourned – and that he made rude remarks that prompted an argument with some standing nearby.
Still others said they heard shouted remarks, or chanting by several people, that were anti-Semitic in their tone as Wilkinson tried to speak.