As Macomb County primary election campaigns hit the final stretch, nasty rhetoric sounds like a throwback from a bygone era.

In two races next Tuesday, incendiary racial politics is the weapon of choice for a front group in Lansing that attacks two Democratic county commission candidates.

The county commission candidate named didn’t say what this placard suggests he did.

Ed Bruley of Mount Clemens, longtime county Democratic Party chairman, is the main target as he seeks to regain a Board of Commissioners seat. Campaign literature relies entirely on comments by the Rev. W.J. Rideout III, a Detroit pastor who claims that a small, all-white Democratic club formed decades ago by Bruley and others still has this policy: “No Negroes need apply.” That phrase, featured in large type on one mailing, is falsely attributed to Bruley.

A second target is Julie Matuzak of Clinton Township, a candidate for commissioner and president of the Phil Hart Democratic Club. Rideout, pastor of the All God’s People Church in Detroit and a fledgling worship site in Roseville, is again quoted in mailings that describe the club as a secretive, racist organization. Matuzak is labeled “Macomb County’s racist Karen,” a reference to viral videos of white women behaving badly.

For a county with an ugly history of racially exploitive campaigns, this represents another stain.

To be clear, no evidence exists that the Mount Clemens-based Phil Hart Democratic Club is an exclusionary group that chooses members based on race. It’s actually a tight-knit group of 10-15 members associated with former Congressman David Bonior. Their sole activity is running local Bingo games and using the profits to help Democratic candidates.

But the insular club has strange rules. Applicants need two sponsors among existing members and must be approved by a unanimous vote. Rideout claims his bid for membership was rejected, which the club has denied.

The exceedingly odd circumstance here is that Bruley and Matuzak, who are white, are liberal Democrats devoted to racial and religious diversity. They’ve had leading roles at the Interfaith Center for Racial Justice in Mount Clemens and in creating the county’s annual Martin Luther King Day dinner.

So, why are they in the crosshairs? And who is sniping?

Continue reading here.

This is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Deadline Detroit.