Warren Mayor Jim Fouts has done it again.
Despite facing more than half a dozen controversies over the past 2 ½ years, each of which would sink nearly any other elected official, the 76-year-old incumbent sailed through Tuesday’s primary and will serve as the prohibitive favorite when he faces re-election in November.
The mayor of Michigan’s third-largest city easily brushed aside the eight candidates who challenged him in the primary election. With the weak field narrowed to two contenders, Fouts will now face city Councilwoman Kelly Colegio in the fall.
But Colegio trailed Fouts by nearly a 3-1 margin on Tuesday as Fouts had 58 percent of the vote and Colegio garnered 23.6 percent. All other candidates were in single digits.
So, Fouts, who was supposedly facing a difficult election, remains popular with city voters even as he’s best known across Michigan for his crude remarks about women, minorities and the disabled.
Since December 2016, a series of audio recordings of Fouts speaking behind closed doors have been leaked to the media. On those secret tapes, the mayor has: used the N-word and referred to blacks as chimpanzees; mused about sexually abusing a female victim of domestic violence; said that handicapped children – “retards” — should be locked in cages or euthanized; called older women “dried-up c*nts;” complained that the treatment he received from the press was like being raped; suggested that a U.S. senator with a developmentally disabled daughter should have had the “mongoloid” child aborted; marveled at how easy it is to secure a 16-year-old prostitute in the Netherlands; and labeled homosexuals as “fags.”
In each case, the tone of Fouts’ voice suggests that he harbored no concerns at all that his comments, spoken among his staff, were beyond the pale. Apparently, from the standpoint of Warren voters, he was right.
Fouts has limply claimed that it’s not his voice on those tapes but in 2017 a voice-recognition expert concluded that the recordings matched Fouts’ voice.
The idea expressed by Fouts’ foes in recent months that a surge of voters at the polls would oust the mayor now seems ridiculous. The turnout on Tuesday was just 17.1 percent, despite the drama surrounding Fouts plus the fact that voters were choosing nominees who will determine control of city council.
The city has dealt with Fouts’ verbal bombshells for four decades – as a longtime city councilman and as mayor since 2007 – but the voters still want him back for more. Four more years.
Throughout the primary campaign it appeared that Fouts was coasting. He was uncharacteristically quiet. He spent only spent $28,000. His first campaign mailer did not arrive in mailboxes until late July.
Colegio, a former Fouts ally, managed to cobble together a mere $24,000 campaign, with more than 90 percent of the funds coming from the candidate and her husband. She starts her general election campaign with $500 in the bank. In contrast, the incumbent mayor has more than $76,000 cash on hand and could raise tens of thousands more in the unlikely event that he needs to do so.
Two years ago, after several tapes had surfaced, some of Fouts’ many critics said he was finished. He would be forced to resign, they said. Or he would be recalled by the voters. If not, he certainly would lose in 2019.
But Fouts’ detractors underestimated the apathy of most Warren voters, and the ability of those who do vote to excuse the mayor’s outrageous behavior. The mayor gives the city a bad name. In return, on Tuesday the city gave Fouts an endorsement.