Detroit could be without Black representation in Congress again with top candidate off the ballot

May 21, 2024, 5:36 PM

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Detroit Democrat will not appear on the ballot after building significant support within the party in his attempt to unseat U.S. Rep. Shri Thanedar in Michigan’s August primary, after election officials determined that he had not submitted enough valid signatures.

Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett’s ruling on Tuesday to keep former state Sen. Adam Hollier off the ballot could keep Detroit without Black representation in Congress for the second consecutive term. Detroit, which is nearly 80% Black, had maintained some Black representation in Congress for almost 70 years until 2023.

In April, Hollier submitted 1,550 signatures to meet the ballot requirement, surpassing the 1,000 needed. Thanedar challenged the validity of the signatures, and Wayne County election staff found that close to half of the signatures were invalid.

The ruling, which can be appealed to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, is a major boost for Thanedar’s reelection bid and a blow to Detroit’s Black community after coalescing around Hollier, who is Black.

“I am extremely disappointed with the news from the Wayne County clerk following her professional review of our petitions,” Hollier said in a statement Tuesday. “Not for myself, but for the voters across the 13th District who deserve a real choice in who their next Congressperson will be.”

Thanedar, a former state representative and immigrant from India, topped a field of nine candidates in the Democratic primary in 2022. Hollier came in second, losing by just under 4,000 votes.

Thanedar’s win left Detroit this term without Black representation in Congress for the first time since the early 1950s.

Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, which includes part of Detroit, is represented by U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American. She is facing no significant challenges in her primary.

Faith leaders in Detroit and high-profile Michigan Democrats, including Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, endorsed Hollier’s campaign. In a rare move, the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus also endorsed Hollier over the incumbent.

“There’s some heartburn amongst Black Detroiters that they don’t have representation in Congress but also amongst Democrats in general,” said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic strategist in Michigan. “If you want to be able to keep ginning up Black Detroiters to vote, having some representation in the Congress is important.”

With Hollier out, that support could potentially shift to Mary Waters, a former state House member who has served on the Detroit City Council since 2021. But Waters had raised less than $10,000 through the end of March, and her campaign was seen as a longshot. Shakira Lynn Hawkins, an attorney, is also running in the Democratic primary.

Thanedar, a wealthy businessman who spent more than $10 million of his own money to run for governor in 2018, has a major cash advantage on Waters close to a month before absentee ballots will be sent out.

“Hollier was always going to be behind on resources, but he was at least going to have the resources to compete. Waters won’t,” said Hemond, the Democratic strategist. “Shri is going to spend money because that’s how he campaigns. And I expect that Shri will win this primary now.”

Detroit is heavily Democratic, making the primary winner the overwhelming favorite to win in the November general election.

Hollier is the latest high-profile Michigan candidate roiled by signature fraud. Just two years ago, five Republicans running for governor were kept off the ballot after fraudulent signatures were found on their nominating petitions. Multiple people have been charged with forgery and other crimes related to the phony petition signatures but no candidate was personally accused of knowingly submitting fraudulent petitions.

In his statement Tuesday, Hollier said he had put his trust “in someone who let us down in the collection of signatures.” His campaign has previously said that the “fraudulent activity was not conducted at the direction,” of the campaign. Wayne County election staff discovered that nearly 700 of the 1,550 signatures submitted by Hollier were invalid, citing reasons such as signers not being registered voters in the district and duplicate entries.

Hollier accused Thanedar of disenfranchising the Black voters of Detroit in his challenge, but Thanedar said all candidates should be expected to follow the rules to get on the ballot and “ensure the integrity of our election process.”

“Very little is asked of people who want to be on the ballot,” Thanedar told The Associated Press at an event in Detroit on Sunday. “All they need is 1,000 valid signatures. I don’t think that’s a tall order.”

Thanedar’s district holds part of metro Detroit’s large Arab American population and constituents have pushed back on his staunch support of Israel in its war against Hamas. In December, pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted an event he was speaking at and this month someone vandalized his community center with graffiti including the word “cease-fire.”

Opposing stances on the Israel-Hamas war also led to a tiff with Tlaib, who said Thanedar was too “busy posting memes” to help his constituents.

Ohio U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, also took a shot at Thanedar’s online presence in her endorsement of Hollier, saying that he would deliver results while “some politicians would rather tweet than show up.”


Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Detroit, Michigan, contributed to this report.

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Detroit could be without Black representation in Congress again with top candidate off the ballot