Your Primer on 5 Local Mayoral Races

Voters winnow down fields for mayor in several cities in the Aug. 3 primary. The marquee race is a test of Mike Duggan’s longevity.
detroit mayoral race - mike duggan and anthony adams
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (left) and Anthony Adams are both running in the city’s mayoral race. // Photographs courtesy of City of Detroit and Anthony Adams

It’s easy to forget because it’s been that kind of summer and so many of us are still exhausted from the never-ending controversies surrounding the 2020 presidential election, but Aug. 3 is primary Election Day in Michigan. Here’s a primer on five mayoral races — headlined, of course, by Detroit’s. All are nonpartisan races in which the top two vote-getters face off in November.

Detroit

Mayor Mike Duggan hopes to become the second person to win more than two terms running the Motor City — Coleman Young holds the record with five terms — and is expected to breeze through to November, given that a poll in May found he had a 68 percent favorability rating and was 49 points ahead of his nearest challenger. He’s running on a record of revitalizing the downtown area, improving downtrodden areas, and managing the city’s finances well following its 2013 bankruptcy. His best-known opponent is former Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams, who worked under disgraced ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and has served as a board member and lawyer for Detroit Public Schools. He’s critical of Duggan’s policies on policing and redevelopment, among other complaints.

Sterling Heights

Mayor Mike Taylor, a Republican who endorsed Democrat Joe Biden for president in 2020, faces a challenge from former City Council member Ken Nelson. Nelson calls himself a “nonpartisan conservative” and claims on his website that Taylor “embarrassed a significant portion of Sterling Heights voters by speaking, for them, in disrespectful letters to [then-President Donald Trump] and news stories in local and out-of-state newspapers with his very partisan opinions.” As of June, a third candidate on the ballot, Charles Jefferson, had no campaign website, hadn’t posted on Facebook since 2020, and had “liked” Nelson’s Facebook campaign page.

Dearborn

Seven candidates vie to replace retiring longtime Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. Five have served in elected office — City Council President Susan Dabaja, Dearborn School Board member Hussein Berry, state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, former state Rep. Gary Woronchak, and former City Council President Tom Tafelski. Tafelski lost by 14 points to O’Reilly in the 2017 mayoral race. Financial adviser Jim Parrelly, who ran a distant third in the 2017 primary, also is running again. Dabaja, Berry, or Hammoud would be the first
Arab-American mayor for a city where 40 percent of residents claim that heritage.

Pontiac

Mayor Deirdre Waterman is running for a third term as a write-in candidate after being tossed from the ballot for failing to file required campaign finance reports on time. Of the four candidates on the ballot, the most serious appears to be former state Rep. Tim Greimel, who lost the Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat in 2018 to eventual Rep. Haley Stevens. 

Dearborn Heights

Ford engineer Bill Bazzi became the city’s first Muslim mayor in January following Mayor Dan Paletko’s death from COVID-19. He’ll battle City Council President Denise Malinowski-Maxwell, who was interim mayor after Paletko’s death before the council voted 4-3 to permanently elevate Bazzi. Businessman Anthony Camilleri is also on the ballot. 

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Steve Friess is news and features editor at Hour Detroit and a contributing writer for Newsweek. A Long Island native who earned a journalism degree at Northwestern University, Friess worked at newspapers in Rockford, Illinois, Las Vegas, and South Florida before launching a freelance career in Beijing, China, where he served as chief China correspondent for USA Today. After his return to the U.S. in 2003, he settled in Las Vegas, where he covered the gambling industry and the American Southwest regularly for The New York Times, Playboy, The New Republic, Time, Portfolio, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. During that time, he created and co-hosted two successful and groundbreaking podcasts, the celebrity-interview show The Strip and the animal affairs program The Petcast. In 2011-12, Friess landed a Knight-Wallace Fellowship for mid-career journalists at the University of Michigan. That was followed by a stint as a senior writer covering the intersection of technology and politics at Politico in Washington, D.C., In 2013, he returned permanently to Ann Arbor, where he now lives with his husband, son, and three Pomeranians. He tweets at @SteveFriess and can be reached at sfriess@hour-media.com.