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Insider Baseball: Why Power Brokers Are Backing A White Guy In A Michigan Black Majority Congressional District

A2P Notes: At A2Politico.com everyone is a political insider. That’s the way it should be. Local, state and to a lesser degree national politics have increasingly become the baileywick of professionals: candidates, their staffers, ad agencies, and political analysts. Voters go to the polls less informed than ever before in increasingly smaller numbers. As the stakes get higher, the American public has become more polarized. In the January 2012 issue of Esquire magazine, former President Bill Clinton told the interviewer: “MSNBC has become our version of Fox.” Rachel Maddow, who works for MSNBC, rankles at such comparisons, as she did in a recent interview in Slate. We have “progressive”  and “conservative” bloggers, who present news from predictable and somewhat simplistic perspectives. What we don’t often have, however, are people who work in politics, who have a deep understanding of the political process, and who are willing to share their secrets and insider perspectives. Joe DiSano is just one such writer.

DiSano is a long-time veteran of Michigan politics and has experience in races across the United States. Before establishing Message Design Group, DiSano served in various key staff positions for the Michigan House Democrats and Congressman John Dingell. In 2002, Message Design Group was retained by the Michigan House Democratic Fund. DiSano was active in Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s 2001 campaign where he co-authored the field plan and contributed to the direct mail program. DiSano was the manager of Michigan State Representative George Mans’ 1996 campaign and was lead strategist on Doug Spade’s 1998 long shot race for the Michigan House of Representatives. Spade went on to become the first Democratic House member from Lenawee County since World War I. DiSano founded Main Street Strategies 2007 alongside Kelly Johnston and Todd Cook. Main Street Strategies offers political candidates and advocacy group top-notch campaign advice and strategic communication plans. Clients of Main Street Strategies include Progress Michigan, Planned Parenthood of Michigan, Michigan AFL-CIO, Environmental Defense Fund, Operating Engineers Local 325, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, State Representative Andrew Kandrevas along with dozens of others.

In his debut piece for A2Politico, DiSano explains why Michigan power brokers are lining up behind Representative Gary Peters, a white-bread, middle-aged politico, in the Michigan 14th Congressional District which is primarily African-American—one of only two black majority Congressional Districts in the state. The primary in that District has been dubbed “Michigan’s most interesting primary.” Peters is running against Representative Hansen Clarke, who is of Bangladeshi and African-American descent. Clarke chose not to challenge Representative John Conyers, but instead decided to run in the Gerrymander 500. Roll Call referred to the Michigan 14th Congressional District as one of the “ugliest” examples of gerrymandering in U.S. DiSano explains why Michigan power brokers are not keen to send Hansen Clarke back to Congress.


by Joseph DiSano

Politics is about choices. Some are easy. Many are excruciating and Democrats in Michigan’s new 14th Congressional District face a tough choice in August. That’s when incumbent Congressmen Hansen Clarke and Gary Peters face off in a new district that stretches from Detroit north to Pontiac.

The past few weeks have seen a slow but steady momentum towards Peters as power brokers choose sides in the primary. The latest being the UAW and SEIU announcing their endorsement of Peters. The reasons are simple but clear. Peters has raised more money than Clarke and Peters has the superior political organization both are critical to communicating to voters is a sprawling district like the 14th.

But ready access to cash is not the entire reason Peters is rapidly becoming the prohibitive favorite in this primary. Many of the decision makers just don’t take Clarke seriously. They point to The Hill naming Clarke as one of “50 Most Beautiful People for 2011” as only the most public example of Clarke’s lack of gravitas.

And Clarke’s desire for the limelight has not come without a cost. Courting the DC elite stole precious time Clarke could have used to building a formidable political war chest. Instead of playing to The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Time, Huffington Post and The Washington Post, Clarke should have tended to the home fires with the same intensity. The lack of focus has cost Clarke with the major endorsers among Michigan Democrats.

The time spent courting the DC elite and national Press would have been better spent tending to the often mundane problems of real-world voters. Clarke’s constituent relations and outreach efforts are considered among the weakest of Michigan’s Congressional delegation.

But perhaps the most damage to Clarke’s reelection is his inability to make peace with the remnants of former Representative Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick’s organization. Clark defeated Cheeks-Kilpatrick, but has done little to sway her supporters to his side. The defeat of Cheeks-Kilpatrick was ugly and created resentments that Clark has done little to repair.

Clarke needs Detroit voters to support him as a block if he is to defeat Peters. That seems unlikely with the wounds of the 2010 primary unhealed and the presence of fringe candidates such as former State Representative Mary Waters or Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence in the race. If either of them picks up even a little momentum it greatly damages the odds of Clarke returning to the DC limelight in 2013.

Perhaps the biggest mistake Clarke has made in his first term is the decision to challenge Peters in the first place. Clarke could have challenged Representative John Conyers and potentially had an easier road to re-election. Conyers is ripe for the picking and has many of the same ethical and personal issues that caused the downfall of Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick. Clarke has refused to explain his decision not to challenge Conyers, but its clear Clarke has great admiration of the elder Congressman. That courtesy may cost Clarke a seat in Congress.

Peters is not without his detractors though. Many consider him wooden and lacking Clarke’s charisma. In addition, Peters’s voting record is decidedly less liberal than Clarke’s. Peters’s supporters say that even though his record veers into Blue Dog territory, that was more a result of the conservative nature of Peters’s old district and not a reflection of Peters’s real loyalties. Peters’s liabilities are tempered with the cold reality that Peters is a tenacious campaigner with the ability to buy more air time and put more boots on the ground than Clarke.

Endorsements and money are flowing to Peters because the decision-makers know that Peters spends more time tending to the people who elected him than Clarke does. They know that Peters lacks Clarke’s flair, but Peters is more reliable and much more of a work-horse than Clarke.

Clarke’s bad decisions are making a tough decision easier for Michigan Democratic power brokers. 

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5 Comments for “Insider Baseball: Why Power Brokers Are Backing A White Guy In A Michigan Black Majority Congressional District”

  1. Why did Hansen Clarke not run against Conyers?

    Easy. With the gerrymandering that occurred Conyers district extends all the way into Westland and the racial make-up of the district would likely make it easier that State Senator Glenn Anderson of Westland, the only white candidate currently facing Conyers and two other black candidates, may further divide the black vote if Clarke joined the race and ensure an Anderson victory. The district as drawn currently would encompass conservative white areas who would lean more readily t a white candidate.

    Sen. Glenn Anderson is campaigning heavily in his area and is expected to draw a large percentage of those voters in the current 4-way race.

  2. @Dave D. that was exactly that question I had when I finished reading Joe’s piece. Everyone loves a mystery and I suppose the mystery in the Michigan 14th is why Hansen Clarke didn’t challenge John Conyers. I’m thrilled to have Joe sharing his insights with A2Politico.

    • Why did Peters not run against Levin. The reason is because Peters believes the black majority will not vote in the primary. Peters goal is to manipulate races like he did against Rocky and Knollenberg. Peters is not a great politician he is a dirty snake who tries to ruin his competition. If Peters thinks the folks from 6, 7, and 8 mile from Greenfield to Gratiot is gonna support his republican
      past and non minority representative views he is at the end of this rope.

  3. This is a very interesting piece and welcome to Joseph DiSano. A2P is right that everyone should be an insider. I felt like one after reading this. On the face of it unions, politicians, etc. backing the white candidate should come as no surprise to anyone. But the perception that Hansen Clarke is not as serious as Gary Peters that’s pretty interesting. So here’s a question that I wish DiSano had puzzled out for us, why didn’t Clarke challenge Conyers? The fact that there are so many similarities between Conyers and Cheeks-Kilpatrick makes the question ever more interesting. Any guesses? Was there a deal, or did Clarke just make a huge tactical mistake?

    • Joe must be high from the sugar from all the donuts he has been eating if he believes this. Peters was supported by unions because he has the most cash on hand and the unions want to spend as little as possible. The only people supporting Peters
      are the people he is paying, like Joe DiSano. Peters is greasing as many pockets as he can but the truth is this is a majority black district and we need to be represented properly. If Peters was so great he would have ran against Levin, which he was going to do until he polled and saw he lost. Also the Jewish community said he would not get monetary support if he challenged Levin, who is holding on to the seat for his son. In Peters mind the only thing important is his political career. If he loses this race he will not be able to fundraise for future races, probably governor in 14, to try and get revenge on the republicans who outdrew him. Republicans are not stupid, they know Peters is out for revenge and is plotting a run for governor in 14. Peters is a snake in the grass and this is what he gets for going after Knollenberg the way he did.

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