By Paul Rozycki
Flint’s first mayoral primary election under its new charter delivered victories to incumbent Mayor Karen Weaver and State Representative Sheldon Neeley (34th District).
In Tuesday’s vote, Mayor Weaver came out ahead with 42 percent of the vote, and challenger Neeley came close with just under 40 percent. Weaver had 3815 votes, and Neeley had 3586 votes.
They defeated two other challengers, businessman Don Pfeiffer, who got 13 percent of the vote, and Greg Eason, former city administrator under Mayor Dayne Walling, who picked up five percent.
With their victories, Weaver and Neeley will now run against each other in the Nov. 5 general election.
Results not a surprise
The result was not unexpected. Mayor Weaver put together a well-financed and well organized campaign, raising nearly $250,000 early in the year. Though a first time political candidate, she defeated Dayne Walling, when she ran for mayor in 2015.
Since that time she has made the Flint water crisis a centerpiece of her administration, and brought national attention to it, welcoming political leaders and celebrities to the city to see the problems first hand. She faced a recall in 2017 and kept her position.
After her win, she said, “I’m still standing and ready for November,” after a tough campaign in which she faced harsh criticism about some of her appointments and contracts.
Sheldon Neeley, a well-known name in Flint politics, served on the Flint City Council and is completing his third term as a member of the state House of Representatives. He made the decision to run for mayor just a few weeks before the filing deadline, and relied on his history of community outreach and engagement to gather support.
He ran for mayor in 2009, losing to Dayne Walling. After his win, Neeley said, “I thank the voters” and said he was taking a short break before beginning the campaign for the fall.
He said one of his major goals was to “improve the quality of life in Flint and rebuild the infrastructure in the city.”
Don Pfeiffer, with 12 percent of the votes, emphasized his business experience and skills as a contractor in dealing with the Flint water crisis. In his campaign literature he directed some of the strongest attacks against the Weaver administration and its handling of the water crisis. He ran for mayor in 2011 and again in 2017.
Greg Eason, who ran for mayor in 2009, came in with five percent of the vote. Eason had served a city administrator with Mayor Dayne Walling and has been CEO of several non-profit organizations. In an interview with ABC 12 he said that a main goal of his was to bridge racial divisions in the city.
Turnout 12 percent
Turnout for the election was, as many expected, lower than usual. Michigan’s August primaries typically have about a 20 percent turnout, but Tuesday’s turnout was just under 12 percent.
The low turnout may have been due to several factors. The mayoral campaign was relatively low-level until the last week of the campaign, there was nothing else on the ballot in Flint, and there were few other contests in the county.
Expecting a low turnout, election officials consolidated a number of precincts and had them share workers and vote counting machines.
This was also an unusual election one other way. Because of the new charter the mayor will be elected for only three years, serving until 2022. After that, mayors will be elected for four-year terms, at the same time as the governor.
November to be first mayoral contest with two candidates of color
While the results of the election were what many expected, in a low turnout primary, many thought there could have been surprising outcomes. In a city where voting often breaks down along racial lines, there was the possibility that the three minority candidates could split the votes among minorities, giving Pfeiffer a shot at winning.
This will be Flint’s first mayoral election where both candidates are minorities. In most elections over the last several decades, the contest has broken down to one white candidate, and one minority candidate. With only a few exceptions, voting patterns in the various wards also reflected a racial division.
Some poll problems
In Flint there were problems with the polls opening late at Durant-Tuuri-Mott, as well as claims that absentee ballots were handled unfairly.
Earlier in the campaign, several of the candidates faced being forced off the ballot because of errors in their filing petitions. After a court hearing, all four were allowed to remain on the ballot and continue their campaigns.
And elsewhere in the county
In other elections in Genesee County, in Burton, Danny Wells, (46 percent) and Duane Haskins, (38 percent) defeated Lynne Freiberger (14 percent) and will face each other in November for the mayor’s position. Burton voters also elected city council members.
In other area contests, Byron area schools approved a sinking fund renewal, and Fenton turned down a sinking fund proposal.
Banner photo, polling place at Mott Community College, by Paul Rozycki.
EVM political commentator and staff writer Paul Rozycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.