In a recent editorial meeting with the Michigan Chronicle, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said heading the largest election department in the state has prepared her to become the next Michigan Secretary of State. Winfrey said that as Detroit’s chief election officer she has been tested and knows what is required to oversee elections at the state level as well as guarantee the voting rights of the citizenry. Winfrey, who recently announced her campaign, said she has the judgment and the knowledge to be trusted with that office. She is one of two Democrats running for the position in the Democratic primary. The other candidate is Jocelyn Benson, a Wayne State University law professor and an election advocate.
The two recently held their first debate on “Center Stage” on WADL TV 38, a weekly program hosted by Chronicle senior editor Bankole Thompson.
Following are excerpts from the Winfrey interview:
MICHIGAN CHRONICLE: Why are you running for Secretary of State?
JANICE WINFREY: To usher in a new brand of leadership at the Secretary of States Office, as well as in other areas of state government that interface with the Secretary of State.
A brand of leadership that will be based on transparency, integrity, partnership with various communities, better working relationships with the local government.
A brand of leadership that will work hard to build bridges between our two political parties so as to put our citizens’ business ahead of political ideology.
A brand of leadership that transformed Detroit Department of Elections from a very poor rating into one of the best among the eleven largest cities in Election Administration in the United States. I will extend the same drives and commitment in transforming the same excellent records as your Secretary of State.
MC: Why did you wait so long to join the race?
JW: Integrity is everything to me and has always been a critical element of my administration. I was on the ballot seeking reelection for a second term as Detroit City Clerk. Ethics dictates that one must focus primarily on the task at hand and completing that task satisfactorily before declaring to contest for any other elective office. I chose to satisfy the interests of the people that I am presently serving to ensure that they are satisfied, and we worked hard and made them proud. To date, Detroit is the first among the eleven major cities that have ever released 100 percent of major election results before 11p.m. the same election night. The historic landmark was made in the Municipal Election of Nov. 3, 2009. In addition, I had to wait until the election was certified by the Board of Election Canvassers. Again, I had to put the people that elected me first before my personal interests. I joined the race at the appropriate time. I do not consider it being too late.
MC: What does it take for a Democrat to win?
JW: I have confidence in the Michigan electorate. Michigan voters want a Secretary of states that have already been tested. They want a Secretary of State who has a track record of verifiable records of hands-on accomplishments. As a city clerk of the largest municipality in the state, my job relatively parallels that of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State operates on the state level while I handle similar job at the local level. Just to give one example, while the state maintains the State’s Qualified Voter File(QVF) we maintain the same voter file at the local level.
If our party nominates a candidate that has already established a verifiable track record of accomplishments, a candidate that has been tested with actual responsibilities of governance, a candidate that is knowledgeable about the inner workings of governance, victory will be certain because these are the traits that Michigan voters can relate with.
MC: What makes you qualified and made you decide to run?
JW: The main reason why I decided to seek for the position of Secretary of State is because I know I can do the job competently and passionately.
As I stated earlier, the job of a City Clerk and that of a Secretary of State are relatively similar. That of the SOS is at a macro level while that of a City Clerk is at a micro level. I have the passion and the commitment to contribute in helping to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our fellow citizens.
MC: What specifically do you intend to do in that office if you are elected?
JW: Do you mean when I get elected?
JW: Administer those laws that are prohibitive by nature so as to be less burdensome to our fellow citizens. Such laws as drivers’ responsibility laws, immigration policies (education and translators to assist new immigrants).
Work with local clerks to create an enabling environments and mitigate on some policies from Lansing that have hampered their ability to serve their residents satisfactorily.
MC: What do you make of the Michigan Democratic Party’s proposal to endorse their candidates for Secretary of State and Attorney General April 17?
JW: If the decision was made by the entire or majority of the party leadership, we all have to respect the decision. However, if it was a unilateral decision of one person being imposed on the entire leadership or the party delegates, it creates some doubts about the entire process. It may create some suspicion that it was designed for the benefit of few individuals; therefore it would call the integrity of our democratic process into question. In addition, it may create a very dangerous precedent in the future nomination process within our party.
MC: Does this proposal cheat other competent candidates in the race?
JW: Again, I think it has the potential to create a dangerous precedent to the detriment of not just our party but our system of government.
MC: What would you consider some of your biggest achievements as Detroit City Clerk?
JW: Restoring and rebuilding public’s confidence in our Election Administration by right-sizing our voter files and introducing some progressive changes that ushered in transparency and integrity in our entire operational process. Establishing the very first state of the Archive/ Record Management System for the City of Detroit. Prior to my becoming Detroit City Clerk, the City of Detroit did not have an archive. Today, I am proud to say that we now have a functioning archive with full staff to maintain vital city records.