SOUTHFIELD — Each of the candidates for the 14th Congressional district seat in this year’s election agreed in support of federal legislation to help Detroit, except for U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke, who announced Friday plans to skip ensuing debates due to “racist rhetoric.”
Democrats U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, former state Rep. Mary Waters of Detroit, and retired magistrate Bob Costello of Detroit and Republican John Hauler of Grosse Pointe Woods spoke at the League of Women Voters-sponsored event Sunday at Congregation Shaarey Zedek.
Clarke, of Detroit, said in a statement Friday that he would not participate due to “racist rhetoric and race-baiting.” The statement did not specify a particular incident, but comes at a time in which Clarke has come under attack for allegedly misidentifying his mother’s race.
Clarke is thought of as the first Bangladeshi-American Congressman; a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who claims on his website that his mother, Thelma Hashim, is African-American.
On Saturday, the Detroit Free Press published Hashim’s 1976 death certificate, identifying her as white. The Free Press reports that radio show host Mildred Gaddis said on her show last week that a robo-call to 14th district households claimed that Clarke is not black.
An empty chair sat next to Costello, who spoke in support of Clarke in a statement, calling the ancestry attacks “repugnant.”
Waters, an African-American from Detroit, attacked Clarke in closing statements.
“If your ethnicity is in question, then come forward,” Waters said. “You can’t take your marbles and run home, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve got to be strong and you’ve got to stand up. He should be right here and he should confront me.”
‘Urban agenda’ frames debate
Every candidate Sunday acknowledged the socioeconomic spectrum of the district — stretching from southwest Detroit to Grosse Pointe and across Southfield into Farmington Hills, West Bloomfield, and Pontiac — which had come under controversy when it was implemented this year.
“Detroit needs simple things that we enjoy in the suburbs that we take for granted,” Lawrence said. “There was a wonderful example of mutual partnership for the fireworks and that was to make sure it was a safe night. We’re going to have to do more of that.”
In front of a small, packed crowd at the Conservative synagogue, Lawrence and Peters suggested that the federal government can serve as a catalyst to improve Detroit with funds dedicated to improvements in mass transit.
“The mass transit issue is extremely important. Every city that has mass transit has a system of youth, property values go up … we must make that a priority,” Lawrence said.
Peters said, “We are the only region in the country that doesn’t have mass transit … it brings jobs, it brings people who want to live there, stores, activities.”
Waters spoke in support of an “urban agenda” for single mothers including funds dedicated to education, day-care, transportation and job training. “I am truly convinced that if you have employment in a city, you don’t need to worry about social services as much.”
Costello, a Detroit resident, suggested that a tax credit could be used as incentive to bring suburbanites back to the city. “Detroit has been a disaster as far as getting federal help goes. It’s been going on since the mid-60s. Look at it, it has not worked because people have moved. We need people there to pay the bills,” he said.
Hauler suggested a federal tax-free zone for the entire city. “As opposed to the federal government giving us money, how about they stop taking it out of our checks for 10 years? You will get people in that city tomorrow.”