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Dems stump for union votes in Detroit

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

The concerns of lower-wage union workers dominated a debate between the Democrats in the governor’s race Thursday night.

The Service Employees International Union sponsored the event in Detroit. Workers questioned Gretchen Whitmer, Shri Thanedar, Abdul El-Sayed, and Bill Cobbs about everything from privatized correctional services, to the lack of union representation for home health care workers.

One questioner wanted to know how the workers who clean downtown Detroit buildings stand to benefit from the area’s resurgence.

“Here’s the thing: Detroiters have to participate in the renaissance of this city,” responded former state senator Gretchen Whitmer, who has the backing of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “Detroit is not a successful city until it is a city of successful Detroiters.”

Whitmer emphasized the important of Democrats’ re-taking power in Lansing, saying the minority party can accomplish little with just “opposition.”

Candidate Abdul El-Sayed talked about his two-year stint trying to rebuild Detroit’s health department after privatization and the city’s bankruptcy.

El-Sayed also took a rare direct shot the race’s two current frontrunners. “I’m the only candidate out here who’s actually raising money, not buying my own election, who’s not taking corporate funds,” he said.

That first shot was at the self-financed campaign of millionaire serial entrepreneur Thanedar. The second was directed at Whitmer, who’s also pulled in most of the major union support in the race.

The candidates also discussed more Detroit-specific issues, like how the region’s continuing lack of mass transit and high car insurance rates are special challenges for low-wage workers.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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