Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, under fire for comments, could be re-elected
Warren's three-term mayor, Jim Fouts, will be seeking a fourth term.
That's despite several secretly recorded tapes of Fouts making vile comments about black people, women, political enemies, and special needs children.
Fouts' opponent, Kelly Colegio, says "words matter," and urges residents to vote him out.
Most people, like him or not, agree on this at least: Jim Fouts, Mayor of Warren, Michigan, calls you back.
When he called this reporter back, he demanded I promise not to interview anyone from an anti-Fouts website called "Out with Fouts."
Of course I said no. I knew he'd still agree to be interviewed.
Now, Fouts gives a darn good elevator speech for re-election.
He hired Warren's first-ever African American department head, he says. He says his plan for a new downtown will make it a local destination in metro Detroit. He advocated for a detention basin to address Warren's long-time flooding problems.
"If we have a crisis, like we had a major flood situation in the middle of the summer, I was on the phone Saturday night past midnight, contacting the police department, the fire department, residents were calling me about streets that needed help, basements that were flooded," he says.
He adds, "So I think I'm a unique mayor, I don't think there's any mayor like me in the history of Warren. I live and breathe Warren."
In public, Fouts comes across as a consummate politician, attentive to constituents' needs.
Behind closed doors, he's a different person.
Secretly recorded tapes of his private comments have been released to the media. Two of the tapes were released to the media by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.
The comments are awful.
He's said he'd enjoy shooting a former staff member in the head. He's compared a black woman and her daughter to animals. He's used the "n" word. He's bragged about dating only very young women (he's now 77) and called older women the "c" word. He's called children with developmental disabilities the "r" word and said they should be put in cages or killed.
"What good are they," he says in one of the tapes. "They're dysfunctional human beings. They're not even human beings."
Fouts says the tapes are fakes. But a TV station hired a forensic audio expert who confirmed the tapes were of Fouts and were not faked or manipulated.
Fouts will double down if he senses you aren't buying the deep fake claim.
"No one has stepped forward, all right? So until someone steps forward and says that 'I taped it,' then it is not a legitimate issue," he said during the interview, raising his voice.
But it's legitimate to Kelly Colegio, the former city council member running against Fouts. She called for Fouts to apologize or resign after some of the tapes were released in 2016.
Michigan Radio and Colegio played phone tag but we couldn't get an interview with her before deadline.
But on her Facebook campaign page, Colegio says she wants that mom of a special needs child she met on the campaign trail to know, the city of Warren has her back.
"Warren is at a crossroads, not just a crossroads from a city that in my opinion has had a lack of administration, forethought, and vision, it's also at a crossroads in my opinion on a moral standard," she says in a video.
But Colegio faces an uphill battle. In the primary, where the top two vote getters go on to the November election, she came in second with just under 24% of the vote. Fouts got 58%. Fouts has won previous elections by a big margin, based largely on votes from older, white residents for whom political incorrectness is less important than knowing they can call Mayor Fouts if there's a problem with garbage pickup.
If Fouts is re-elected, though, his job could get harder. Pro-Fouts city council members were term limited off the ballot.
That leaves a slate of new candidates, some like Garry Watts, who isn't just horrified by Fouts' private comments.
He thinks the mayor's doing a poor job.
He says city parks are suffering after Fouts laid off all the parks and recs workers; that years after approval, that retention basin is still just a bunch of surveyors' stakes in the ground; that Fouts' downtown plan is too ambitious and expensive.
"We're 50 police officers short, we're paying two police millages. Forty firefighters short," says Watts. "But yet crime is on the increase. In all his campaign literature, he uses old crime stats."
Watts says if he's elected, and Fouts is elected, he'll find a way to work with him. Other candidates critical of the mayor say the same thing.
On Tuesday, Warren voters will have to decide if what Fouts says in private should outweigh what they know he can do in public.
But it appears he remains the frontrunner, by far.