In a perfect world, the Detroit City Clerk’s office would function as efficiently and inconspicuously as a finely-tuned engine.
Poll workers would be trained, voters registered, absentee ballots distributed, elections administered and vote totals tallied without confusion, delay or controversy.
Citizens would be alerted to meetings of the city council and other public bodies far in advance, and the records of those proceedings would be easily available to (and navigable by) anyone with access to a computer or mobile device.
Procedural questions posed by voters, candidates and city officials would be answered quickly and accurately, and the integrity and impartiality of those responsible for providing the answers would be beyond reproach.
There is little doubt that the city clerk’s office has made tangible progress toward that ideal since Janice Winfrey upset her ethically challenged but well entrenched predecessor, Jackie Currie, 12 years ago. Under Winfrey’s stewardship, the clerk’s office has shed its reputation for corruption and made steady progress in cleaning up the city’s outdated election rolls. Once infamous for its delinquent vote-counting, the clerk’s office has posted most recent election results in a timely way.
That Detroit continues to lag comparably sized cities in voter turnout, ease of access to the polls and state-of-the-art information processing is hardly Winfrey’s fault alone. In many ways, her perseverance — in the face of shrinking resources, an unusually transient electorate and a Republican state Legislature hostile to the sort of common-sense reforms that have boosted voter participation in other states — has been admirable.
Still, there are signs that Winfrey has exhausted both her aptitude and her enthusiasm for the clerk’s job. Detroit’s 2016 presidential election was marred by equipment failures and procedural foul-ups that could have proved catastrophic in such a closely contested election. In post-mortems of that near-disaster, Winfrey has ladled blame on the state while being slow to own up to her office’s lapses. And she has waged unsuccessful campaigns for state and congressional office, betraying her waning interest in the post she holds.
Like former Mayor Dave Bing, Winfrey has restored integrity to an office sullied by her predecessor’s corrupt legacy. But just as Bing gave way to a successor whose skill-set was better suited to the next step in the city’s redevelopment, Detroiters now have the opportunity to make an upgrade in the clerk’s office.
Garlin Gilchrist II, 35, is a computer engineer and veteran political organizer who grew up in Detroit and returned three years ago as Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s director of new and emerging technology.
After graduating from the University of Michigan with degrees in computer science and computer engineering, Gilchrist worked for Microsoft in Washington state, where he was also a social media manager for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He later coordinated successful campaigns against initiatives to suppress minority voting in Florida, Texas and the Carolinas as a national campaign director for MoveOn.org, a progressive public policy group whose political action committee has raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates.
During Duggan’s first term, Gilchrist oversaw a program to upgrade the monitoring and maintenance of fire hydrants throughout the city and led the development of online platforms that make it easier for residents to request and monitor city services ranging from traffic signal repair to fallen tree removal.
He also spearheaded the Detroit Government Open Data Access To All (GO DATA) program, which provides Detroiters with the means to track the city’s efforts to improve law enforcement, the demolition of abandoned houses and other issues.
The Free Press Editorial Board endorsed Gilchrist in a three-way primary contest with Winfrey and Heaster Wheeler, another capable challenger, who threw his support to Gilchrist after the primary. We continue to be impressed with Gilchrist’s ambitious agenda for the clerk’s office, which includes plans to revamp the recruitment and training of poll workers, reduce obstacles to voter participation, and make better use of social media to publicize meetings and hearings.
While Winfrey emphasizes lobbying for changes in state law that would make it easier and more convenient for Detroiters to vote, Gilchrist has focused on proven initiatives (such as re-assigning voters to more convenient polling places and dispatching cell phone alerts and updates) that can be implemented at the local level, even if Michigan continues to elect Republican legislative majorities bent on suppressing voter turnout in Detroit.
His technical experience, pragmatic attitude and promise to spearhead a new generation of municipal leadership make GARLIN GILCHRIST II the best choice for voters in Detroit’s Nov. 7 general election.