Rep. Gary Peters talks to Ron and Robyn Markoe while campaigning door-to-door in the Sherwood Forest neighborhood of Detroit last weekend.
The reconfigured district is probably the most economically diverse in the country. It stretches from the gritty city of Pontiac, through the middle-class western Detroit suburbs and corporate Southfield, along commercial downtown Detroit, to some of the plushest lakeside neighborhoods with views of Canadian waters. The district’s axis is 8 Mile, a symbol of the Motor City’s financial disparity between the wealthier suburbs and downtown depression.
Women make up the majority of voters in this district. It’s one of the reasons a third prominent Democrat in the race, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, will siphon votes from either Clarke or Peters.
Neither Clarke nor Peters lived in the redrawn district, although Clarke has since listed a home address there. But as Peters knocks on doors in Sherwood Forest on a rainy Friday afternoon, it’s clear some voters view Clarke as the local candidate.
“I like Hansen Clarke here; I like you in Washington,” said Peter Williams, a 51-year-old who answered his door when Peters knocked. “Would you support him for mayor?”
Sherwood Forest is a quaint oasis several blocks from 8 Mile. It’s the kind of neighborhood that, if you speed down the street, someone will write down your license plate and tell the neighborhood watch. Nonetheless, one resident points to a beautiful nearby home priced around $40,000 — a sign of the decrepit local real estate market.
“I’ve known Hansen a million years, but I’m open,” said Ron Markoe, a retired transportation employee, in front of his manicured lawn.
Clarke was raised by a single mother in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Detroit. He served in the state Legislature for 14 years, ran a losing bid for Detroit mayor in 2005 and then ousted 14-term Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) in a 2010 primary.
“I’ve been in Congress for 18 months — long enough to see the system is really focused on one thing: keeping the people in office by raising a lot of money,” Clarke told a small crowd at a community event in a downtown hotel conference room. “I didn’t go to Congress though to change the system. You know what I went to Congress for? My life experiences.”
Clarke is an empathetic and passionate speaker. But his organization pales in comparison to the Peters campaign.
Clarke’s campaign repeatedly promised access to the Congressman over several days before Sunday, when his aide declined additional access to events. He does not list a public campaign schedule on his website.
Race and Brother Peters
In late June, Clarke swore off participating in future debates after “racist rhetoric and race-baiting by certain candidates” in the contest. Democrats believe Clarke referred to another campaign that researched his late mother’s death certificate, which said she was white.
But Clarke unexpectedly showed up to a debate Thursday evening willing to participate. Debate organizers denied his request, saying he missed the deadline. He sat and watched from the audience instead. Later on, Peters rejected Clarke’s persistent attempts to debate him one-on-one for reporters.