Detroit — While the whole world is watching the celebrity death match between Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump, a Michigan statehouse race quietly offers plenty of color and a chance for Republicans to gain a toehold in this beleaguered city, some of the Democrats’ most reliable real estate. A GOP victory here eventually could reverberate beyond Eight Mile Road.
The first district’s contest for state representative pits Will Broman, 24, a white, Republican engineer from Grosse Pointe Woods, against Brian Banks, 39, a black serial felon from Detroit. Significantly, Banks is the two-term incumbent and chairman of the Detroit Caucus in Lansing.
Broman earned the endorsement of the Detroit News, the only GOP candidate in the Motor City to do so. As the News stated:
Republican William Broman gets our endorsement over Democrat incumbent Brian Banks, who has been again charged with a felony on top of past felonies. He’s also been convicted of writing bad checks and credit card fraud. He’s entirely unfit for office. Broman, a Grosse Pointe Woods native, works for a Michigan-based automotive supplier. His key issues include increasing access to childcare for parents pursuing a college degree, establishing a standard for education technology infrastructure for all school districts statewide, and bringing innovation and research and development centered businesses and jobs back to Detroit’s neighborhoods.
The newspaper’s staff editorial does not do justice to state Representative Banks’s ample rap sheet.
Banks was evicted from his home for non-payment of rent in 2012. He also faced eviction seven times in recent years. Two of Banks’s cars were repossessed for non-payment.
Banks scored eight felony convictions between 1998 and 2005, for credit-card fraud and writing bad checks. He awaits trial on his ninth, tenth, and eleventh felony charges. Prosecutors say he filed a loan application containing false information. While these crimes normally carry penalties of one to 14 years behind bars, Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette indicted Banks as a habitual offender. Thus, if convicted, Banks could be imprisoned for life.
A judge barred Banks from leaving the Wolverine State.
But wait. There’s more.
Michigan taxpayers in October 2015 spent $12,000 in legal fees and $85,000 in settlement money to conclude a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed against Banks by Tramaine Cotton, “a promoter of often risqué parties’” according to local newsman M. L. Elrick of WJBK-TV.
Banks hired Cotton as an aide and soon started to demand oral sex, Cotton claimed. “There was one bed inside the hotel, so you want me to sleep with you? It was just too much,” he said.
Banks denied the accusation before resolving Cotton’s complaint out of court.
“But Banks wasn’t required to pay any of the settlement money,” Elrick reported. “A spokesman for [Michigan] House speaker Kevin Cotter says the speaker figured it would be cheaper for the state to foot the bill than risk losing in court.”
Never mind the bright-orange shirts in which Broman campaigns. His record is nowhere as colorful as Banks’s criminal career. The Michigan Voters Guide online candidate questionnaire, which Banks left blank, asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?” Broman’s response: “No.”
Broman took time off from his work as an auto-industry product-development engineer to run this race. He also has a patent pending on an interactive bulletproof vest that wirelessly alerts police or military commanders if their uniformed personnel have been hit and identifies any organs that may have been injured.
Broman is competing in a district that straddles Grosse Pointe and several black communities in Detroit.
Broman is competing in a district that straddles Grosse Pointe and several black communities in Detroit. He has addressed the local NAACP and shaken hands at area bus stops during the morning rush hour. He walks with comfort and familiarity through residential areas and knows by name several people at a community recreational center. He has made friends in black neighborhoods and helped residents reclaim vacant lots, launch parks, and cultivate produce in an area called Yorkshire Woods.
“The Four Angels Garden is named for the four angel statuettes found during the cleanup of the lots after the community organization bought them,” Broman says. “I’ve helped clear the land and make the structures for the raised soil beds.”
Tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables grow just across Kensington Avenue from two houses that are totally boarded up and another that just sits there, gutted by fire.
Right next door, an abandoned home has been removed, leaving nothing but a square patch of grass. Many of these lots have mowed lawns. The result is less a collection of once vibrant, now nonexistent homes, and a bit more like mini-parks sprinkled among modest dwellings — some occupied, some not.
#share#Red Alert Politics in September included Broman among its “30 Under 30” of America’s most promising center-right leaders. Broman reflected then on what Republicans can offer Americans like those whom he hopes to represent.
“The GOP has a great future ahead of it, especially if we focus on urban progress, and reversing the long-term negative effects of liberal policies that promote government dependence,” Broman said. “We need to enact policies that reduce barriers to economic freedom and put financial independence within reach of everyone. We need to improve access to capital and other resources for minority entrepreneurs. We need to constantly remind ourselves that urban and rural poverty are two different problems, requiring different solutions. And we need to do this without increasing state budgets.”
Broman has been working with a young gas-station owner. For safety’s sake, let’s call him Nabil. He operates in a rough part of Detroit’s east side. How rough? According to a March 1 U.S. Justice Department press release announcing the prosecution of local gangbangers, the “Seven Mile Bloods or ‘SMB’ members have claimed this area as their territory and refer to it as the ‘Red Zone.’ The area is in zip code 48205, which SMB members refer to as ‘4-8-2-0-Die’ in some of their rap lyrics.”
Nabil emerges from behind the bulletproof-glass cage in front of which his customers line up to buy fuel and food. While a cashier tends to them, Nabil leads Broman and me into a stock room where he can speak more freely.
Surrounded by crates of candy and soft drinks waiting to start their shelf lives, Nabil explains that, not long ago, drug dealers roamed his premises and peddled their wares. He bravely confronted them and invited them to take their illicit transactions elsewhere.
Nabil now wants to include his business in the Detroit Police Department’s Project Green Light program, through which gas stations install TV cameras. These lenses feed live video images into the Real Time Crime Center at Detroit Police headquarters.
The green lights that merchants then display send a simple message: The cops are watching.
“This would cost me money up front,” Nabil says. If others in the program are any guide, shady characters — who are plentiful around here — will steer clear, at least early on. Let’s just call them camera shy. Regardless, Nabil is willing to make this initial sacrifice, improve the safety of his property, and, thus, attract more law-abiding patrons.
Alas for Nabil, he has walked into a wall of red tape involving his gas-station mini-mart’s ability to accept Food Stamps, a sadly common unit of exchange in this area. Letting his customers use Food Stamps would compensate for some of the revenue he expects to lose as a Green Light participant.
“What I hope to do is work with the [U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the Food Stamp program] to get the privileges restored, because this is such a distressed area with limited access to affordable food, and Nabil wants to help the community and become a Green Light station,” Broman says. “Government red tape is getting in the way of creating a healthier and safer community.”
Broman’s personal touch seems to have impressed André Walk, a local activist and vice president of the Eden Gardens Community Block Club.
“Will’s been very active and embracing as a Republican candidate working in a pretty much Democratic environment,” Walk tells me. “I found him to be amazing. The guy has the tenacity to continue to fight and strive for election. In my personal conversations with him, I told him, ‘You’ve got to be one of the bravest guys I ever have seen, to see what you’re up against and continue to represent the party that you represent.’”
‘Will’s been very active and embracing as a Republican candidate working in a pretty much Democratic environment.’
— André Walk
“I admire his courage,” Walk adds. “He attends all the town hall meetings. He’s working in the community. I see him out. As a matter of fact, he passed out candy to trick-or-treaters in the area the other night. He was there faithfully. I told him, ‘You’ve got to be one of the craziest white guys I’ve ever seen, or you’re really sincere about proving to your colleagues that you want to see some change in Lansing.’”
Walk recalls what he recently told Broman:
“I said, ‘Here’s how I think your situation is going to end up: Either you will make some headway and prove to your colleagues that people really want change, or you are going to go out of your way in some form or fashion, if you don’t win, to set the example that you personally have been in this area and seen some of the pain and suffering, and that will be part of your true experience,’” Walk adds. “He will be able to talk about this from a hands-on perspective. That is his blessing.”
Broman also generates praise from a fellow Grosse Pointe native active in the state GOP.
“Will is like no other Republican candidate in the entire state of Michigan,” says Grant Strobl, a member of the Michigan 14th Congressional District Republican Executive Committee. “The racial divide between Detroit and Grosse Pointe is dramatic, and Will is trying to bridge that gap. He is actively advocating commonsense, conservative solutions that will help everyone rise.” Strobl also leads the University of Michigan Young Americans for Freedom and twice has hosted my speeches to his group.
As for Brian Banks, he is maintaining a stunningly low profile, perhaps hoping that staying out of sight will keep him out of the minds of voters. On Election Day, the mere presence of the word “Democrat” beside his name will generate thousands of votes, especially if he has given his constituents little reason to remember his record of skullduggery.
But what if Banks loses and Broman wins? If elected, Banks’s Republican challenger could become an evangelist for limited-government, free-market solutions to urban problems.
As an elected state legislator, Broman could address black churches, civic groups, business associations, charter schools, and so on — all across Michigan.
“Detroit voters are not exposed to Republicans who will engage them in conversation, listen to their needs, and take their needs into account in the policy-making process,” Broman says while driving near the city’s once beautiful, now fenced-off train station.
If black citizens actually meet a Republican who endeavors to know them, learn their concerns, and offer them conservative alternatives to the bankrupt policies that have betrayed them, maybe they will listen to other Republicans who make the effort to knock on their doors.
#related#Imagine that Broman can reach 15,000 to 25,000 black voters who become open-minded about the GOP and then share its ideas with their friends, neighbors, and loved ones. In tight races, those voters could deliver victories for Republican House and Senate candidates. And, in a presidential squeaker, blacks who believe in Broman could help flip Michigan into the Republican column, along with its 16 Electoral College votes.
MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz coined the term “The Butterfly Effect” in 1960.
“The idea was that if a butterfly chances to flap his wings in Beijing in March, then, by August, hurricane patterns in the Atlantic will be completely different,” explains the University of Houston’s John Lienhard.
Will Broman could become the “Motown Butterfly.”
If Detroit and Grosse Pointe voters on Tuesday give him the opportunity to flutter his wings, he could trigger a puff of air today that could grow into favorable tailwinds for pro-market candidates tomorrow.