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The latest in Detroit's election mess

If there was anything Detroit didn’t need, it is something else to makes the city and its residents a national laughingstock.

But sadly, that’s just what the city got yesterday, and this time, it seems that a part of the news media is to blame.

Here’s what happened. While for the last few months the spotlight has been on Detroit’s emergency manager, and its impending bankruptcy, there still are city elections this year. The expectation has been that after the emergency manager leaves, the people selected in November will eventually take over.

So whoever becomes mayor is important. There’s a primary election eleven days from now, when voters will determine which two candidates face each other in a November runoff. Though there are fourteen candidates on the ballot, much of the attention has gone to one man who is not, but who until yesterday was regarded as likely to make the runoff anyway.

That would be Mike Duggan, a longtime Wayne County political figure who moved to Detroit last year in order to run for mayor. For months, the experts thought the runoff was likely to come down to him, and to Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

But last month, Duggan was thrown off the ballot because of a technicality. Nevertheless, he decided to launch a write-in campaign, and polls showed he had a pretty good chance.

That is, until yesterday, when another candidate named Mike Dugeon, (or Dugeon) also suddenly appeared and filed as a write-in candidate.

The second Dugeon, whose name is spelled differently but who apparently pronounces it close to the same, is a most unlikely candidate. He is a thirty-one year old barber who has never voted. Not only did he file, but suddenly an Internet campaign site for him popped up, along with some professional campaign buttons.

My first thought was that one of the other campaigns must have put the second Dugeon (or Dugeon)  up to this. But it turns out that, at least according to the barber himself, Charlie LeDuff, a reporter for a local TV station in Detroit, came to his house and talked him into it, quote “to stir things up.“

It is likely to do exactly that, and not in a good way. Legally a write-in vote need not spell the candidate’s name exactly right, but the voter’s intent must be clear. But with two Duggans on the ballot, and misspellings likely, this sets up a scenario where other candidates may challenge every write-in vote, delaying the outcome.

Which is bound to add further to the national perception that Detroiters are a bunch of incompetent clowns who can’t even hold an election, much less balance the books or govern themselves.

I’m still not convinced one of the other candidates isn’t behind all this. But I do think that if the reporter did anything like what the new Dugeon claims, he should be fired for unethical behavior. Journalists are supposed to report what happens and analyze it. We may even publicly suggest policies.

But to consciously tamper with an election to create a story is way over any kind of ethical boundary line. The reporter says it didn’t happen quite that way. But whatever happened was wrong.

And one way or another, all of us are all going to pay for it.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.