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Plagued by scandal, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano will still seek re-election

Embattled Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano will formally announce he’s seeking a fourth term Monday.

Ficano’s current term has been plagued by scandal.

His administration is the subject of an ongoing FBI public corruption investigation, and several former members of his inner circle have been convicted of various crimes.

Ficano was forced to scrap a massive new Wayne County jail project after it went way over-budget—but not before it was halfway built.

And the county's financial situation has gotten so bad there's widespread talk that the county might come under some kind of state control, possibly even getting an emergency manager.

Bill Ballenger of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter says Ficano hasn’t even faced a viable opponent in a long time.

“Now all of a sudden, everything has gone south, and he appears to be in a vastly weakened condition,” Ballenger says. “So some people are just writing him off. And that may be a mistake.”

For one thing, Ficano is set to face several opponents in the Democratic Primary, and Ballenger says that “the best thing for an incumbent is to have his opposition split and divided among many contestants.”

Ficano could win the primary by eking out a small plurality of the vote. In heavily Democratic Wayne County, the winner of that primary typically coasts to an easy win in the general election.

Detroit political analyst and former Ficano appointee Steve Hood said Ficano still has some other incumbent advantages.

He can draw on a small but significant core group of loyal voters. And he has a fundraising machine in place.

But Hood says Ficano’s recent troubles could cut into those usual benefits. “Any time one of his core voters drives downtown, they see that hulk of a jail,” Hood says. As for fundraising prowess, “The business community is notoriously risk-averse. I think they read the tea leaves too, and they’ll be careful about donations.

Still, Hood agrees there’s “an outside chance” Ficano could win again.

Ballenger says Ficano must have done the math and decided he has a legitimate chance: “He’s got to have made a calculated decision that it’s going to be worthwhile for him to make the attempt, or else he wouldn’t be doing this.”

Ficano will officially kick off his re-election bid Monday evening at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 58 in Detroit.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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