UPDATE Sept 20, 2017: Jerry T. Bell, Jr. filed officially to run for the Warren City Council elections in 2019 today, as an at-large candidate for the time being. City Code language gives him the option of withdrawing as an at-large candidate and filing as a District candidate prior to the Aug. 2019 primary.
Bell told VOD that if action has not been taken to remedy what he calls the racist re-districting of the city, through either city government action or a resolution with the U.S. Department of Justice, he plans to move to District 5, south of the “Mason-Dixon” line (the 1-696 expressway) which divides wealthier largely white north Warren from poorer south Warren, where the majority of the city’s Black and other minority residents live.
Bell said, “I am determined not to run from this challenge. My fellow African-American and poor residents in Warren deserve equal representation on the City Council, and in their government as a whole.”
Warren City Council members, all white, live in north Warren, while majority of 24% Black, ethnic population lives in south Warren
Jerry T. Bell, Jr., supporters say this resulted from gerrymandering after 2010 Charter re-districting provisions based on 2000 Census
Gerrymandering also profiting contractors in bed with Council members
“Bell holds key to the future political landscape in Warren”–supporter
By Diane Bukowski
September 16, 2017
Warren, MI – “Jerry Bell holds the key to the future political landscape in the city of Warren,” a supporter told VOD.
Bell has filed a federal Voting Rights Act, Sec. 2 complaint against the city with the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that it has deliberately disenfranchised voters of color in city elections.
He told VOD that Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger has now come on board to call for their own investigation as well.
Warren is the third largest city in Michigan, with a population of 135,125, according to 2016 U.S. Census estimates. Warren’s Mayor Jerry Fouts and its City Council members, all white, live in the majority white districts in north Warren, and are in the pockets of city contractors who profit from hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public taxes, Bell contends.
But at least 18 percent of its residents are Black and six percent belong to other ethnic minorities according to the U.S. Census of 2010. Most of them live in City Council districts in south Warren. One city official estimates that the percentage of Blacks living in Warren now is likely closer to 30 percent.
“The way they drew up the districts is similar to what’s going on in Eastpointe, and it really rubs me the wrong way,” Bell said prior to confronting City Council members at their regular meeting Sept. 12. “It’s a total violation of the civil rights of the people of Warren. You have all seven city council members that live north of I-696, which leaves out residents south of I-696—they have no representation. I’m not going to let them do this to the citizens of Warren. I plan to run for city council and I will be fighting this matter in office. I’m not going to run the other way.”
The City of Eastpointe, which has a 30 percent African-American population, is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for its practices effectively barring Blacks from representation in city government.
Bell called the re-districting a “crime” because the re-districting commissioners used the 2000 census instead of the 2010 census to determine voting rights. 2000 U.S. Census figures showed only 2.67 percent Black residents, with 6.04 percent from other ethnic minorities.
However, the 2010 U.S. Census showed the city’s African-American population had risen to 13.52 percent, with 8.1 percent members of other ethnic minorities. The city’s total population had decreased by 2.9 percent, while its population of Blacks increased 390.21 percent, and the population of other ethnic minorities increased by 140.6 percent. City officials estimate that the Black population has risen substantially more since 2010.
The redistricting commission consisted of City Clerk Paul Wojno, City Attorney James Biernat Sr., City Assessor Marcia Smith, Joan Flynn and Hilary Kutella, both appointed by Mayor Jim Fouts.
Bell cites 2011 campaign finance records which show commissioner Flynn contributed to the Friends of Robert Boccomino. Records also show Commissioner and City Assessor Smith contributed to the Committee to elect Jim Fouts, and Commissioner/City Clerk Wojno contributed to the campaigns of Mayor Fouts, and incumbent Councilmen Boccomino and Keith Sadowski, among others.
Bell has drawn up various graphics he says show the blatant gerrymandering which took place in Warren in 2010. Below, a map illustrates the city council districts, and shows the residences of City Council members and their districts.
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, who recently was the focus of a scandal arising from alleged tapes of him making racist remarks, also lives north of I-696 as well, at 28170 Louise Drive, Warren, MI 48092. Fouts has discouraged Bell from raising his current complaint with the Justice Department, and earlier from challenging the Warren City Code’s ban on anyone with a felony record running for office in the city.
Fouts and Council members had discovered a minor 1999 alleged felony on Bell’s record, a B&E involving the theft of “over $5.00.” The Warren City Code currently bars anyone with a felony record from running for public office.
So he raised EEOC requirements banning the use of criminal records in employment without first considering the applicant’s other qualifications. He noted state law indicates that a felony record does not prevent an individual from running for state or local office unless the felony occurred while IN public office.
Therefore, he requested the City Council remove that felony bar from the City Code, which it could have done with a simple vote, since it is not a part of the City’s actual charter and likely violates state law. Despite Bell’s request, the Council refused.
Statistics show that Blacks are disproportionately represented in the ranks of ex-felons, at least 31 percent as compared to 12.3 percent in the general population. Likewise, all people of color are disproportionately represented in the ranks of incarcerated individuals, 42 percent.
Bell said he himself plans to run for the City Council in the next elections in 2019, in District 5, located in south Warren. Council member Robert Boccomino currently represents residents in that district. Bell contends that the boundaries of District 5 were gerrymandered in 2010 to include Boccomino’s address, which is north of I-696.
Other graphics he has drawn up show that the majority of Warren’s Blacks and others of color live in zip codes 48091 and 48089, south of I-696.
Residents in those zip codes additionally are much poorer than the residents of north Warren. Many of Bell’s supporters believe that wealthier whites in north Warren add to their income by lining their pockets with bribes and campaign contributions from the city’s public contractors.
Jerry Bell, Jr. himself grew up in a poor neighborhood on the east side of Detroit, from where his mother took him to watch Gold Cup hydroplane races on the Detroit River. That instilled a lifelong dream of his, to become a champion hydroplane racer. But, although he won several awards early in his racing career, he has since fought what he identifies as racism in the ranks of the organizations that control the river races. He is one of very few Black hydroplane racers across the U.S. and has been barred from entering numerous competitions.
He now supports himself as a taxicab driver, so he says he certainly identifies with the poor residents of Warren and will fight for them.
Poverty rate in Warren neighborhoods: the ‘Mason-Dixon’ line
Bell alleges that political greed and corruption, particularly with regard to City contracts, influenced the 2010 Charter Amendment vote on the composition of the Warren City Council, and subsequent gerrymandering of districts in Warren.
Macomb County campaign finance records show that Warren City Council members receive substantial contributions from city contractors who profit from public tax dollars. Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger publishes one of the best campaign finance sites this reporter has seen, singling out corporate donations in simple charts. See her site at http://macomb.mi.campaignfinance.us/.
Warren City Council Secretary Robert Boccomino, for example, has received contributions from the Rizzo Environmental Services Political Action Committee (PAC), among numerous other businesses.
Rizzo is currently under federal investigation into an alleged bribery scheme involving Rizzo representatives and elected officials from other communities surrounding Warren who helped steer profitable waste-hauling contracts.
Rizzo, now known as GFL (Green for Life) has had a contract with the City of Warren since 2001 to operate its waste transfer station, with some glitches along the way. As of July, according to the Macomb Daily, the Warren City Council was reconsidering re-negotiating the terms of the contract.
“This has nothing to do with the scandal,” said Robert Boccomino, council secretary, as quoted in the Macomb Daily. “All we’re doing is going over the costs of the contract. There may be some wiggle room to lower our costs.”
Boccomino has also received contributions from the executives of WMI (Waste Management, Inc.) PAC, Mattioli Cement, the Andiamo Restaurant Group, and the Jack Doheny Companies, among others.
District 2 Council member Keith Sadowski’s campaign finance records are loaded with payoffs from city contractor execs, many of them in the construction field.
They include once again Rizzo Environmental Services, the Boutrous Companies, Nth Consultants, MFCI (Michigan Financial Consultants, Inc.), Boulder Construction Co., Mattioli Cement, Bison Plumbing, WICO Metal Products, Metco Services, Inc., the Hylant Group, Zuniga Cement, Michael Chirco of MJC Homes, Comerica Bank, Boulder Construction, GWE Engineers, Zuniga Cement, and the list goes on and on.
Bell says it is definitely time for a change in Warren, Michigan, as well as other suburbs of Detroit whose Black and ethnic populations are rapidly growing.
Read Jerry T. Bell, Jr.’s complaint to the USDOJ at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Districts_Voting-Rights-Act_Section-2_Violation.pdf