MAYOR HOPE­FUL YOUNG PULLS NO PUNCHES

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN OOST­ING Detroit News Lans­ing Bureau

Lans­ing — Detroit may­oral can­di­date Cole­man Young II has a gift for gab that has of­ten en­ter­tained but oc­ca­sion­ally frus­trated col­leagues dur­ing his nearly 11 years in the Michi­gan Leg­is­la­ture, where he’s de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the most ag­gres­sive or­a­tors.

The 34-year-old state se­na­tor jumped into ver­bal joust­ing soon af­ter join­ing the House in 2007, when a shout­ing match in­volv­ing now-Sen. Jack Bran­den­burg nearly es­ca­lated “into a fist fight on the floor,” the Ma­comb County Repub­li­can re­calls.

“One thing led to an­other and all of a sud­den he was just com­ing straight at me,” said Bran­den­burg, who stands well over 6 feet tall and is known to speak his mind. “Peo­ple pulled us apart. We were go­ing to get right down to it.”

Young apol­o­gized the morn­ing af­ter the heated bud­get de­bate, said Bran­den­burg, who wrote it off as a dis­agree­ment be­tween “two hard heads from the neigh­bor­hood.”

A decade later, the 65-year-old Har­ri­son Town­ship law­maker con­sid­ers Young a friend.

“I re­spect him and I like him,” Bran­den­burg said. “Ob­vi­ously our styles are dif­fer­ent; how­ever, I think when the lights and the cam­eras go off, you have a very in­tel­li­gent and soul­ful young man.”

In in­ter­views with The Detroit News, fel­low se­na­tors and staff de­scribed Young as a hard worker, car­ing in­di­vid­ual and pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate for Detroit. They say he is known to carry around stacks of bills and ap­pears to read most of them line-by­line.

Young doesn’t re­call the de­tails of the decade-old in­ci­dent with Bran­den­burg. But as he ap­proaches the

last year of his fi­nal Se­nate term, he said he has no re­grets about his early days in the Leg­is­la­ture.

“Lis­ten, as a man, you have to take a stand for what you be­lieve in, and you have to stand up for what’s right, and you have to have a code of con­duct,” Young said. “Some­times that’s go­ing to rub peo­ple the wrong way.”

While col­leagues like Young, few think he has a re­al­is­tic op­por­tu­nity to de­feat Mayor Mike Dug­gan, who won the pri­mary elec­tion 68 per­cent to 27 per­cent over Young and has a ma­jor fundrais­ing ad­van­tage. None of Young’s fel­low Detroit se­na­tors is back­ing him in the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion.

Sen. Ian Cony­ers early on en­dorsed Dug­gan. Sen. Morris Hood hasn’t en­dorsed and Sen. Bert John­son, who is fight­ing fed­eral cor­rup­tion charges, said he hasn’t been asked to back any­one.

“I think that’s why we have the demo­cratic process: Ev­ery­one has a chance,” Hood said. “We’ve seen stranger things hap­pen in elec­tions around this state and even in this coun­try the past cou­ple years.”

Democrats are badly out­num­bered in the Se­nate — there are more mem­bers of “the Wu-Tang Clan” than in the cau­cus, Young once joked — so words are one of their most pow­er­ful weapons. Young is a vo­cal leader in that re­gard, of­ten mix­ing pas­sion­ate pleas with im­promptu hu­mor.

“Any man that would sac­ri­fice democ­racy for money de­serves nei­ther democ­racy nor money,” Young said in 2014 dur­ing a 12minute speech op­pos­ing the so­called “grand bar­gain” that paved Detroit’s exit from the na­tion’s largest mu­nic­i­pal bank­ruptcy.

The plan saw the state con­trib­ute $195 mil­lion as part of a deal to min­i­mize pen­sion cuts for mu­nic­i­pal re­tirees. It was paired with hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars from phil­an­thropic groups to pre­vent a pos­si­ble fire sale at the Detroit In­sti­tute of Arts.

Young, one of two se­na­tors to vote against the leg­is­la­tion, blasted the deal be­cause it cre­ated a long-term Fi­nan­cial Review Com­mis­sion that con­tin­ues to over­see Detroit bud­gets even though the city is no longer un­der a state-ap­pointed emer­gency man­ager.

“This over­sight com­mis­sion is like me at Buf­falo Wild Wings — once you let ’ em in, they never leave,” he said be­fore the vote.

For sim­i­lar rea­sons, he also voted in 2016 against a $617 mil­lion Detroit Pub­lic Schools bailout that re­stored an elected school board but ex­panded over­sight by the Fi­nan­cial Review Com­mis­sion, ar­gu­ing it would not do enough to help the district sur­vive.

“You can say what­ever you want to say about me, you can say what­ever you want about my fam­ily, but we have never sold the peo­ple out,” said Young, who was raised by his mother but is the son of for­mer Mayor Cole­man Young.

“We’ve al­ways fought for them, we’ve al­ways tried to leave the sit­u­a­tion bet­ter than we found it and we be­lieve power is only im­por­tant as an in­stru­ment to serve the pow­er­less,” he said this week.

Leg­isla­tive record

With the may­oral race in full swing, Young has missed three of six ses­sion days this month since the Se­nate re­turned from sum­mer break.

“Right now, what we’re do­ing is we’re putting in work, we’re talk­ing to peo­ple and cam­paign­ing,” he said by phone af­ter miss­ing Thurs­day’s ses­sion. “I want to be there, but I’m putting in work right now.”

Young has spon­sored six bills that have be­come law since he started in the House in 2007, and four since Repub­li­cans took full con­trol of state gov­ern­ment in 2011.

His most sig­nif­i­cant leg­isla­tive vic­tory came in 2009, when he passed a bi­par­ti­san law to guar­an­tee anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions for women af­fected by preg­nancy, child­birth or re­lated med­i­cal con­di­tions.

The pro­posal fol­lowed a 2008 law­suit by fe­male Detroit po­lice of­fi­cers who sued the city in fed­eral court be­cause depart­ment rules re­quired them to take sick leave while preg­nant in­stead of get­ting light-duty as­sign­ments of­fered to males limited by in­juries suf­fered out­side work.

State Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Repub­li­can and for­mer sher­iff, worked with Young on the bill. They’ve since sparred on a va­ri­ety of top­ics, in­clud­ing mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion, which Young has ad­vo­cated through re­peated calls to “free the weed.”

“I’ve beat up on him when it was ap­pro­pri­ate, but I can tell you I gen­uinely find him to be a nice guy,” Jones said. “I don’t think he’ll ever be elected mayor, but I’m happy to walk across the aisle and talk to him about things.”

Young has be­come most well­known for how he fights leg­is­la­tion he op­poses.

Be­hind the scenes of the “grand bar­gain” de­bate, Young quickly di­gested a pol­icy doc­u­ment that spanned hun­dreds of pages, said Bob McCann, a for­mer Se­nate Demo­cratic spokesman. He asked of­fi­cials de­tailed ques­tions about the pack­age be­fore cast­ing one of the only no votes in the up­per cham­ber.

“It was im­pres­sive to see the level of speci­ficity at a time when peo­ple think, more of­ten than not, pieces of leg­is­la­tion get passed with­out any­one both­er­ing to read them,” McCann said. “He’s clearly a hard worker and some­one that does le­git­i­mately care about the city and peo­ple he rep­re­sents.”

Col­leagues say Young ap­pre­ci­ates unique­ness and is not afraid to flaunt his own.

“As a long­time po­lit­i­cal watcher, the busi­ness of gov­er­nance can some­times be re­ally painful and aw­ful,” said for­mer Se­nate Demo­cratic spokes­woman An­gela Vasquez-Giroux. “Some­times it’s nice to have some­one speak truth to power, with a lit­tle hu­mor.”

It starts with a quote

Young be­gins most of his floor speeches by quot­ing fa­mous fig­ures and books. In the process, he has be­come one of the most quotable politi­cians in Lans­ing.

He has chan­neled for­mer first lady Michelle Obama, Al­bert Ein­stein, the Bi­ble, the Rev. Jesse Jack­son and even Tyrion Lan­nis- ter, a fic­tional char­ac­ter from the HBO tele­vi­sion show “Game of Thrones.”

Col­leagues some­times laugh, guf­faw or roll their eyes when Young gets on a roll — even some Democrats pri­vately say he’s oc­ca­sion­ally dif­fi­cult to take se­ri­ously — but they usu­ally lis­ten.

Be­neath the flashy prose is a politi­cian who does his home­work on bills and shows kind­ness to most any­one who crosses his path, ac­cord­ing to those he’s worked with.

“I think if any­one were to dis­count his ded­i­ca­tion to his job sim­ply be­cause he acts dif­fer­ently than oth­ers do on the Se­nate floor, be­cause he likes quot­ing peo­ple or slip­ping a joke in while he’s talk­ing about some­thing very se­ri­ous… you’re re­ally los­ing out on get­ting to know just what a smart guy he re­ally is,” McCann said.

Col­leagues break out into smiles when asked to name their fa­vorite Young speech.

“He’s got this thing where he talks about crime be­ing hideous and putting the onus of that re­spon­si­bil­ity on us leg­is­la­tors to help get rid of it for ev­ery­day peo­ple,” said Cony­ers, who joined the Se­nate in late 2016. “He goes ‘it’s hideous, it’s hideous.’ He uses that bari­tone he’s got to re­ally drive the points home.”

Young said ne­go­ti­at­ing and com­pro­mis­ing are im­por­tant parts of his job in Lans­ing, but he ac­knowl­edged vo­cal op­po­si­tion is a pri­mary role for out­num­bered Se­nate Democrats.

“In our rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy, the ma­jor­ity gov­erns and the mi­nor­ity is heard,” he said. “That’s ba­si­cally what we have and that’s ba­si­cally what we’re gov­ern­ing with.”

Young oc­ca­sion­ally takes his free-flow­ing rhetoric too far in the Se­nate, a char­ac­ter­is­tic that has af­fected his may­oral cam­paign as well. He re­cently sparked con­tro­versy when at the end of a rap video he men­tioned that white supremacy is hap­pen­ing in the coun­try and “we can­not have that go­ing on in the Manoogian,” re­fer­ring to the mayor’s res­i­dence.

Crit­ics viewed it as a form of race-bait­ing against Dug­gan, the city’s first white mayor since Young’s fa­ther be­came the first black mayor in 1974.

“I don’t think Sen. Young has a mean bone in his body, but he does go di­rect some­times, and some peo­ple don’t know how to han­dle that di­rect­ness, and they find it of­fen­sive,” Hood said.

State Sen. David Knezek, a Dear­born Heights Demo­crat who is sup­port­ing Dug­gan’s re-elec­tion bid, said Young brings “great pas­sion for the city of Detroit to Lans­ing ev­ery day.”

“He isn’t afraid to reach across the aisle to have dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions,” Knezek said.

Dale G. Young / The Detroit News

State Sen. Cole­man Young

II will face off against in­cum­bent Mike Dug­gan in Novem­ber’s may­oral elec­tion in Detroit.

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