Detroit Chief Craig confirms departure, setting stage for expected Whitmer challenge

May 10, 2021, 2:25 PM

Detroit Police Chief James Craig announces his retirement. (Photo: Tom Perkins)

James Craig is ready for a change at age 64. Detroit's police chief Monday confirmed he will leave that job June 1 after eight years, as he considers running for governor as a Republican.

"I know we’re a much better department today and it's been a lot of work,” the veteran law enforcement officer said at a briefing in Public Safety Headquarters downtown as he ticked off a list of accomplishments including boosted officer morale and the rollout of surveillance technology he's credited with reducing property crimes. 

Craig's departure comes as the city grapples with an uptick in violent crime and an increase in uses of force by officers, who he's complained are encountering suspects "emboldened" by anti-police rhetoric. 

As an apparent courtesy to Democrat Mayor Mike Duggan, who stood alongside him, Craig said he would refrain from discussing politics. But he said that within the past year he felt he wanted to have "more influence in a leadership role" after questioning "some things in recent times, not just nationally but around the state."

Craig said he's been a Republican for at least the past decade.

Asked whether he would support Craig or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2022, Duggan said, "I believe Gretchen Whitmer has been the best partner the city of Detroit has had in decades and I will be supporting her ... Chief Craig (will tell you he and) I disagree on a number of issues and I expect that will be one of them."

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The prospect has been widely discussed since Deadline Detroit columnist Charlie LeDuff broke the news of the departure Friday on his weekly podcast. "I'm a lifelong public servant," Craig later told The Detroit News. "I want to continue to serve."

The chief during one of several Fox News appearances last month.

Michigan Republicans reacted positively to the possible challenge to Whitmer, who's virtually sure to seek a second term next year. "He would make a fine candidate," state party chair Ron Weiser said, according to The News. 

Co-chair Meshawn Maddock echoed that, telling the Free Press: "Whitmer is very beatable. Chief Craig would bring a whole new level of leadership that is exciting." 

"Michigan Republicans will work very hard for great leaders like Chief Craig to defeat Whitmer and Whitmerism. ... There are few things more destructive to the Democrats' false narratives about race, crime and class warfare than conservative leaders who are minorities."

Support also came from GOP campaign consultant Jamie Roe of Macomb Township, chief of staff from 2003-15 for former Congresswoman Candice Miller. "Since he took over that job (as chief in 2013), he’s done nothing but exude leadership through the toughest and most trying of times," Roe told Freep columnist Nancy Kaffer

Kaffer also spoke with Lansing public relations executive John Sellek, a Republican, who defines blunt outspokenness as "the quality a lot of Republicans are trying to project onto Chief Craig. That’s why I'm seeing a lot of excitement on my social media."

Earlier, Sellek told The News:

"James Craig has developed the almost celebrity-like persona of someone who is unafraid to speak his mind and take action through his skilled appearances in Michigan's TV largest market and on FOX. His time in the spotlight rivals Mayor Duggan at times. And, he has the respect of a lot of law enforcement across Michigan. ...

"There is time for him to stake his claim on the nomination because right now it is wide open."

John James, a two-time U.S. Senate candidate, and Ronna McDaniel, Republican National Committee chair, are potential Republican primary rivals.

Freep reporters Tresa Baldas and Dave Boucher post a reality check on Craig's decision about whether to trade policing for politics:

Fighting crime is one thing. Fighting in the political arena is another, especially against an incumbent with generally positive approval ratings. ...

Defeating an incumbent governor running for reelection is a historically difficult challenge in Michigan. Combine precedent with Whitmer's national profile, generally positive approval ratings and more than $3.5 million in the bank, and any GOP candidate faces an uphill battle to victory.

While Craig may be a popular candidate in Detroit, running a statewide campaign requires increasing name recognition rapidly. While Craig would likely outperform the typical GOP contender in Detroit, there's very little chance a Republican candidate could win a majority of votes in the overwhelmingly Democratic city of Detroit. Wayne County is also largely Democratic.

Whitmer defeated GOP candidate and former attorney general Bill Schutte by nearly 10 percentage points in 2018.

Detroit's next top cop will be selected by the mayor from a list of possible candidates provided by the Board of Police Commissioners. Duggan said he will also work with the board to find an interim.


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