Forty-four west Michigan residents gathered May 22 at a home on a semi-secluded lake on the outskirts of Grand Rapids to meet and give money to a politician from the east side of the state they can’t vote for.
The crowd peppered Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan for 45 minutes with questions about the economic turnaround in Michigan’s largest city and his plans for improving life and commerce in Detroit’s neighborhoods, according to the Grand Rapids businesswoman who organized the fundraiser.
“A lot of people came up to me afterwards and said, ‘This really isn’t a fundraiser. This is a symposium,'” said Marge Byington Potter, a real estate developer with projects in Detroit who hosted Duggan and the outstate supporters at her home on Mid Lake.
Detroit’s revitalization has helped Duggan command attention and campaign cash from unusual donors for a Democratic big-city mayor — including prominent Republicans — as he gears up for his re-election bid against state Sen. Coleman Young II, son of a legendary former mayor.
Duggan sailed to victory in last Tuesday’s primary, capturing 67 percent of the vote as Young finished a distant second with 26 percent.
Campaign records show the single fundraiser at Byington Potter’s home generated $17,620 for Duggan’s re-election bid — about 80 percent of the $22,275 that Young raised for his entire campaign between February and late July. Among those in attendance to meet and greet Duggan were former state health director Jim Haveman, grocery store magnate Hank Meijer and Meijer Inc. Vice Chairman Mark Murray, according to the host.
“I think they see what he’s doing for the city of Detroit and they’re very enthusiastic about what that means for the state of Michigan,” said Byington Potter, who paid for the $3,372.50 catering bill as her in-kind donation to Duggan’s campaign.
Duggan also has received donations this year from other titans of west Michigan’s business community who are considered members of the Republican Party’s donor class: Grand Rapids businessmen Mark Meijer and Peter Secchia, former Perrigo Co. Chairman Mike Jandernoa, Amway Chairman Steve Van Andel and Amway President Doug DeVos.
“If I had a big city Republican candidate for mayor, I might have contributed to him,” said Secchia, a retired forest industry executive. “But this is the best they’ve got to offer.”
Secchia said Duggan has met with him in Grand Rapids to study how Michigan’s second-largest city was revitalized over the past 30 years.
“He seemed genuinely interested in helping Detroit capture the same magic that Grand Rapids had,” Secchia said.
“The people over on the west side of the state truly do watch what goes on on the east side of the state,” said Byington Potter, who was a top aide in former Mayor Dennis Archer’s administration. “It’s very important to the state of Michigan and how people do business.”
Duggan’s campaign donations are emblematic of a mayor who has engendered deep support from corporate interests for his initiatives making Detroit appear friendlier businesses and economic development. The cash from business titans also has allowed Duggan’s opponent to paint him as a tool of corporate interests.
“I’m unbought and unbossed. We’re going to continue that message,” Young said in an interview before the Aug. 8 primary. “And I think the people want someone that’s going to stand up for them … who’s not going to be restrained by special interests and a Wall Street agenda — and that’s what my opponent represents.”