Phil Cavanagh was, literally, a newborn baby when his own father faced his first election. It was the 1961 primary for mayor of Detroit, and his dad, a little-known young lawyer, finished a very poor second. The incumbent was seen as invincible.
But two months later, in the biggest upset in Detroit history, Jerome P. Cavanagh beat Mayor Louis Miriani — in a landslide.
“I am a little too young to remember,” says Cavanagh, grinning. He does, however, remember growing up with a daddy who was mayor, and the idea that public service was the highest calling. Now, Cavanagh, a state representative from the nearby suburb of Redford, is on a mission. He is determined to be the next Wayne County executive, and is throwing everything he has into an effort to win the Democratic primary in August.
“There’s never been a more crucial time in (county) history,” he said over breakfast near Detroit’s open-air Eastern Market, near where he opened his campaign headquarters on opening day.
Indeed, Wayne County, Michigan’s biggest with almost 1.8 million people is in trouble. For years, Wayne has been plagued by scandals. There has been a long trail of appointee dismissals and questionable severance payments, of problems with the courts and inadequate funding for the prosecutor’s office.
State courts had to step in last year after Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett tried to disqualify half the votes Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan received in last year’s primary election.
Then, of course, there was the biggest scandal of all: Construction was stopped last summer on a new county jail, after millions were lost to cost overruns by unsupervised subcontractors. Money lost by the taxpayers: $170 million.
Now, the county is fighting to avoid an emergency manager. “There’s no excuse for any of this,” Cavanagh said, who added, however, that he was not surprised.