Police Chief James Craig, who over the last year has witnessed and fought a pandemic, a controversial Black Lives Matter movement and record violent shootings in the city of Detroit, is expected to announce his retirement from the department and his candidacy for governor next week, according to police and other sources.
Craig is scheduled to hold a news conference on Monday, though his media spokesperson offered no details about the event beyond saying that a news conference is coming.
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Craig is eyeing a run for governor as a Republican against incumbent Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, a top state GOP official confirmed late Friday.
“I’m thrilled with the level of interest in this election cycle. Whitmer is very beatable. Chief Craig would bring a whole new level of leadership that is exciting,” Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock said to the Free Press. “Michigan Republicans will work very hard for great leaders like Chief Craig to defeat Whitmer and Whitmerism.”
Meshawn also said: “There are few things more destructive to the Democrats’ false narratives about race, crime and class warfare than conservative leaders who are minorities.”
“Craig has spoken recently with the chair of the Republican Governors Association,” a person familiar with the discussion told the Free Press.
Charlie LeDuff was first to report on Craig’s political aspirations Friday on his “No BS News Hour” podcast.
Retired Deputy Chief Steve Dolunt, who said he has not yet spoken to Craig about the reported news, had only words of praise for Craig.
“He’s done wonders for this city. He has changed this department around and built trust among the citizens of Detroit,” said Dolunt, who retired in 2017 after 31 years of service. “I was there with him for four years and I saw a major turnaround.”
Perhaps most notable about Craig, Dolunt said, was the following:
“When he makes a mistake, he owns it,” Dolunt said, calling Craig the first chief in the country to release bodycam video right after a shooting.
“He doesn’t shy away from anything,” Dolunt said, adding: “And he’s been scandal-free.”
As of 5:30 p.m. Friday, a spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan’s office said: “The chief has not indicated to the mayor any decisions about his future.”
Duggan and Craig have long had a good relationship, which was put to the test over the summer during the heated BLM protests sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. The Detroit police came under intense criticism by BLM protesters who alleged police were out of line in firing tear gas at crowds downtown, or using excessive force during arrests on people they claim were simply demonstrating.
Yet through it all, the chief and the mayor remained on good terms. Perhaps most notable was Duggan’s response to Craig’s handling of the officer-related shooting that left one man dead in July.
Within hours of the fatal shooting, Craig released a video of the incident that showed the victim, Hakim Littleton, pull a gun out of his pocket, point it at the head of a police officer and open fire.
Three nearby officers quickly fired back, killing LIttleton.
Mayhem quickly followed in the west-side neighborhood where the shooting happened, with more than 100 protesters gathering in the streets, shouting at police in riot gear, throwing bottles and bricks, and demanding justice for what they believed was another case of police brutality against a Black man.
But at 7:30 p.m., seven hours after the shooting, Craig released dashcam and bodycam video to “set the record straight.”
Duggan said the video did just that.
“Public confidence requires citizens to be able to judge for themselves the actions of our officers. The video is clear that the officer was suddenly and unexpectedly fired upon. I commend Chief Craig for moving so quickly to release the video publicly,” Duggan said at the time.
The officers were cleared in that shooting last month.
But fighting crime is one thing. Fighting in the political arena is another, especially against an incumbent with generally positive approval ratings.
Whitmer, a Democrat, is expected to run for a second term. 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.
Craig would also have to get through the Republican primary first, which could prove to be a tough feat depending on who else runs.
Whitmer defeated GOP candidate and former attorney general Bill Schutte by nearly 10 percentage points in 2018, during a wave election for Democratic candidates. She also helped deliver Michigan to President Joe Biden and U.S. Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in the fall.
But she has faced recent criticism over her approach to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and controversial travel by herself and other members of the administration.
Michigan remains the worst COVID-19 hot spot in the nation, despite weeks of improving trends. Whitmer defended instituting restrictions in the fall that were lambasted by Republicans but opted against doing so again this spring, despite calls from the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do so.
While Republican elected leaders have thanked Whitmer for not implementing more stringent rules, the GOP has latched on to her decision to travel to Florida to visit her sick father. Whitmer recently acknowledged going on the trip, despite the state advising people to avoid unnecessary travel during the pandemic. Whitmer’s COO Trish Foster went to Florida for spring break, while state health department director Elizabeth Hertel vacationed in Alabama.
The array of trips are hypocritical, the right argued, noting some Michiganders were prevented for months from visiting loved ones in nursing homes or similar facilities.
Whether or not these actions and the subsequent criticism is enough to affect Whitmer’s approval ratings remains to be seen.
Republicans have yet to field a prominent candidate for governor. Former secretary of state and U.S. Rep. Candice Miller previously said she would not run. It’s unclear whether John James, who has run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate twice, may launch a campaign.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman and Michigan native Ronna McDaniel reportedly is considering running, but McDaniel has not confirmed reports of a bid.
Four candidates who have filed statements of organization with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office include: Ralph Rebandt, an Oakland County pastor who filed a statement of organization March 29; Ryan Kelley, an Ottawa County real estate agent who has called for the arrest of Whitmer and other government officials and attended the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6; Bob Scott, a Livingston County evangelist and substitute teacher who opposes mask requirements and other pandemic orders, and Austin Chenge, a Grand Rapids entrepreneur and U.S. Army veteran who labels Whitmer a dictator.
But Craig could prove up to the fight. The last year has been especially rough for Craig, both personally and professionally, as COVID-19 ravaged his force, infecting the chief and more than 200 officers, including a homicide captain and civilian dispatcher who both died from the virus.
Craig overcame the virus after fighting it out at home, though it changed his perspective on life.
“Leave the small stuff alone and really focus on what you are personally called to do,” Craig said in a Free Press interview. “You have so much clarity when you’re fighting a deadly disease that you start thinking about your calling. ‘What am I here to do?’ It becomes so clear.”
At the time, that meant helping people and protecting Detroiters, Craig said.
“I want to help people,” Craig said, while still recovering.
Craig came to Detroit in 2013 after serving in the same post in the Cincinnati Police Department for two years. He was originally appointed to the role by then Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr.
Previously, he spent two years as chief of the Portland Police Department in Maine. A native Detroiter, Craig started his police career in the city in 1977. After a downsizing of the Detroit Police Department, he joined the Los Angeles police force and remained there for 28 years.
Contact Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org