Democratic Candidate for Michigan Governor to Pick Detroit Activist as Running Mate

by | August 20, 2018

By Kathleen Gray

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer will name Detroit political activist Garlin Gilchrist II as her running mate on Monday morning, the Free Press has learned.

While the Whitmer campaign didn't confirm the choice, sources told the Free Press that Gilchrist, the former director of Innovation & Emerging Technology for the city of Detroit, will join the ticket at a 9:30 a.m. announcement in Lansing.

It will come five days before both the Republican and Democratic parties hold their summer conventions to officially nominate candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state Supreme Court, state Board of Education and the boards governing University of Michigan and Michigan State and Wayne State universities.

The selection of Gilchrist achieves several goals for Whitmer: it gets a Detroiter on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election and an African American. And on the statewide Democratic ticket, which now includes all white women -- Whitmer, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, attorney general candidate Dana Nessel and secretary of state candidate Jocelyn Benson -- Gilchrist also provides some gender diversity.

Gilchrist, 35, also is a nod to the growing movement of often young and liberal progressives in the state. He was a political organizer for MoveOn.org, a group that works to elect progressive candidates and during his 2017 race for Detroit City Clerk, he was endorsed by Our Revolution, the organization that grew out of the 2016 presidential candidacy of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent.

He was on a short list of Democratic candidates that also included state Sen. Vincent Gregory and former state Rep. Rudy Hobbs, both of Southfield, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and state Rep.Sheldon Neeley of Flint.

The nomination comes nearly a week after Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the Republican candidate for governor, named former state Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, a Republican from Alto and current Kent County clerk, as his running mate. The Republican Party's summer convention will be Saturday in Lansing.

The contrast between the two candidates for lieutenant governor will be sharp. As a candidate for Detroit City clerk, Gilchrist fought for easier access to voting, more earlier voting and opening new polling places in the city. Lyons, who was chairwoman of the state House Elections and Ethics committee, supported legislation that doubled campaign contribution limits while protecting the anonymity of donors who pay for controversial "issue ads" that have become increasingly influential in Michigan political campaigns. She supported a plan to allow voters to cast absentee ballots without having to provide an excuse, but the legislation stalled in the state Senate.

One of the duties of the lieutenant governor is to preside over the state Senate and Lyons has that legislative experience that Gilchrist lacks.

Gilchrist grew up in Detroit and Farmington and graduated from the University of Michigan with degrees in computer science. He worked as a software engineer at Microsoft and then became a  political organizer with MoveOn.org and the social media manager for the campaign of President Barack Obama.

But he returned home to Detroit with his wife, Ellen, and twins -- a son and daughter -- in 2014 to become the City of Detroit's director of Innovation & Emerging Technology. He now is the executive director of the Center for Social Media Responsibility at U-M.

In his race for Detroit City clerk in 2017, even as a newcomer, he significantly outraised incumbent Janice Winfrey, with $308,794 mostly from small donations from contributors across the country while Winfrey raised only $29,300. But he ultimately lost the race by 1,482 votes, out of nearly 100,000 ballots cast.

Stu Sandler, who helps run the Better Jobs Stronger Families political action committee that is backing Schuette, said the Whitmer/Gilchrist ticket is "the most liberal ticket ever."

"Whitmer and Gilchrist will support higher taxes, reckless spending, and liberal policies that will move Michigan backwards.  Michigan can't afford Whitmer and Gilchrist,"  said Sandler.

But Detroit political consultant Jamaine Dickens said Gilchrist will help bring young people out to vote and help mobilize African-American voters in Detroit.

"He brings a lot of what Democratic Party party needs -- somebody with a lot of energy, somebody who is thoughtful and who thinks through issues. And he proved himself to run a good campaign," Dickens said.

In addition to officially nominating Gilchrist at the Democratic convention this weekend in East Lansing, delegates will make official what they voted on during an endorsement convention in April: Nessel for attorney general; Benson for secretary of state and Supreme Court candidates Megan Kathleen Cavanagh and Samuel Bagenstos. Delegates also will vote on the candidates for state Board of Education and the three university governing boards.

(c)2018 the Detroit Free Press