Detroit clerk candidate Wilcoxon fought to stay on the ballot

Detroit clerk candidate D. Etta Wilcoxon fought to stay on the ballot

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D. Etta Wilcoxon D. Etta Wilcoxon
DETROIT (WJBK) -

It took weeks longer that it was supposed to for City Clerk Janice Winfrey to print and mail out absentee ballots. The cause? A legal fight involving a woman who wants to take Winfrey's job.

That woman is D. Etta Wilcoxon, who the clerk's office put on the ballot and threw off the ballot before a court ordered them to let her run.

Depending who you ask, this is a case of political skullduggery, a public official trying to eliminate the competition, or it could just be a series of suspicious looking, but otherwise innocent, mistakes? So far, only this much is clear: Winfrey's staff screwed up big time.

"Is this a political assassination?" I asked Detroit mayoral candidate Tom Barrow.

"There's no question it is," he said.

Barrow supports Wilcoxon, and he knows just a little bit about getting people kicked off ballots. After all, he is the guy who knocked out Mike Duggan, forcing him to launch a write-in campaign for mayor.

Now Barrow says Winfrey is up to no good, and he is not the only one who feels that way.

"It does appear that we were a target of some sort," said Wilcoxon.

On May 1, she filed more than 500 signatures to get on the ballot. On May 7, she received a letter from the clerk's office.

"That letter said it has been determined that you have a sufficient number of signatures to place your name on the August 6 primary ballot," Wilcoxon said.

But what Wilcoxon did not know at the time because the clerk had not told her was that Winfrey's staff had invalidated dozens of signatures. That still would have been no big deal until political activist Mildred Madison came along.

"My life has been dedicated to good government," Madison said.

She found errors that caused the clerk to throw out more than two dozen of Wilcoxon's signatures, just enough to get her knocked off the ballot.

"If you don't know how to circulate a petition, how then do you know how to run a whole department?" Madison said.

Here is the curious thing. It took Winfrey's staff eight days to tell Wilcoxon she was toast, and by then the clerk's office said it was too late for them to do anything about it.

"My first reaction was how dare they?" Wilcoxon said.

So she sued the clerk and won.

"What we have in this case is a serious case of dereliction of duty," Wilcoxon said. "If you cannot rely on that office to determine the validity of your candidacy, who can you rely on?"

Those are mighty strong words from someone who is pretty angry that she had to work so hard just to get back on the ballot. So we figured we should ask the clerk for her version of just what happened.

Winfrey's assistant said her boss would not go on camera. So we gave her a few days to think about it before saying hello in person.

We wanted the clerk to explain why her staff refused to give her would-be challenger a fair shake.

ELRICK: The Court of Appeals said that your office failed to do its duty.

WINFREY: I haven't seen anything from the Court of Appeals.

Really? The clerk's staff fought for weeks to keep Wilcoxon off the ballot, and then Winfrey does not read the court's order, the one that shut the clerk down and slapped her around?

Check out this language. The judges said Winfrey's staff "failed to comply with their statutory duties."

ELRICK: But it was your staff who invalidated her signatures, many of which were found to be okay, and it was your staff that tried to keep her off the ballot. Don't you run that office?

WINFREY: I do run that office. It was not my staff who tried to keep her off the ballot. We don't do that.

That's not right. Winfrey and her staff not only knocked Wilcoxon off the ballot, they refused to review their decision. It is all written in black and white.

ELRICK: "The Department of Elections either failed to respond or responded by stating it was unable to comply with a request." In other words, your department failed to give her the review that she was entitled to. This is the Court of Appeals ruling.

WINFREY: Certainly she got the review that she was entitled to. Absolutely.

In fact, the judges said they found it "particularly disturbing" that Winfrey's staff refused to give Wilcoxon a "full and fair review."

So Wilcoxon had to fight for her political life. The ballots went out way late. Voters and candidates throughout the city were inconvenienced, and here is the kicker. The Court of Appeals ruled that if Winfrey's staff had just done its job in the first place, this whole mess "may have been avoided."

"Certainly it slows up the process, but people have a right to appeal. They have a right to challenge. That's our law. That's the democratic process," Winfrey said.

The clerk said she was not involved in the decision to toss her opponent off the ballot or to keep fighting in the courts.

In any case, Wilcoxon is back on the ballot, and voters will get to have their say on Tuesday.

Click here for a complete list of Detroit City Clerks candidates.

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