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James Craig Wants to Become Michigan's First Black Governor

"What many politicians have forgotten is that they're public servants, not political servants. And that's what's gone so wrong today. People want [politicians] to understand one thing: you serve us, the people. And as a law enforcement officer for over four decades, I understand it. That's my wiring."

This quote from former Detroit Police Chief James Craig describes both the theme of his campaign and his vision for the future of Michigan politics. The 66-year-old police veteran is no stranger to the concept of service. In his 44 years on the force, he has contributed an enormous amount of effort to ensure the safety of citizens across this country. To hear him emphasize service in such a way is no surprise. What did come as a surprise to many Michiganders is his seemingly sudden leap into the political world.

Up until recent years, Craig had avoided making any political comments that didn't relate to crime and policing. As Chief of Police in Portland, Cincinnati and Detroit, he focused solely on fighting crime in his jurisdiction, not on the political landscape. However, conversations with friends, family, and associates about the changing state of our country slowly opened his mind to the idea of throwing in his bid for governor. Then without warning, his thoughts about running for office leaked to the media and created a demand for answers that he couldn't ignore. So, in the spring of 2021, he retired from his position as chief, and in June of the same year, he made it publicly known that he intended to run against Gretchen Whitmer for the governor's seat.

Since then, James Craig has made appearances on TV, radio and in-person across Michigan. Tirelessly making his case for why he should replace "Big Gretch" as the leader of the state. One of his stops was here at The Quintessential Gentlemen, where he discussed many aspects of his ideals, plans for the future, and the past including the transition he made from Democrat to Republican more than a decade ago.

"I was raised by two wonderful parents who were very conservative," he said to start the conversation. "But they were what you would call JFK Democrats. If JFK were present today, he'd be a Republican. I guess that would make me a JFK Democrat too. So I made the transition because I started to see the [Democrat] party starting to move more towards left of center. That certainly wasn't in alignment with who I was as a lifelong conservative. I oftentimes say, one of two ways I left the party or the party left me. So, I became a Republican. It didn't happen overnight. I didn't just turn on a switch one day and say, 'Okay, I'm a Republican today.' I've been a conservative for the majority of my adult life."

The former Police Chief made it clear that despite his time identifying as a Democrat, he has always been a lifelong conservative. Not only that, but he foresees a massive shift in the minds of African Americans that will break the decades-long grip that they've had on the Black vote.

"I tell you, I'm starting to see a shift. As a Republican candidate for governor, and certainly growing up and currently residing in a city that is largely African American, I think we have an opportunity. And I think that opportunity is to open African Americans up to another way.

Many, many African Americans, especially baby boomers and older, tend to be more conservative. And not just baby boomers but younger African Americans, who believe in hard work and who believe in no handouts. They believe in education, [and have] strong religious backgrounds. Certainly, those are tenants of the Republican Party. Where I see the Democrat Party has gone wrong is that they've taken many African Americans for granted. Some African Americans know it, some don't.

This is the shift that I see coming, I think it's going to come in a major way. Many mainstream Blacks, especially Black people who live in vulnerable communities, don't want to defund the police. It has been my experience, having worked in many minority communities throughout my career, that many Black people support constitutional, effective policing. They want it. They embrace it. And know I can speak here in Detroit. People in vulnerable communities and not-so-vulnerable communities support the police. So when you hear the minority on the far left, who make comments such as 'dismantle the police, defund the police', [Black people] are not in acceptance of that."

The relationship between Black Americans and police is one of pain and tragedy that goes back more than 100 years. Being both an African American and a long-time law-enforcer, Craig has been exposed to both sides of this struggle. His unique perspective on this never-ending feud has allowed him to form an equally as unique opinion on the matter. This opinion has led him to take action that other police departments wouldn't have even thought of.

"I'm one who says that you can't paint an entire profession with a broad brush, just like you can't paint a group of people with a broad brush. I tend to look at things in a very individual way. Are there some police agencies in need of reform? Absolutely. But does that mean that every police agency has native reform? No.

In Detroit, in my administration, we did a stellar job in bridging the gap with a community who had lost total confidence in the Detroit Police Department. One of the things that I did early on was met with activist groups, here in Detroit. Two notable groups, Detroit 300 and New Era Detroit were two that, frankly, at one point, didn't necessarily have a good relationship with the police department. And so, I began to build that relationship.

Fast forward to 2020, when cities were on fire. We had outside agitators who were trying to incite violence. Many of these outsiders, some were from outside of the state, certainly outside of the city. But Detroit didn't want looting. We got to remember the history of Detroit, the 1967 unrest, people have a memory of that conflict and understood the impact it had to our city.

So I made phone calls and had conversations with those same activist groups that I've built relationships with over the years and I said, 'Look, I would love for you to come out here with us, stand with us, walk with us. We're not going to let these outsiders come in our city and burn it.'

They did not hesitate. They came out. And I think their presence in one part, certainly put a chilling effect on these outsiders who thought they could burn our city and loot and do everything else that was going on and take over police stations. That didn't happen, Detroit did not burn.

That's a testament of the kind of relationship that Detroit Police Department has with the Black community."

James Craig's career is a long one full of success and struggles. One wouldn't have to dig too deep to find evidence of his achievements. But for many voters, the past pales in importance to the future. For those African Americans in Michigan who are unsure of what a future with Craig as governor may hold, he has some parting words addressing just what he intends to do.

"I want Black voters to know, I'm going to fight for their vote. I will govern just like I lead as a police chief in not one, but in three cities. I am passionate about the issues that affect all of Michigan, but certainly in our Black communities. I'm going to work hard to bring all of Michigan together, and I'm going to get their vote. Because they know that this is not someone who read a book on leadership, this is a person whose demonstrated leadership through my many years in law enforcement."


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