Detroit Council Picks Union Leader Ayers to Fill Seat

By Joe Guillen, Detroit Free Press 4:56 p.m. EST February 17, 2015

(Photo: Handout)

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Janee' Ayers, a 33-year-old union leader, was sworn in today as the Detroit City Council's ninth member, capping a month's long appointment process that started with a field of 135 applicants.

The council was at an impasse last week in picking between Ayers and the other finalist, retired Chrysler executive Debra Walker. But Councilman Andre Spivey flipped his vote today, giving Ayers the required super majority of six votes to win the appointment.

After the vote, Ayers joined her new colleagues at the council table and sat in her predecessor Saunteel Jenkins' old chair.

"The most important part is just what's best for the city," Ayers said.

The council is now at full strength for the first time since Jenkins resigned in early November. Ayers comes aboard about two months after the council regained its full authority with the resignation of former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Next week, the council will begin discussing the city's budget.

Ayers will serve as an at-large council member until the end of 2016. She was not available for interviews after she was sworn in. The council job pays about $76,000 a year.

Council President Brenda Jones, Mary Sheffield, Scott Benson, Gabe Leland and George Cushingberry Jr. joined Spivey in voting for Ayers. Council members James Tate and Raquel Castaneda-Lopez voted for Walker.

While the council has publicly touted its ability to work together compared to years past, today's vote raised a delicate issue among members.

Moments before the council's votes for the two finalists were read aloud, Castaneda Lopez, unprompted, stated that it's important for members to always keep residents' best interests in mind and "not give in to public pressure."

"Would you like to elaborate," Spivey said in response.

After the meeting, Spivey said he didn't discuss his vote with any other council members in the last week and "no one pressured for a vote."

Spivey pointed out that he supported both Ayers and Walker in earlier votes to whittle down the list of candidates from the larger pool. When the list was narrowed to two last week, he supported Walker over Ayers in two rounds of voting.

"Both candidates were wonderfully qualified and experienced," Spivey said. "We need to show we can make a decision and I didn't want to have another impasse and open up the process all over again."

After last week's impasse, Cushingberry, the council's second-ranking member, said he would try to convince Spivey to switch his vote. That conversation never happened, Spivey said. Cushingberry was not available for an interview after today's meeting.

Ayers lives in northwest Detroit in District 1. She is an elected vice president of Metro Detroit AFL-CIO and has worked as a tutor for children.

The council re-interviewed both Ayers and Walker before the vote. Ayers was asked about her union affiliation. She said her dedication is to all Detroit residents.

"People like to put the stigma on labor," she said. "The bottom line is labor is nothing more than people who are organized."

Contact Joe Guillen: 313-222-6678 or jguillen@freepress.com. Follow on Twitter @joeguillen.