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Primary Elections 2022: The Democratic primary for District 2 - Washtenaw County Commission

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners District 2, shown in grey, includes a piece of Ann Arbor north of M-14 and townships to the north and east of the city, including Ann Arbor, Northfield, Salem, Webster, most of Superior and part of Dexter townships.
Washtenaw County
Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners District 2, shown in grey, includes a piece of Ann Arbor north of M-14 and townships to the north and east of the city, including Ann Arbor, Northfield, Salem, Webster, most of Superior and part of Dexter townships.

When the November general elections are over, we know there will be a new face representing the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners’ 2nd District. That chair is filled right now by Sue Shink. But the board chair is running for state Senate. On August 2nd, voters will decide the Democratic primary that comes with its share of questions. WEMU reports on the race between Crystal Lyte and Stephen Lange Ranzini.

57-year-oldStephen Lange Ranzini is president and CEO of the University Bank in Ann Arbor and lives in Ann Arbor Township. He says it is his decades of finance and community involvement that set him apart as a county commission candidate.

He says his bank is the largest first mortgage lender in Washtenaw County with over half of new home loans going to people of color. He says his work helped end redlining in Ypsilanti by working with nonprofits and with minister alliance groups toward home ownership.

Ranzini believes that he has the qualifications to be a successful manager of the county's policies and budgets, pointing out that he currently managed larger revenues at his bank than the county's total budget.

Stephen Lang Ranzini
The Sun Times News
Stephen Lang Ranzini
"I've got the, you know, the management experience that's pretty deep, but I also bring this tremendous experience in the nonprofit sector. So, I've built a lot of experience in working in collaborative environments."

40-year-old Crystal Lyte is an Ypsilanti native. She currently lives in Superior Township. Professionally, she is a career counselor for the unemployed at Michigan Works. The 40-year-old says she was inspired to run after helping in the 2020 election campaign of current Fourth District Commissioner Caroline Sanders. Lyte says through that experience she realized the impact she could make on people's lives by representing them on the county commission.

Crystal Lyte
Crystal Lyte for District 2
Crystal Lyte
"And I said, 'I have to do this.' Because I always want to make a change, and I always want to do things in the community. You know, this is the time. This is the opportunity to help our community, not just my district, but, you know, Washtenaw County as a whole."

Lyte says she has no problem with the current direction or operational pace of the county board and understands that addressing issues and taking action is a process. It is a process she's eager to take to address her priorities.

"We have a major housing crisis. So, when I see individuals that come into my employment, always something with housing, this is something being on the commission will help. And then, I have a friend that works for Community Mental Health, and I know that there is a need for more services."

For his part, Ranzini is running because of what he calls disappointment at the pace and action of previous commissioners. He said he was extremely disappointed with the Washtenaw County Board in 2021, as allegations of deplorable conditions in service were leveled against the SafeHouse domestic violence and sexual abuse center. It was the lack of county board action to make conditions more livable there that led him to run for the county commission race.

"They lived in their cars for three months, you know, while we were working on fixing the problem with their kids. You know, they wouldn't have lived in their car for three months, if I'd been a county commissioner. I would have had more ability to influence the outcome faster. And so, that's what made me decide to actually run."

Ranzini he believes his involvement in this issue has led to a glut of support for his opponent. Lyte has received the endorsement of eight of the nine current county commissioners, as well as the county sheriff, many of whom Ranzini scrutinized during the SafeHouse Center investigation. But Lyte maintains it is not objection to her opponent, but rather what she brings to the table that has garnered her endorsements.

"Individuals endorse who they believe will do a better job. So, it all comes down to being realistic. I'm going to endorse the person that I believe has the best values and that is going to carry the job out as it should be."

Ranzini suggests is involvement in the SafeHouse allegations may have further resulted in questions raised about his loyalty to the Democratic Party. Social media threads in the past few weeks have reported that Ranzini donated $1,000 to Donald Trump in 2016. Ranzini says it's about context, pointing out that he has donated more than $100,000 to Democratic campaigns over the years and even served as a Democratic delegate to the 2016 National Convention.

"After we lost the presidency in 2016. I gave $1,000, which was intended for the inaugural committee. As the owner of or CEO of a federally regulated business, sometimes when you're defeated in a campaign, you need to bow out with grace."

For her part, Lyte says no one on her campaign brought up the Trump donation issue. But she notes....

"I can say that I have never contributed to the Republican Party, and I don't plan to."

The Trump donation is not the only issue opponents have latched on to when it comes to the bank president. They also recently claimed that his campaign finance reports show he's inappropriately using bank offices as campaign headquarters with no rental fees listed.

"(laughs) Yeah, there's no rule. I mean, we didn't use any resources, right? So, if there was actually any expense, we disclose it very carefully. So, that's just lunacy. Let's just leave it at that."

Ultimately, it will be for the voters to decide who they believe is the best candidate in the Democratic primary next Tuesday. The winner will face off against Republican David Trent in November. He is unopposed in the primary.

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
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