(WXYZ) - A battle over a seat on the Wayne County Commission has one contender crying foul. She's accusing her opponent of using the race card to split up votes, and she says it's not the first time.
"No one can sell Burton Leland like Burton Leland," said Wayne County Commissioner Burton Leland, who sits on the 15 member board. This year he is up for re-election against precinct delegate Monique McCormick, but at the last minute in May a third candidate entered the race.
Suddenly, Leland and McCormick had a new, unknown opponent. Her name? LaKeisha Finn. She’s never run for any political office before, she’s not a politician and McCormick says she’s a big mystery.
"(She) has not campaigned, has not came to any events," McCormick said. "No one seems to know who she is!"
That’s not entirely true. Some know exactly who she is: Finn is a relative of Kwame Finn, a political appointee to Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, and a key member of the CEO’s political circle.
"We call it a scam candidate," McCormick said.
McCormick says LaKeisha Finns’ candidacy is a well-organized political maneuver, courtesy of the Ficano political machine.
"(It's) to split up the black vote," said McCormick.
McCormick claims the move was made in an attempt to split up the vote between her and Finn, so Leland coasts to an easy win. Ficano may not have a better friend on the Wayne County Commission than Leland. He’s been one of Ficano’s most reliable votes on the commission
Ficano declined to do an interview with 7 Action News, but through his communications director he said he did not endorse LaKeisha Finn and did not donate to her campaign and she did not ask for either.
But since 2010, Ficano’s political action committee did give Commissioner Leland more than $10,000 in campaign contributions. Leland tells us he gave about $7500 of it back.
Commissioner Leland also wouldn’t agree to an interview. We caught up with him at a commission meeting.
"McCormick says this is an attempt by the Ficano administration to protect you by splitting the black vote. What do you think about that?" Investigator Heather Catallo asked.
"No one needs to protect Burton Leland, I’ve been a fixture in Detroit for 32 years. Every election I run, I win with good numbers," Leland said.
Leland insists he didn’t ask Finn to enter the race, and doesn’t know if anyone else asked her to be a candidate.
Ficano appointee Kwame Finn would not talk to 7 Action News about whether he had a hand in getting his cousin to enter the race. Instead, he sent an email response through the county’s public relations person.
“Mr. Leland will not be a Commissioner forever, and my cousin Lakeshia wanted to get her name out there for a potential run down the road, so I helped her get the paperwork together and went with her to file it,” the email said.
So how serious of a candidate can Finn be if she isn't even registered to raise campaign money? The county elections department says she never filed the necessary paperwork.
Compare that to Leland who last week reported raising almost $25,000 ($24,675) to hold on to his seat.
McCormick tells us she has raised about $2500.
"Doesn’t it seem a little strange though that Ms. Finn has not gone to any events, she’s not raising money?" Catallo asked Leland.
"Again, you’re asking me to respond to something," Leland said. "I’ve never met Ms. Finn, I couldn’t tell you what she looks like."
No dirty politics here, Leland says, but this might give you pause.
In 2008, McCormick ran against Leland for the same seat. Again, there was a third candidate in the race: that time it was Lakyta Howell.
In that race Howell received only one donation, $5,000 from her opponent, Burton Leland. She used that money, in part, to pay for attack ads on Baker-McCormick. When voters went to the polls, Leland scored an easy win.
When we talked to him this week, Leland said he couldn’t remember that campaign. McCormick isn’t so sure. She says he’s playing the same dirty games that put Wayne County in the mess that it’s in.
"It’s three people in the race, this is abuse really of the electoral process and the people of Detroit to confuse them, it’s a whole misuse of the process, McCormick said.
It should also be noted that Kwame Finn gave $150 to Leland’s campaign, but not a penny for his own cousin’s.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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