Ficano to skip high-profile candidate forum that features some of his biggest critics

DETROIT (WXYZ) - An upcoming forum for candidates running for Wayne County Executive will be missing something: the Wayne County Executive.

CEO Robert Ficano, who's attended every debate or forum held this year, will be skipping one where some of his biggest critics will be steering the conversation.

In a first of its kind event, the top candidates for CEO were invited to face questions from the county's other elected officials, including the sheriff, prosecutor and clerk.

The event was organized by Register of Deeds Bernard Youngblood, who hasn't endorsed anyone in this race, but ran unsuccessfully against Ficano for CEO in 2002. 

Former Sheriff and Police Chief Warren Evans, Westland Mayor Bill Wild, County Commissioner Kevin McNamara and State Rep. Phil Cavanaugh will be in attendance, but Ficano won't, blaming a "scheduling conflict."

Those inside his campaign say the real reason isn’t Ficano's schedule, but because the unpopular CEO is anticipating a hostile crowd asking the questions. Indeed, some in attendance haven’t been in Ficano’s fan club lately.  

Sheriff Benny Napoleon has accused the county executive of underfunding his department by tens of millions of dollars, forcing him to put dangerous accused criminals on tethers, instead of inside jails.

Prosecutor Kym Worthy says Ficano has pulled so much funding from her department that he’s become a friend to criminals. In June, Worthy endorsed Warren Evans for CEO.

Longtime public relations strategist Matt Friedman says that, by avoiding the event, Ficano's campaign team is trying to avoid risk.

"Somebody is afraid of something.  Otherwise, he would very likely be there," Friedman said.

"It begs the question: what could be worse than a federal investigation? He’s run a whole campaign under the cloud of a federal investigation," he said. "Is there something that could happen in this event that would make that worse? It’s hard to picture what that might be."

The forum takes place July 31, just five days before the election.  For Ficano, who polls have shown in last place, it represents maybe his last highly-publicized chance to convince voters he’s still capable of righting the county’s ship.

"As a leader of the county for the last decade, you’ve had to have tough conversations with people you work with. And this would be another one, it would just be public," Friedman said. "And you’re experienced in public speaking.  So, this all should add up if you’re trying to position yourself as the best leader for the next four years."

The forum will go on, says Youngblood, with or without Ficano.

The event is being held July 31 at 10AM at the Atheneum Hotel in Detroit. Event organizers ask that you reserve your space by calling (313) 224-5855.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at rjones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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