Incumbent Sheriff Robert Pickell wins primary election; Attorney Super PAC Fails to Buy Election For Opponent Dan Allen
by Rick Thompson/August 3, 2016
FLINT- In all my years I have never seen a political battle get as nasty as the fight for Genesee County Sheriff was.
Incumbent Sheriff, Robert Pickell, retained his position by beating fellow Democrat, Argentine Township Police Chief Dan Allen, in Tuesday’s Primary Election in Genesee County. Normally I would not have voted for the 76-year old Pickell, but the campaign launched by Mr. Allen and his supporters was extremely vicious and rude.
More importantly it symbolized what is wrong with Michigan politics, and the rules allowing unchecked campaigning by ‘unaffiliated’ third-party entities. Lawyers formed a Super PAC and spent a small fortune to unseat the incumbent.
“Big money is being thrown around in the race for Genesee County sheriff,” proclaimed MLive reporter Gary Ridley, and he was right. A Super PAC formed by an attorney group waged a media battle on behalf of Allen, flooding mailboxes with inflammatory mailers and hitting the small screen with attack ads- all focused on embarrassing current Sheriff Pickell. Pickell responded with his own attack ads on television, leaving viewers feeling ‘slimed’ like a character from the movie, “Ghostbusters.”
I dragged those mailers out of my mailbox for the last month or so. Each time I’d glance at the literature and inevitably end up shaking my head at the current state of what passes as politics in the Great Lakes State. “Bob Pickell Skirts The Issues!” read the headline from one flyer, which detailed sexual harassment lawsuits involving one of Pickell’s trusted lieutenants- and included the case number with both the accused and defendant’s names.
Another flyer with the headline “How Much is Enough, Bob?” detailed the Sheriff’s retirement packages from the various entities who he has served as a law enforcement officer. It also takes issue with the Sheriff collecting pay as an Emergency Manager while performing the job of Sheriff, which gives Pickell a $115,000 annual salary.
Normally this is information I would consume and retain. Sexual harassment? Double-dipping on the taxpayer’s dime? These are issues I care about, and they would guide my vote.
But the New Sheriff In Town Super PAC was so disgusting in their presentation of these facts that I immediately felt sympathy for Pickell. One flyer proclaimed, “Bob Pickell really enjoys going into the county Evidence Room… his favorite place to visit. It’s only a few steps from his office and what he sees there almost makes him drool- money, lots of cash money!”
Only an attorney would find this presentation appropriate. The retirement flyer contained statements like, “Why are you so greedy?” and, “How much money do you need for your own retirement?”
The flyer citing sexual harassment included the phrase, “Although it was Pickell’s fault, Pickell refused to pay any of the 500 thousand dollars himself.” That would be like suggesting that Governor Snyder pay for the infrastructure repair to Flint’s water system out of his own pocket.
A dozen mailers were announced by the New Sheriff Super PAC, with titles like, “Media Mad-Man,” “Retirement Rage,” and “Bob’s Chained Gang.” All attack ads. All paid for by the super PAC.
And that super PAC was funded by attorneys who want to unseat Pickell. Ridley cites two attorneys by name, Frank J. Manley and Flint attorney Glen Lenhoff, as primaries behind the PAC. Manley has a strong family name, as his grandfather and father were fixtures in Flint’s educational and cultural communities. In a post on Facebook, Manley says, “… that it is more important to help my community and those truly in need then to be part of any particular “popular” group of people which may bestow personal gain upon me.”
Personal gain is what the New Sheriff Super PAC seemed to be all about, as they had little financial support from the community outside of their social circle. The Allen campaign had raised a paltry $12,000, as of Ridley’s article (July 25th), which shows little direct citizen support for the candidate.
The Pickell campaign raised $217,000 for reelection and spent $161,000 during the past year. The super PAC raised $170,000 – but we may never know who contributed to that fund, as Super PACs enjoy certain protections from disclosure under the law.
“As a super PAC, the New Sheriff in Town effort is allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and unions to advocate for or against political candidates. It is prohibited, however, from directly donating or coordinating with any candidate,” Ridley wrote.
“”New Sheriff in Town” is registered by members of the Manley Law Firm,” reported ABC 12 News.
Statements in the MLive article show the gritty underbelly that was this primary campaign. “Pickell has claimed the group has raised money from local attorneys to “buy” the position for their own personal reasons,” Ridley wrote.
“They’re not in this for Dan Allen,” Pickell previously said of the PAC. “He’s going to owe these people.”
Manley has denied that Allen would owe the PAC anything if elected, adding that the sheriff’s claims the PAC was funded by defense attorneys were false.”
The named attorneys asserted that they were not the leaders of the super PAC, but in all my research I can not find anyone other than lawyers whose name is associated with the secretive fund.
Claiming the PAC is NOT funded by attorneys is laughable, and illustrative of the integrity of the speaker. “Local attorney Glen Lenhoff said Tuesday, July 12, that he has donated $100,000,” to the super PAC, Ridley wrote in an earlier article. That figure is more than half of the $170,000 raised, and originates from a single source, and makes Manley look like a weasel.
More evidence of the PAC’s leadership comes in other news articles.
“The New Sheriff PAC is registered to the Mott Foundation Building offices of attorneys Frank J. Manley and Scott Bigger.
Manley and Bigger, who is listed in state campaign records as the PAC’s treasurer, said their role with the committee is to keep the books and facilitate the committee’s activities.
All three attorneys say the committee was formed to try and bring attention to what they believe are shortcomings with Pickell’s performance as sheriff.”
Pickell was not innocent of using dirty tricks in this battle to defend his position.
His television ads cited a Appellate Court case wherein a mental health professional gave sworn testimony against Allen, describing him as “brutish” and a difficult taskmaster. The Pickell campaign promised to attack the Allen bankruptcy as part of their response campaign, and implied sexual harassment in the Argentine office, which added fuel to the filthy fire that was this primary election battle.
NBC 25 News quoted him in this way:
Pickell says the New Sheriff in Town Super PAC started slinging mud first so he had no choice but to get his hands dirty too.
“Why do they want to put a guy that can’t take care of his bills, who goes bankrupt when he’s making $100,000 a year? This is the kind of guy that should be the sheriff? He can run a $35m a year operation? I don’t think so,” said Pickell.
It’s a safe bet that Allen will try to be County Sheriff again. This is the second time he has ran for the position. In 2012 he gained only 14% of the vote. During Tuesday’s election he garnered 42%. Although a Republican opponent will appear on the 2016 ballot in November, his election is unlikely as Genesee County is predominantly a Democratic stronghold.
Chances are, at age 76, Pickell will not run for office again. If Allen keeps his current circle of friends, and the concept of unlimited political contributions continues to be law in Michigan, we’ll see Allen run in 2020. Third time’s a charm.
And if that circle of friends sees the jump from 14% to 42% as an endorsement of the disgusting politics displayed by the New Sheriff in Town super PAC, we are likely to see some dirty laundry aired out in public. The voters are the losers, when campaigns view this tactic as valuable.