DETROIT – “I’ve been through a lot worse, and I’ll get through this,” said media personality and current Detroit City Council candidate Charles Pugh, speaking Sunday to supporters at a fundraiser organized by the Billionaire Boys’ Club at a home on Detroit’s East Side.
The comment refers to the events of the past week, which saw Pugh making headlines not for the lead he’s maintained for months in the council race, but for the revelation that he faces foreclosure on his pricey downtown condo. The controversy culminated Sunday with the Detroit Free Press withdrawing its endorsement of the frontrunner.
Records show that Pugh obtained two separate mortgages totaling $385,000 in 2005, when he was making a reported $240,000 a year as a reporter and anchor for WJBK Fox 2. Pugh, who left the station this spring to avoid a conflict of interest in running for a council seat, said he has tried repeatedly to have the mortgage modified, but without proof of a steady income was unable to do so. As of press time, his condo was scheduled for the auction block on Oct. 29.
Taking advantage of Pugh’s financial woes has been current Council President Ken Cockrel, Jr., whom Pugh bested in the August primary by 10,000 votes. On Sunday, Pugh criticized Cockrel for taking digs at him in the press.
“We need somebody who will not only not behave like that, but who will lead with compassion,” Pugh said. “Someone who can be firm without being a bully.”
City council – celebrity edition
Pugh is not alone among council hopefuls – incumbents or newcomers – in facing the loss of his home. Councilman Kwame Kenyatta previously lost a home he owned in the North Rosedale area of the city after defaulting on his mortgage, and a rental property in the city owned by Councilwoman Alberta Tinsley-Talabi was scheduled to be auctioned before she made a last minute payment. In addition, Saunteel Jenkins, who came in the top nine in the primary, told The Detroit News that like Pugh she, too, had to default on the mortgage of her condo in order to restructure payments.
“I don’t think this stuff matters to the average Detroiter,” she said. “I’ve talked to more people who are supportive of Charles because so many Detroiters are going through it.”
While his financial struggle does not make Pugh unique among those running for a council seat, his past work history – spending 10 years on television in the metro Detroit area – does. In the same election cycle that saw Motown legend Martha Reeves make headlines following a bumpy first term for being the first incumbent not to make it past the primary in over 15 years, Pugh said his perceived celebrity status has caused him to be singled out.
“Not only did I come in first (in the primary), I came in first by 10,000 votes,” he said. “They say it’s because I’m a celebrity. But I have a connection with Detroiters that a lot of people don’t understand. They know all about me and I think that people are willing to understand.”
Pugh was born and raised in the city, is a product of Detroit schools, and turned down more lucrative career opportunities in bigger media markets because he said he wanted to return to make a difference in his hometown. For a decade he was on television in Detroit, as well as in the streets of the city talking to people from all walks of life.
“Reporters go everywhere,” Pugh told Between The Lines in announcing his candidacy earlier this year. “There’s no place we don’t go. … We talk to everyone. So I’ve been a trained listener and someone whose job it was to go into every corner of Detroit, and that is my number one qualification for being on the council.”
No shortage of support
Speaking on Sunday, Pugh spent little time on the foreclosure controversy and spoke mostly of his vision for the city.
“One good thing about being well known is you can bring people to the table,” he said. “You can be a coalition builder and I’m looking forward to that. Whatever place I come in, whether it’s first or ninth, it doesn’t matter to me. I want to be a coalition builder on the council.”
His supporters obviously want that for him, too, and those at the fundraiser appeared undaunted by his personal fiscal challenges.
“I think that it actually humanizes him,” said Damon Percy. “He gave up his job making a lot more money to try to help the city. Charles has always been a person who has been up front and approachable. That’s why he was voted number one, and that’s why he will be on city council.”
Torrena Dye agreed. “I support Charles wholeheartedly,” she said. “(The financial trouble) doesn’t affect how I feel about him because it’s happening to too many people I know, good people.”