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Detroit police chief James Craig to retire, may take on Republican target Gretchen Whitmer in run for Michigan governor

Craig, 64, made his retirement official at a press conference on Monday in Detroit, saying he will step down on June 1. He stopped short of confirming his 2022 candidacy for governor, but he has reportedly met in recent days with Michigan’s GOP leaders to gauge support.

“Michiganders from across this state, from around the country have asked me, and this is one of the things I’m considering,” Craig said in a Fox Business interview. “In the coming weeks, I’ll provide my decision.” He added that he will “continue to be deeply passionate as a public servant and leader.”

Craig told reporters at his retirement announcement that under his leadership, the police department has worked with activists of all ages to address community concerns. “That’s one of the reasons Detroit didn’t burn,” he said, referring to last summer’s wave of anti-police riots across the US. He previously noted that unlike law enforcement in some cities, Detroit’s police didn’t retreat in the face of protests.

Like another potential Republican candidate, businessman and former US Senate candidate John James, he would give the party a high-profile and accomplished leader to take on Gov. Whitmer, one of the most controversial Democrat targets. Also like the 39-year-old James, who narrowly lost his 2020 Senate race in a contested election, Craig happens to be black, which could help make Republicans more competitive in Detroit.

Michigan’s largest city is about 78% black, according to US Census data, and it’s Democrat-dominated. Whitmer won Michigan’s 2018 gubernatorial election by nearly 10 percentage points, largely on her party’s Detroit stronghold. While Whitmer won four other counties in and around Detroit, Republican contender Bill Schuette won Michigan’s 79 other counties by over three percentage points.

Whitmer wound up being one of the Democrat governors that Republicans love to hate most, imposing some of the most stringent Covid-19 lockdowns in the nation. And as one of the party’s leading critics of former President Donald Trump, she was chosen to deliver the Democrat response to Trump’s “State of the Union” speech in February 2020. She was a leading candidate to be chosen as Joe Biden’s vice-presidential running mate, despite immense pressure for him to choose a black woman.

Craig, who previously led police departments in Portland, Maine, and Cincinnati, came home to his native Detroit as chief in 2013. Detroit remains one of America’s most dangerous cities. In fact, the most recent FBI crime data showed that in 2019, residents had a 2-in-100 chance of being a victim of violent crime in the city – the highest level in the nation and more than five times the national average. 

But violent crime was even higher prior to Craig’s arrival. In 2014, his first full year on the job, homicides dropped below 300 for the first time since 1967. Homicides remained below 300 in four of the five following years before rising to 327 in 2020. Craig’s low-water mark of 261 compared to Detroit’s peak murder tally of 714 in 1974.

Craig has been an outspoken defender of law enforcement and critic of the Black Lives Matter political movement. Just last month, he called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act a “veiled attempt at dismantling policing” and called for the resignation of US Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) for calling law enforcement “inherently and intentionally racist.” Craig responded by saying, “She’s reckless. I’d love to see her resign. I’d throw her a goodbye party.”

Media appearances have helped Craig build a national following. Political columnist Josh Kraushaar said his entry in the field against Whitmer would turn “a sleepy race into a campaign to closely watch next year.” Media strategist Gabriella Hoffman agreed, saying, “This is exciting.”

“Chief James Craig is the right person at the right time for this job,” Fox Business host Charles Payne tweeted. 

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