Sabaugh withdraws from county clerk race

Paul Wojno, Fred Miller join field of Democrats running in August primary

By: Brian Louwers, Julie Snyder | C&G Newspapers | Published April 25, 2016


WARREN — What looked to be a relatively straightforward race for Macomb County clerk got a lot more interesting at the proverbial eleventh hour.

As the deadline for declared 2016 candidates to withdraw passed at 4 p.m. on April 22, longtime incumbent Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh had officially withdrawn from the race, ending a six-term, 24-year run in the office.

Her decision leaves Warren City Clerk Paul Wojno, District 9 Macomb County Commissioner Fred Miller and Denise Doherty running for county clerk in the Democratic primary on Aug. 2.

“When I filed for office, I really wanted to run. The more that I started thinking about it, and my family, really, it was just time to retire,” Sabaugh said. “It was a very hard decision to make. It really was very emotional for me. I felt in my heart it was time for me to go and leave it to someone else.”

Wojno, Warren’s third-term incumbent clerk who surprisingly jumped into the county clerk race ahead of the candidate filing deadline on April 19, said he believes that’s what she intended to do, literally.

He said he’d heard rumors that Sabaugh might drop out, which turned out to be correct. He said he opted to “buy the insurance” and enter the race, followed by Miller, who filed just before the 4 p.m. deadline and rolled out a campaign website within minutes after the deadline had passed. 

“I went ahead and filed, in a sense, to ensure there was no shenanigans, tomfoolery or a switcheroo taking place,” Wojno said. “There were rumors that someone was going to be dropped in at the last minute, and she would withdraw, which prompted me to file.

“I think it was interesting that Fred withdrew (from the county commission race) and then filed for clerk. It seemed like there was some backroom deal being cut. I think it’s most important to note that if I didn’t file, that Carmella would have withdrawn and the office would have automatically been handed over to Fred Miller, without other individuals having an opportunity to run.”

Sabaugh flatly denied that was the case.

“For both of them, I thought it was a bold move,” Sabaugh said. “They filed because they wanted to file, and that’s good. That’s it. We’ve got two Democrats there. Maybe one’s stronger than the other. That’s why I endorsed Fred.”

Miller, who served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 2005-2010 prior to his election to the Macomb County Board of Commissioners, hit the ground running when he launched his campaign online and on social media.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that most of the milestone moments of our lives are marked by a visit to the County Clerk and Register of Deeds. From birth certificates, marriage licenses and business registrations to supervising elections, encouraging voter registration and participation, and educating young people about the rights and responsibilities of our democracy, the County Clerk‘s role is significant in many aspects of our public life,” Miller said in prepared remarks. “I’m running for Macomb County Clerk because I respect this community and the people in it. You deserve someone who works as hard as you do and who will be there to help when you have questions along the way. I have the energy and experience to deliver the quality services you deserve.”

Miller later scoffed at Wojno’s assertion that a “backroom deal” preceded his filing.

"Give me a break," Miller said in response to the speculation. “Paul filed against her before I did. And I didn’t know what Carmella was doing until she did it."

Miller said he has known Sabaugh for 20 years and has worked closely with her on numerous issues; all the while letting her know that he would be more than willing to preserve her legacy in Macomb County politics when the time came.

Since dropping out of the race, Sabaugh has given her endorsement of Miller.

“I’m humbled to have Carmella’s endorsement,” he said. “I’m going to give this campaign everything I got to make myself worthy of the endorsement."

Prior to his election as Warren’s clerk, Wojno represented residents of Warren and Center Line in the Michigan House of Representatives from 1997-2002.

He maintained that he is the only candidate running for county clerk with state-level certification and job experience managing elections, and that he quickly received a list of high-profile endorsements from elected officials including Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts and Mount Clemens Mayor Barb Dempsey.  

 “The job of clerk is extremely important, extremely detailed and it’s nothing to be taken lightly,” Wojno said. “Experience is going to be the key thing in my campaign. It is truly important.

“No disrespect to my opponent, but he doesn’t have those certifications, or that experience, or those credentials,” Wojno said.

Doherty, listed on the ballot as “formerly Denise Greiner,” could not be immediately reached for comment on the Democratic primary.

The winner of the Democratic primary for Macomb County Clerk will face one of four Republican challengers: Sylvia Grot, Debera Guenther, Karen A. Spranger and Julie Ann Williams.