Warren political season nears its tumultuous end

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published October 28, 2019

 A Warren Weekly photo of Mayor Jim Fouts and Henry Krystowczyk together, taken on election night in 2007 when Fouts was first elected mayor, was included in the online post where the latest controversial recording was shared.

A Warren Weekly photo of Mayor Jim Fouts and Henry Krystowczyk together, taken on election night in 2007 when Fouts was first elected mayor, was included in the online post where the latest controversial recording was shared.

File photo

 While District 5 Warren City Council candidate Eddie Kabacinski stood at the podium to offer comments during a public hearing  Oct. 22, his opponent,  Jerry Bell, sat behind him  in the audience and held  a campaign sign up.

While District 5 Warren City Council candidate Eddie Kabacinski stood at the podium to offer comments during a public hearing Oct. 22, his opponent, Jerry Bell, sat behind him in the audience and held a campaign sign up.

Screenshot of TV Warren broadcast

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WARREN — Competing allegations of mail fraud and libel. Name calling at a public meeting. Political sign gamesmanship. Calls for state oversight. Yet another mysteriously sourced audio recording that appears to feature the mayor’s voice saying bad things.

Ah, yes. It’s an election year in Warren and the city is living up to its reputation for bare-knuckle, over-the-top politics as the 2019 political season comes to an end. The jobs of mayor, clerk and treasurer and all seven City Council seats are on the line.

Here’s a portion of what we’ve been tracking in the run-up to Election Day Nov. 5.

Another recording released
The voice of Mayor Jim Fouts became a topic of conversation again Oct. 22, when another disturbing audio clip surfaced online. This time, the recording appeared to be part of a profane rant about former Fouts ally, longtime friend and political appointee Henry Krystowczyk, who died in May. A photo of Fouts and Krystowczyk together, taken on election night in 2007, when Fouts was first elected mayor, was included in the online post where the recording was shared.  

A voice that sounds like the mayor’s can be heard stating that he’d like to beat Krystowczyk with a piece of lumber. The voice also said, “I’d like to take a gun and I’d like to shoot him through the (expletive) head. I could easily get a gun and shoot Henry. I’d enjoy shooting him.”

The clip appeared to include a pause or edit, and Fouts again questioned its authenticity.

It was the latest in a string of recordings leaked to the media or posted online that appeared to feature Fouts’ voice saying violent, crass or insensitive things, or broadly disparaging a range of groups, including older women, blacks and people with disabilities.  

While Krystowczyk only worked for him briefly after he was elected mayor in 2007, Fouts said the two were friends. He pointed out that Krystowczyk defended him in 2017 when the audio recordings first surfaced and that he eulogized Krystowczyk after he died.

“Henry was a close friend of mine,” Fouts said. “He defended me for 20 years at the council meetings.”

Fouts blasted those responsible for disseminating the clip.

“How low can you go? These people that are trying to win an election, you don’t speak ill of the dead and you don’t bring up terrible things like that. Henry was a supporter of mine until the day he died,” Fouts said.


Mail flap fuels battle in District 2
 Jonathan Lafferty said his political literature went from his mailing contractor to a United States Postal Service facility in Pontiac known as the “Metroplex” in early October.

From there, much of it went to Florida. It was intended to be sent to Warren homes in time to give absentee voters something to think about before they cast ballots in November.  He said it didn’t make it in a timely fashion.

Lafferty is running in District 2 against Richard Paul Sulaka II, one of just a few candidates endorsed by Warren Mayor Jim Fouts. Lafferty has filed a formal complaint with the USPS Office of the Inspector General, asking for answers about why his campaign mail wasn’t delivered on time.

“The special agent in charge of the investigation did advise that at least some of the mail was delivered to Florida,” Lafferty said October 24. “And then it somehow managed to make its way back up here and was delivered when it arrived in Warren.”

Lafferty was clear when asked what he believes happened to the mail.

“If you consider I had no problems with my mail delivery in the August primary, leading up to the August primary. Now that I’m the top vote-getter in District 2 and I threaten a pro-administration majority on council, and now I have problems with mail delivery and getting my message to the voters. Awfully coincidental if you ask me,” Lafferty said. “I absolutely believe there is malfeasance here. This was not human error. This was absolutely intentional.”

He believes someone with ties to the administration played a role in rerouting his literature.

“As far as I know, the investigation is ongoing,” Lafferty said.  

Asked to comment on Lafferty’s allegation that someone with ties to his administration had anything to do with it, Fouts didn’t mince words.

“I’m not sure if I should say that’s ludicrous, outrageous or just unthinkable, that he would think that I would control the U.S. Post Office,” Fouts said.

Sulaka later filed a complaint of his own with the Michigan Secretary of State alleging that “illegal mail” was sent to Warren absentee voters from the Pontiac Metroplex on the same dates Lafferty said his mail was “allegedly sent.” The “Warren Election Bulletin” mailing was apparently designed to look like a newspaper and includes “stories” critical of Sulaka.

In his complaint, Sulaka alleged that the mail was sent “by first-class postage without disclosure of the sender that contained false and libelous claims about me.”

Lafferty has denied any role in the piece targeting Sulaka, and he added that he’s now also calling for state oversight to ensure “a fair and unbiased election.” He’s not alone.


More calls for election oversight
Kelly Colegio is facing an uphill battle in the race to become Warren’s next mayor, running against an incumbent who cruised to easy wins in 2007, 2011 and 2015. She knows how important voter turnout is to her strategy and has expended much campaign energy urging people to cast ballots.

She even included an absentee voter ballot application in a September mailing to registered Warren voters. The piece also included a letter with campaign talking points and instructions asking voters to return the application to Warren’s city clerk.

Colegio said she acted in accordance with state law, but on Sept. 26, Warren City Attorney Ethan Vinson sent her a letter by certified mail concerning “A matter of unprecedented deception in the election process.” The letter addressed Vinson’s concerns about “fraudulent ballot-related materials, specifically, absentee ballot application forms accompanied by a letter and instructions” from Colegio.

“It includes a letter from Kelly Colegio with an enclosed form that resembles an absent (sic) voter application form,” Vinson wrote. “This form misleads voters to believe it came from the Warren City Clerk. I consider the mailing an affront to our taxpayers, the electorate and the entire election process.”

Vinson called on Colegio to disclose any information she had about who sent the mailing and to cooperate with his office on any “investigation and possible prosecution of the responsible individuals.” He also urged her to send a written statement to every voter who received the mailing to advise them that the form was sent by her and that it was not the form sent by the city clerk.

“I am appalled at the lengths this administration will go to waste taxpayer resources and attempt to suppress voter turnout,” Colegio said on Facebook, where she posted a copy of the letter. She likened the correspondence from the city attorney to an attempt “to intimidate and bully me, to stifle voter participation in the upcoming election, presumably on behalf of my political opponent.”

In a letter to Colegio’s attorney, Vinson said the mailing broke the law because it was sent out in an envelope “remarkably similar” to one sent by the Clerk’s Office in May, “making it appear as though the Warren City Clerk was the sender.”

“Furthermore and more importantly, it contained political material from Ms. Colegio thereby giving the impression that the City Clerk has endorsed Ms. Colegio. This confuses voters and is blatantly illegal,” Vinson wrote.

Because Vinson sits on Warren’s Election Commission, Colegio became the first candidate to call for state oversight of the upcoming election. She noted that Vinson contributed to Fouts’ campaign and alleged that he is “unlikely to exercise fair and impartial judgement in his capacity as an election commissioner.”

Fouts responded by saying, “Desperate candidates do desperate things. It’s clear they’re desperate. I don’t control the elections.”

He added, “I’ve donated to Kelly’s campaign. Kelly is grasping at straws, trying to come up with an issue.”

Colegio worked in the mayor’s office previously and handled community outreach for his administration prior to her council run in 2011, when she was strongly supported by Fouts. She was reelected in 2015. As the top vote-getter in the at-large Warren City Council race, she became the mayor pro tem.

She opted to forego a chance to run for a third term on the City Council in favor of a mayoral run this year.


District 5 campaigns turn ugly
Jerry Bell and Eddie Kabacinski — the two candidates on the ballot in the Warren City Council’s District 5 — have questioned each other’s residency. They were involved in a confrontation of sorts in the parking lot after a council meeting this summer. Both men filed police reports afterward.

Bell has labeled Kabacinski as “mentally unstable,” and he openly called him a racist.

Kabacinski has questioned Bell’s “vast” criminal record and accused him of driving by his home. He was unsuccessful in an attempt to seek a court-ordered personal protection order to keep Bell away from him.

Both men were at the Warren City Council’s final meeting of the current term Oct. 22, where Bell’s gamesmanship was on full display.

While Kabacinski stood at the podium to offer comments during a public hearing about a proposed development in Warren’s Civic Center, Bell sat behind him in the audience and held up one of his own campaign signs over Kabacinski’s shoulder.

Kabacinski later brought up Bell’s criminal record in his final appeal to the voters during audience participation, and Bell responded minutes later.

“The PPO was denied and he continued to say very bad things about me,” Bell said. “Mr. Kabacinski is a very, very weird individual. He is very crazed. We saw how he chased me from the front doors to the parking lot, and then he went on to lie about it and say that I chased him.

“This guy is unfit to be a council member. He’s a very racist individual, too, as well,” Bell said.

After the meeting, Kabacinski responded to Bell’s words and actions.

“A couple of the residents told me about that, that he was picking up his sign and being rather rude during the time I was talking,” Kabacinski said. “I’ve gotten called by a lot of residents today saying they thought that was rather rude and unprofessional about Mr. Bell.

“As I’ve said, first of all, I’ve never made any race or cultural background an issue in this campaign,” Kabacinski said.

He added, “There’s not a racist bone in my body.”

Kabacinski said Bell has accused him of using his military service as a “crutch in this campaign.”

“I have served my country,” Kabacinski said. “Mr. Bell has not served anybody but himself. His criminal record shows that.”

Bell has addressed his past, which includes a mix of misdemeanor offenses and felony convictions. He previously told the Warren Weekly, “I have nothing to hide. My life is public. I’m ready to go.”

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