>> ... Next Generation ...
Gabe Leland aims to claim a seat
on the Detroit City Council.
HARRY KIRSBAUM I CONTRIBUTING WRITER
abe Leland, 30, stands alone among the 54
Detroiters vying for a seat on the Detroit City
Council this November.
In a city of 714,000 that is 82.7 percent
African American, and a district that holds 103,000 people,
86 percent of whom are African American, Leland is trying
to become the first Jewish Detroit City Council member since
Mel Ravitz, who served from 1962-1974 and 1982-1997.
With the state of the city in upheaval and an emergency
financial manager holding
• the power over the mayor
and city council, the first
question that comes to
mind is: Why?
"I don't want to go
into a job that's already
been solved. I want a
project," says Leland, a
Central Michigan grad with
a degree in community
development. "I want to
add to the madness, and I
hope at the end of the day
that I can inspire and be
a voice for my district and
institute some change."
Manager Kevyn Orr won't "be here forever, and what our
constituents are left with at some point is a fully elected
council and mayor," he says. "And I hope to be there when it
What's different about this race is the changing direction
of the city council itself. No longer will there be nine at-large
members. The city has been divided into seven districts, (see
map) and seven of the nine council members will represent
their own territory; two will be at-large. It's a nonpartisan
election, and the top two vote-getters in each of the nine
races in the Aug. 6 primary will find themselves on the ballot
Leland previously served as state representative in the
10th District of Detroit from 2004-2010 before being term-
limited out. The 10th District represents about 40 percent of
the new District 7 city council seat.
"No council person in Detroit has ever lived in District 7
before, so they haven't been properly represented," says
Leland, who has lived in the west Detroit area for 91/2 years,
works at the Detroit Medical Center and volunteers at a
health center in the city.
The first thing he will do if elected, he says, is open a
mobile office, available throughout the year.
"They need to know that government can come to them,"
he says. "It's gonna be my job to listen to my community and
30 July 25 • 2013
Leland considers blight one of the biggest challenges
hear them out and communicate back to them
about exactly what's taking place in Detroit at
He is running against five others in his
district, but none of his opponents has his
experience at the state level.
"If there's anyone in my race that
understands how to run a district, it's me," he
says. "It's not going to be easy; we're going
to have to go out and fight. You can be the
smartest person, but if you don't have those
relationships, no one is going to listen to you."
The biggest problem in his district is blight,
"Walking door to door, I see five houses
on a block abandoned. Missing doors or
windows, some of them are burned. Some
have squatters living there," he says. "Your heart goes out
to the neighbors on those streets that can't leave. There's
He blames the housing market debacle. "They started
burning the houses down, squatters moved in, thieves
moved in and started taking what they wanted," he says.
"The city should try to make it easier for residents to be able
to purchase abandoned adjacent land."
Crime is also an issue, he says.
"We're 40 minutes over the national average in
emergency response time, and it allows these criminals to
live without consequences," he says. "Families won't move
into our community unless these issues are addressed.
We have to be creative in finding strategies to fund these
Leland is a member of the Isaac Agree Downtown
Synagogue and has held political lunch-and-learn programs
there in the past. He attended Habonim Camp Tavor in Three
Rivers, Mich., where he learned leadership skills and about
Representing Detroit is in his blood. He's the son of
Burton Leland, a Wayne County Commissioner since 2006,
and former state representative from 1981-1998 and state
senator from 2000-2006 until he was term-limited out.
Five days a week and five hours a day, Leland and
his father knock on doors in the 7th District, meeting
constituents, passing out campaign literature and shaking
"He's not going to get a lot of endorsements," Burt says.
"There are a lot of folks who run these institutions who don't
like the fact that you've got a Caucasian, a Jew, running in
an area that is heavily African American, and they just don't
think he has a right to be there.
"I don't think the voters are going to be taken by that,"
he continued. "I think that they're perfectly happy with
someone who will deliver the services, have the passion,
engage them, work hard every day. He's got the passion, the
heart and the soul. He's kind of like how I was when I was
Both are unwavering in their beliefs, fight for the rights
of those less fortunate and have beaten the odds. They both
have had to fight residency issues during their campaigns,
Burt was challenged and won a court battle last year
against an opponent who says Burt actually lived in East
Lansing. In July, one of Gabe's opponents contacted the
Detroit Elections Department claiming that Gabe didn't live
in Detroit, either. The investigation was inconclusive, and
Gabe remains on the ballot.
"Now they're just throwing a few Molotov cocktails,"
Burt says. "But by November, they're gonna be firing 50mm
cannons at him."
Daniel Oberlin, a policy analyst in the Michigan State
Senate who has worked for both Lelands in the past, spoke
admiringly of Gabe.
"Gabe has a tenacious personality and an unmatched
energy that will make him a great addition to the council,"
During weekly meetings concerning constituent
complaints that included topics like potholes, food stamps
and broken streetlights, "some problems were harder than
others to fix," Oberlin says.
"Gabe always volunteered to work on the hardest cases,
and this lead-from-the-front quality speaks a lot for his
As Gabe walks door-to-door, pressing the flesh and
handing out literature, he sees himself representing Detroit's
new 7th District and taking the advice of his father: "Treat
your constituents like family."