Race for Michigan county's public works seat draws millions in campaign financing

2 candidates battle for public works commissioner seat in Macomb County

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. – One of the most talked about and expensive political races this November isn’t for a seat in Washington or Lansing, but instead for public works commissioner in Macomb County.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R - MI 10th) is facing off against six-term incumbent Anthony Marrocco (D). The job pays $111,000 per year, but between the two sides nearly 20 times that amount will be spent -- an estimated $1 million each.

“This race is going to be one of the most expensive races across Michigan this year,” Michigan Campaign Finance Network’s Craig Mauger said.

Heavy rains in Macomb County can cause combined sewer overflows, which have caused some 8 billion gallons of partially untreated sewage to be released into Lake St. Clair and the Clinton River over the last three years.

The Clinton River runs by Miller’s door.

“When I talk about combined sewer overflows, the current incumbent just says, ‘Oh well, that’s been going on for decades and that’s just the way it is.’ Well guess what buddy, that’s actually why I’m running against you, because it doesn’t have to be this way. We can clean it up,” Miller said.

Miller points to her support for Lake St. Clair pollution monitoring as evidence of her environmental commitment.

Marrocco says in a congressional budget crisis, Miller agreed to cut the Great Lakes Restoration Project by a quarter-billion dollars.

“I want to clean the beaches more. I want to clean the water more. I want to take care of some flooding issues around the county,” Marrocco said. “There are not as many as their used to be.”

The public works commissioner has control of millions for water and sewer projects. Because of the Flint water crisis, infrastructure improvement monies could grow statewide.

Campaign finance watchdogs say big money construction contractors are placing their bets on which politician will take control of project dollars.

“They’re both receiving large sums of money from individuals who work for construction companies and engineering companies and different entities that could work on public works projects in Macomb County down the road,” Mauger said.

The county’s highest-profile Democrat, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, is supporting Miller, the Republican.