More than a month before Macomb County voters cast votes, candidates in several races debated Thursday evening in Chesterfield Township.
In a series of taped segments in , candidates spoke of their accomplishments and their goals if elected in November. The and The Voice newspaper sponsored the event moderated by .
Incumbent Eric Smith, a Democrat who was elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2008, stressed his accomplishments in office during the debate with Republican challenger Michael Wrathell.
Smith pointed to his years working in the office before becoming prosecutor, including serving as chief of the sex crimes unit. He highlighted results while in the top seat. He said there's been 99.9 percent convictions rates for about 2,000 defendants charged in crimes against seniors and 20 cold-case convictions, including one in which the killer led police to the body of victim Cindy Zarzycki decades after the crime.
"I think it's experience like that we need in the Prosecutor's Office," Smith said.
Wrathell, a Sterling Heights attorney, accused Smith of making his staff take loyalty pledges that they will not run against him in public office or publicly support another candidate. He said he was told this by attorneys in the office, whom he did not identify.
"Eric, I think, has abused his authority on that front," he said.
Smith said after the debate that Wrathell is not accurately informed of what takes place in the department and that, as prosecutor, he has successfully negotiated union contracts.
Republican challenger Steve Thomas, a law enforcement veteran who retired as sergeant with the Macomb County Sheriff's Office, and incumbent Anthony Wickersham both emphasized drug prevention education among youth, parents and teachers. Thomas noted that both he and Wickersham worked for years in the narcotics unit, seeing first-hand the tragic fallout from drugs.
"The heroin problem in Macomb County has been prevalent for the last five to six years," Wickersham said. "Parents are sometimes naive: not my child," he said.
Thomas said he has a 10-point plan if elected to run the department, including evaluating the need for staff restructuring and reinforcing that "public service is not limited to a chosen few."
Wickersham said, "If some people think that getting into the department is political, I would say that it's not."
He said they hire the best applicants based on their qualifications.
Republican challenger Larry Rocca, a longtime real estate broker who has sought the office multiple times, and Democrat incumbent Ted Wahby spoke of county finances.
"We have a $15-million deficit and growing," Rocca said, adding that change is necessary for improvement. He called for an independent audit to determine waste.
Wahby, who noted county employees have taken furloughs and paid more for medical coverage under his watch, said he's received bipartisan support and recognition for measures taken to prevent taxpayers from foreclosure. He also said that successful auctions have been held during his terms, leading to millions deposited to the general fund.
Longtime Democrat Clerk/Register of Deeds Carmella Sabaugh's opponent Republican Debera Guenther was not present Thursday during the debate. But, Sabaugh still answered questions from Powers about her goals for re-election.
'When I first got in that office, it was really behind the time," she said of technology. Thanks to streamlining programs and offering online services, the department is more efficient, she said.
"I have the energy and desire to be your county clerk for the next four years," she told voters.