By Todd Spangler/Detroit Free Press
WASHINGTON -- Add this to U.S. Rep. Gary Peters' string of endorsements as he attempts to move to a Detroit-centered district: He's the first white candidate for a U.S. House seat to win the early backing of the Black Slate, a long-standing and influential political grassroots group in the city.
Peters' campaign announced the Black Slate's endorsement in Michigan's new 14th Congressional District on Monday, noting that the group -- founded in 1973 as a political arm of the Shrine of the Black Madonna Church -- has backed candidates who weren't African American in the past but never one running for U.S. House.
"It is humbling that the organization has recognized my track record as one that is worthy of earning their confidence and support," Peters said.
Ron Hewitt, the coordinator for the Black Slate, said race wasn't an issue. He said Peters "voted with President (Barack) Obama more than any other candidate in this race, helped to pass the historic health care legislation and was a leader in saving the automotive industry from collapsing."
The endorsement comes as Peters, a two-term Democrat who lives in Bloomfield Township, is in the middle of challenging another incumbent, U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke of Detroit, as a result of redistricting by a Republican-led Legislature. Clarke -- the son of a Bangladeshi father and an African-American mother -- is in his first term representing Detroit. The two face each other in the Aug. 7 primary.
Others in the Democratic primary include former Detroit magistrate Robert Costello, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence and former state Rep. Mary Waters. Lawrence and Waters are both black.
Hewitt said the selection was based more on Peters' record than on any perceived failing of Clarke's.
"His record was more in keeping with what we were looking for," Hewitt said of Peters.
Peters has been racking up endorsements at an impressive clip, including those from Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, several Detroit members of the state Legislature, the UAW, Michigan AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees-Michigan Council 25 and several others.