Detroit, MI

The Return of Coleman Young? Son of Former Mayor Coming to the City-County Building Bearing His Name?

Joseph Serwach

Coleman Young II is a top vote-getter, missing first place by a hair; the general election is in November.

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Former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young in 1981.Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

DETROIT — Coleman Young II, one of the top vote-getters in the citywide “at large” City Council primary election, is almost certainly heading toward the City-County Building named for his legendary father. 

“I want to say thank you to the citizens for voting for me. This is such a humbling honor and experience,” Young said. “I’m better in all facets in my life because of the love and respect and advice of the people of Detroit. This is as much their victory as it is mine.”

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Then-State Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit) in 2018.Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Young, 38, who made an unsuccessful challenge to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in 2017, won 30.54 percent of the vote Tuesday, trailing slightly behind incumbent Councilmember Janeé Ayers, who finished with 30.86 percent.

He is a former state senator whose district included Ecorse, Gibraltar, River Rouge, Riverview, Trenton, Woodhaven, Wyandotte, and parts of Detroit.

Both establishment —  and rejected outsider

Young has always stood out in Michigan politics because he can relate to both the Establishment (he’s the son of a legend) and the outsiders/downtrodden since his life began by being the son denied by his father.

Born in Royal Oak in 1982 but raised in California, he gained national fame at age seven when his mother, former Detroit Assistant Public Works Director Annivory Calvert, filed a paternity suit against his father, former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, to establish and prove his true identity.

The case dominated state media for years. Mayor Young never married and insisted he had no children or heirs.

Mayor Young, who had previously denied his son’s existence, eventually called his son when the son (previously known as Joel Loving) was 12, saying he was proud to have a son carry on his name and legacy.

The Coleman Young legacy

Mayor Coleman Young (1918–1997), Detroit’s first black mayor, led the city from 1974 to 1994 when the city transitioned from being a majority white city of 1.5 million to the largest majority-black city in America.

Like his son, the elder Young knew something about rejection: He was either loved or loathed, blamed for the decline of a city that peaked at nearly 2 million people in 1950, that was even a contender for the Olympics in the 1960s when it reached its zenith with the birth of Motown Records and classic muscle cars like the Ford Mustang.

But the peak of the mid-1960s was followed by the national catastrophe of the 1967 Detroit riots, where 43 people were killed, and thousands were injured. Decades later, Detroit is still reeling from those riots and the subsequent flight to the suburbs. 

Today, Detroit has 674,841 residents, 79 percent black. Yet, Young remains a legend and a hero to many for how he fought to rebuild a devastated city. The City-County Building and City Airport are named in his honor. 

Some of Mayor Young’s more colorful quotes include, “Swearing is an art form. You can express yourself much more directly, much more exactly, much more succinctly, with properly used curse words.” 

He called Ronald Reagan “Pruneface,” After Reagan won two landslides, Young called him “President Pruneface.”

Coleman Young II came to the city government as an intern in 2005 before getting elected to the Legislature (as his father had decades earlier). He served in the state House from 2007 through 2010 and the Senate from 2011 until 2019.

During his 12 years in the Michigan Legislature, 12 of his bills were passed into law, more than any other member from Detroit. He also authored another 11 resolutions.

While not as colorful or controversial as his father, Young was well-respected in Lansing, where he was seen as an aggressive, hard-working advocate for Michigan’s largest city, someone who carried big stacks of bills with him, reading every one line-by-line.

Jack Brandenburg, a Republican lawmaker 30 years older than Young, recalled battling with Young where “people pulled us apart” during a quarrel, but Brandenburg added, “I respect him, and I like him. Obviously, our styles are different; however, I think when the lights and the cameras go off, you have a very intelligent and soulful young man.”

Like his famous father, the personable Young stands out in most crowds.

“Listen, as a man, you have to take a stand for what you believe in, and you have to stand up for what’s right, and you have to have a code of conduct,” Young told The Detroit News in 2017. “Sometimes that’s going to rub people the wrong way.”

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