Multimillionaire entrepreneur Shri Thanedar eyeing Detroit's mayoral seat

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Maverick Democratic multi-millionaire Shri Thanedar, who crashed and burned in the Michigan gubernatorial primary last year, has now apparently set his sights on the low-hanging fruit—perhaps a bid for Detroit Mayor or City Council or County Commission.

Last August, Thanedar, 64, who spent more than $3 million of his own money for the gubernatorial primary on Aug. 7 was no match for former State Senator Gretchen Whitmer. Whitmer beat him and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, the progressive favorite, who was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and then went on to defeat Attorney General Bill Schuette in the general election on Nov. 6, to become Michigan’s new governor.

Whitmer received 586,074 or 52 percent of the votes, to El-Sayed, who received 340,560 or 30.2 percent, with Thanedarbringing up the rear with received 199,574 or 17.7 percent of the votes.

Speculation about Thanedar’s continued quest for a public service office--this time less quixotic — was rife after he announced his intention to move to Detroit and establish a new residence for a campaign for mayor or some other local office.

He told Detroit’s 7 Action News that as a gubernatorial candidate he had seen the progress and development in downtown Detroit and strongly believed he could make an impact on inner city neighborhoods that need help.

“I saw the life is at times and in places looked worse than that of third world countries. Now remember, I grew up in India. I grew up in poverty,” Thanedar said.

The buzz about his new political plans began earlier this month when he posted on social media that he was moving into a Detroit house in the historic Palmer Woods neighborhood, later in July.

Thanedar said, “I have been an entrepreneur. I have run businesses all my life. My family’s doing well. At this stage I want to do public service. I want to give back because I came to this country with 20 dollars in my pocket. And this country has given me so much.”

He disclosed that he’s considering a run for Mayor or City Council or County Commission, but added, “I have not decided what election I would be running next. I would like to be an elected official helping Detroit. And that’s the reason I’m moving to the city. However, what position that will be I have not decided.”

Thanedarsaid he was not in a hurry to make up his mind because he had about a year to decide which way to go.

He told the Metro Times, “I will definitely be on the ballot but have not yet decided which position.”

To his credit, Thanedar, an Ann Arbor business magnate, although losing badly to Whitmer and El-Sayed statewide, edged out both of them in the primary results in Detroit — the state’s largest city--and his popularity in this motor city was due largely to his focus on the city’s impoverished neighborhoods, Metro Times said.

The timing of his move to Detroit and speculation that he was eyeing a mayoral run was fueled by the recent announcement by Mayor Mike Duggan that he’s strongly thinking of running for a third term in 2021.

Thanedar said he wants to run for political office “to help the people of Detroit,” and that “improving the quality of life in the neighborhoods will be my focus.”

“Public transportation, public safety, entrepreneurship in the inner city, affordable housing, and more,” he added, would be his top priorities.

Duggan, according to the Metro Times, has caught criticism for his dealings with billionaire developers at a time when Detroit remains the most impoverished big city in the nation.

Interestingly, when Thanedar ran for governor, his campaign manager was David Bullock, a popular pastor and an acerbic critic of Duggan.

But the Detroit News reported that Thanedar “is gearing up for his next political fight even as he continues to fight business fraud allegations in court.”

It predicted that the wealthy scientist and businessman’s recent announcement that he’s moving to Detroit “as he considers another political run” in the state's largest city, where he bested Whitmer in the 2018 Democratic primary could set up a high-stakes — and high-cost — 2021 campaign against Duggan, who cruised to re-election in 2017 by defeating then-state Sen. Coleman A. Young II.

Thanedar told the News his considering a run for a local office was because he’s “ not hung up on big positions” despite his debut as a politician was the unsuccessful bid for governor as a political neophyte.

“I will try to help people in whatever position I can succeed,” he said. “But the goal is to begin to work with the community and make a difference.”

Thanedar and his wife last month had put their Pittsfield Township home up for sale at a list price of $1.15 million, and local records showed they purchased the five-bedroom, six-bathroom, 5,077-square-foot home for $804,115 in 2014.

Meanwhile, he disclosed that he now has an offer on a Palmer Woods home and hope to close by end July, which would provide him the required residence to run for mayor of Detroit or any other local office in the city.

Thanedar, already getting his message going through the Detroit News and other local media, said, "What comes to my mind is, how can we create opportunities here?There a lot of land. There's a lot of empty buildings, and as an entrepreneur and a businessperson, that makes me wonder, how we can bring businesses here? How can we bring people to this area so that businesses can flourish?"

But the News said that while his move would necessarily help him meet Detroit residency requirements for various political offices he might seek, “it will also bring him closer to the U.S. District Court in Detroit, where he is set to go to trial July 30 in a lawsuit alleging he inflated the value of his former business ahead of a 2016 sale that netted him roughly $20 million.”

Avomeen Holdings sued Thanedar in 2017, alleging he made “fraudulent and misleading” claims about an Ann-Arbor based chemical testing company he sold a controlling stake of the prior year.

In recent filings, plaintiff attorneys contend he inflated the price of Avomeen Analytical Services to help finance his gubernatorial campaign, noting he ended up pumping more than $10 million of his own money into the race, although there have been reports that it was more in the region of $3 million of his own funds.

Jon R. Buck, an attorney for the plaintiffs, has argued that Thanedar’s gubernatorial campaign “would not have been possible absent the successful (and lucrative) closing of the Avomeen transaction that is in dispute in this litigation.” attorney Jon R. Buck argued.

Thanedar has called on federal Judge Gershwin Drain to exclude any evidence of his personal wealth from the trial, along with “unflattering” new stories published during his gubernatorial campaign, and his attorney Marc L. Newsman argued in a recent filing that many of those news stories are “based on false rumor and innuendo all irrelevant to the case.”

But the News noted that while attorneys for the company that purchased Thanedar’s firm are fighting his motions to exclude evidence, they have acknowledged that some publicly available information about him is not relevant to the case, and have written, “Plaintiff does not intend to present to the Jury, for example, the Human Society Legislative Fund’s condemnation of Shri Thanedar’s alleged neglect of animals in connection with one of his prior businesses.”

However, the attorneys from the high-powered Perkins Coie law firm have argued that Thanedar’s attempt to exclude publicly available information about himself is “overbroad” and “inappropriate” because he “has held, and holds, himself out as a successful businessman.”

The News said as it had reported in 2018, “Thanedar’s business record was marked by triumphs and tribulations. He made and mostly lost his first fortune in Missouri before his 2010 move to Michigan, where he founded Avomeen and built it into a successful business.”

Thanedar has expressed that he’ll win the case and has “not done anything wrong,” and has alleged that the case against him is yet another typical move by a private equity firm, and suggested that companies often sue over sales to try to “get more money” out of the deal.

The News quoted Detroit political consultant Greg Bowens predicting that Duggan, although having presided over economic gains and proven to be a strong campaigner, could face serious challengers if he runs for re-election in 2021.

Thus, he acknowledged that Thanedar could tap into local frustrations over issues like a lack of contracts for minority-owned businesses, although he believed Thanedar would have an easier path to election if he ran for a state House or City Council seat.

“The guy’s got some cojones in running for governor and spending money the way he did to make that happen,” Bowens said, while noting Thanedar warmed up to the community last year by hiring prominent locals to work on his campaign.

He said, “We saw that he’s not afraid to go where the black folks are, and to shake hands and to be there. So given his name recognition, his willingness to spend money and to go where you need to go to get the votes, he has probably a better than average chance for a state House seat.”

Thanedar told the News, “I made a lot, and I had success, but it didn’t change who I am — I understand people’s struggles,” and added, “I was really very moved and overwhelmed by the support I got in the city of Detroit (in the 2018 election), and I want to give back.”

He won Detroit after blanketing the city with billboards and flooding the airwaves with ads, garnering 35,356 votes, topping Whitmer (33,068) and former Detroit health director El-Sayed (24,614).

By comparison, Duggan got 72,450 votes from Detroiters in 2017 as he won re-election with 72 percent of the vote.

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