MIRS

1st District Opponent Taking It To Banks

A bold challenger to Rep. Brian BANKS (D-Harper Woods) in the 1st Congressional District contacted Banks' landlord earlier this year to inquire about a TV report that he was back in court after falling behind on his rent.

Pamela SOSSI, an attorney who lives five doors down from him in Harper Woods, contacted Lift Property Management in late February about his file, but Banks' account was current by that time and a lawsuit filed in the case had been dismissed.

The action -- described by Sossi's campaign manager as one taken by a concerned neighbor and as "unethical" by Banks -- punctuates what is already turning into a nasty primary in a district made up of Detroit, Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe Woods and Grosse Pointe Shores.

Sossi operates her own law practice and was recently named among the "Top 10" personal injury attorneys under 40 by the National Academy of Personal Injury Attorneys. She's not a politician and wasn't planning to run for the seat until a memorable dinner this past December at the London Chop House in which Banks allegedly caused a public scene because of his unhappiness with his experience at the restaurant, said Sossi's campaign manager Mike NORRIS.

Sossi was at the restaurant for a different reason and learned the state House member from her area caused the fuss.

She and Norris have since dug deep into Banks' history and is hauling back out the two-term House members' past -- his felony charges for passing bad checks, the bankruptcies, his evictions, civil suits and the sexual harassment charge from a former staffer.

Unlike his primary 2014 opponent, Rebecca THOMPSON, Sossi is also going after Banks on his legislative record, claiming he does little in Harper Woods and the Pointes, despite his standing coffee hours and forums he brings to the area.

"Holding coffee hours and passing resolutions isn't doing anything for me," Sossi said. "We have public safety issues and schools that need to be addressed. He doesn't get anything done."

How upfront has she been?

Sossi left one of her signed lit pieces, addressed to "Brian," in his front door. He reported that he saw no evidence of any other pieces in the doors of any of his neighbors.

"Let me tell you, I'm not intimidated by things like this," Banks said.

Sossi is taking the extra step of approaching Lansing-area special interests for money, mentioning in her pitch letter that the defense of Banks' sexual harassment lawsuit by Tramaine COTTON cost the state taxpayers nearly $100,000 (See "State Quietly Settles Now-Dismissed Banks Civil Suit," 1/5/16). 

She's even knocking the doors of Republicans and asking them to participate in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary so "we can get someone in and get him out." She's already reached out to business groups for support as a way to broaden her base going into the primary.

"If you have someone who can't take care of his personal life, you wonder if this someone you want representing them at the state level," Norris said.

Whether the noise Sossi is making translates into votes depends solely on the ground game she can put together, according to political observers from the area.

For his past personal faults, Banks has earned a reputation as a hardworking lawmaker with excellent relations with influential Detroiters, like radio host Mildred GADDIS, according to sources.

Sossi is getting some financial support from Dr. David COTTON and Patrick O'KEEFE, but unless she can continue an organized financial effort with a strong door-knocking program, the expectation is the Democratic primary vote will be chopped up six different ways to Banks' benefit, according to political observers.

In 2014, when Banks defeated Thompson 43 to 37 percent, five other candidates split 21.07 percent of the vote. This year's Democratic primary features six candidates.

If Banks weren't an aggressive door-knocker, his political future would be in question, political consultants tell MIRS.

But Steve HOOD who assisted Banks for a couple weeks in 2014 called Banks "The most active state representative from the northeast Detroit area since Lamar LEMMONS." He knocks on doors in the off years. He was in the district when MIRS contacted him this afternoon.

"The residents up here love him," Hood said. "He's bringing a health fair up here next week. He works hard, harder than any other state lawmaker currently serving from Detroit.

"The proof is in the pudding. Just don't take my word for it."

Earlier this year, Banks pulled together an education forum for his district that brought together some 300 to 400 people, by his count. Among those attending included House Education Committee Chair Amanda PRICE (R-Park Twp.) and state Superintendent Brian WHISTON.

Sossi does have some ties to Detroit Mayor Mike DUGGAN. She interned for Duggan's father, former federal Judge Patrick DUGGAN, in the summer of 2010, but she said she has not asked her former bosses for support.

Considering Banks is the House's Detroit caucus chair, it's not likely the Mayor would get involved in supporting a Banks challenger, particularly not during the legislative debate on the Detroit Public Schools reform.

Another Detroit political consultant, Adolph MONGO, agreed that Sossi's problem is that the anti-Banks options are numerous, making the incumbent a strong favorite, as is the case in many Detroit legislative races.

"He's the favorite, but I wouldn't be surprised if he lost," Mongo said.