Candice Miller crawled out of the swamp and into the sewer when she left Congress in 2016 to run for drain commissioner of Macomb County.
The Republican congresswoman spent 14 years doggedly trying to empty the Washington cesspool. But that’s a big job for any one person, no matter how determined.
Cleaning the mire from Macomb County politics, however, has proven a task Miller has been able to knock off fairly quickly.
Just ask her about her first day in office, when she encountered Dino Bucci, the political director for the man she defeated, longtime drain czar Anthony Marrocco. I asked how long Bucci, who is under indictment on 18 federal counts of corruption in the garbage hauling bribery scandal sweeping Macomb County, lasted under her administration.
“About 15 minutes after I walked through the door,” she says. “That was literally the very first thing I did when I finally got the keys. ... He was standing there and I said ... ‘Come on down, you’re my first order of business, Bud. Boom!’ ”
Next on her hit list was the huge mahogany table in the department’s conference room, a powerful symbol of the rampant self-dealing.
“After I let Bucci go, I asked some of the guys to take the conference table out of here,” Miller says. They said, ‘Well, it’s a beautiful conference table, don’t you want to use it?’
“I said, ‘No, we’re going to sell it on eBay or something, because if I had a dime for every contractor who told me they came in here and were told, ‘Here are your contracts on this end of the table, and here are your fundraising tickets on the other end, I could retire at that.’ ”
This is what politics for the people sounds like. Miller never wanted public office for personal enrichment. She wanted to get a job done. And she is.
Before she was even sworn in, she had to confront the massive sewer collapse in Fraser that left a giant sinkhole and $70 million repair bill. While directing that work, she was also helping to lift the curtain on the pay-to-play culture in Macomb.
The FBI investigation into the drain commission was already underway when Miller arrived. But it got easier once she was in place.
“We said, ‘Just come on in. I’ll buy the coffee, OK? Here’s every file you want to look at,’ ” she says.
The things that were in those files, evidence that county officials were shaking down contractors and county work crews being assigned to shovel the snow and do other odd jobs at the homes of officials and their family members, and those same officials accepting vacations and other gifts from county vendors, are the meat of the federal investigation into Macomb County politics.
The indictments are still coming down. But already, Miller says, she has established a new culture at the drain commission, one of transparency and accountability.
And those workers who once were deployed as handymen for the girlfriends of county officials are now actually cleaning out sewers, the work they’re paid to do.
Miller says this job is her last dance in politics. But looking at the results she’s posted in just one year in Macomb County, you can’t help wishing she’d keep her waders on and march back to Washington to give draining that massive swamp one more go.
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