Name the Michigan Democratic Party's last attorney general nominee in 2006 and win a prize.
Shoot, I covered the guy and still needed Google to come up with the name: Amos Williams.

That's kind of the problem. Nobody but real political junkies remember Mary Lou Parks, Butch Hollowell and Carmella Saubaugh, the last three Democratic secretary of state nominees, either. And, finally, the Democratic Party is trying to fix that.

Tired of seeing their lower-ticket candidate get buried in gubernatorial and congressional hubbub, the state party is giving its secretary of state and attorney general candidates a much-needed headstart on the name ID front. In three weeks the party is hosting its first-ever candidate endorsement convention to run along side its April 17 Jefferson-Jackson Day fundraiser in Detroit.

Barring disaster, the endorsee will win the party's nomination in late August or early September at a convention.

For attorney Richard Bernstein and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, that means running a 100-yard dash for the party's blessing as opposed to the traditional two-mile run to August.

In Lane One, Bernstein is the son of Sam Bernstein, the southeast Michigan trial attorney of TV commercial fame. Richard Bernstein, who is legally blind, runs the firm's public service division, where he picks up such pro bono cases as wheelchair accessibility at University of Michigan's football stadium.

Michigan voters elected Bernstein at age 28 to the Wayne State University Board of Governors in 2002.

In Lane Two, Leyton is a two-term county prosecutor. He recently made headlines for sticking Richard Short, the convicted embezzler who weaseled a $9.2 million tax credit out of the state, with 24 new criminal counts for allegedly scamming an elderly woman with dementia.

Before serving as prosecutor, Leyton was a public official for 12 years in Flint Township, first as a trustee and later as clerk.

The early endorsement process has turned this race into a sizzler. Unlike the secretary of state race where Jocelyn Benson has been running forever and her only opponent, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, is struggling to make up ground, Leyton and Bernstein both started campaigning relatively recently.

Leyton will receive the backing of organized labor, the traditional game-ender in these Democratic conventions, but Bernstein is not going away.

He's been endorsed by the Justice Caucus, the LGBT and Allies Caucus and some key leaders in Detroit city politics. The family has some pull with the state's trial attorneys, which helps, too.

Each candidate makes a strong case for why he should be the party's nominee. Bernstein has access to a thicker wallet, which will bolster his already significant name ID across the state. He also has a compelling story to tell of overcoming adversity, helping the little guy, etc.

But Leyton can claim that he can neutralize the "law and order" drumbeat being pounded by expected Republican attorney general nominee Bill Schuette. Leyton, obviously, isn't just talking about putting bad guys in jail. He's done it.

Bernstein stepped on a banana peel two weeks ago when he told a reporter that there were "a lot of people" in the Democratic Party "who are tired of being pushed around" and "told what to do" by the UAW. That may be true, but that didn't endear him to folks in organized labor.

And, traditionally, organized labor decides these convention fights, such that they are. The AFL-CIO comes out with its unity slate in the morning. Any candidate not on the unity slate gives concession speeches shortly after lunch.

That may not be the case this year. Wayne County Circuit Judge Deborah Thomas nearly won the party's nomination to the Supreme Court in 2008 over labor-backed Judge Diane Hathaway, exposing cracks in the union's hammerlock on Michigan Democratic Party politics.

Bernstein still will need to get his supporters to the convention to pull it off. History has proven the rank-and-file union members never miss these gatherings and are, if nothing else, loyal in following their leadership's preferences.

If nothing else, the intrigue has given political observers an undercard to follow until the late-summer convention and the Nov. 3 main event.

Singh, Denno sing Spartan song
He's helped a lot of other people get elected, and now East Lansing resident Dennis Denno is making his maiden voyage into elected politics by running for a spot on the Michigan State University Board of Trustees.

Denno, a partner in the Denno Noor polling firm and chief of staff for Sen. Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit, will seek the Democratic Party's nomination alongside incumbent Colleen McNamara, who is seeking a third term.

Former East Lansing Mayor and world traveler Sam Singh is also stepping into the trustees race. Singh is a 1994 grad of MSU and is a consultant for the New Economy Initiative of Southeast Michigan.

Two seats on the board are up in 2010. MSU Trustee Don Nugent, a Republican, also is running.
Nugent is one of only two Republicans left on the eight-member board.

Folks around town may remember Denno from 2003 when he served as the campaign manager for then-Sen. Virg Bernero during the latter's first run to become Lansing mayor. Since then, he worked on numerous campaigns, including football coach George Perles' successful 2006 run for MSU trustees and MSU Trustee Diann Woodard's effort in 2008.

Okemos attorney vies for judgeship

District Court Judge Donald Allen Jr., the former Michigan Office of Drug Control Policy director who the governor appointed 15 months ago to succeed new Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina on the 55th District bench, is running this fall for a full term and he isn't going to be alone on the ballot.

Okemos attorney Patrick J. Crowley announced recently that he's getting into the race, and, if elected, he's pledging to return 10 percent of his salary to the court as a cost-cutting gesture. Circuit judges are paid $139,919 annually.

"It is my hope that they will use that money and any other cost savings we achieve to upgrade technology, maintain staffing, and increase the convenience for Ingham County citizens," said Crowley, a former assistant prosecuting attorney now in private practice. The 55th District Court encompasses all of Ingham County except the cities of Lansing and East Lansing.

A.G. candidates on City Pulse radio
Richard Bernstein and David Leyton will be guests on “City Pulse on the Air” at 7 p.m. today on 88.9 FM The Impact. The podcast will be available Thursday at

(Kyle Melinn is the editor at the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekly. Email him at