LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republican Tom Leonard said Monday that his Democratic opponent, Dana Nessel, is “unfit” to be Michigan’s attorney general because of allegations that she verbally abused campaign staffers and created a toxic, fear-based working environment.
Leonard held a news conference with a half-dozen law enforcement leaders three days after the Lansing-based political publication MIRS first reported on the situation. The Associated Press on Monday confirmed the accounts from ex-senior adviser Abby Dart, who worked on Nessel’s campaign for nearly 10 months before leaving in June, and Brian Stone — who was let go as communications director last week after two days on the job.
“This is simply unacceptable for anybody that wants to be the state’s top law enforcement officer,” said Leonard, the state House speaker and a former prosecutor who warned that Nessel would sow “chaos” and “dysfunction” if she led the 500-employee office. “Simply put, she is unfit to be the state’s next attorney general.”
Nessel, an attorney and ex-prosecutor, did not directly address her former aides’ allegations, instead calling Leonard’s attack a “ridiculous and desperate ploy” because he is behind in polling. A Detroit News/WDIV survey of 600 likely voters released this month showed her leading Leonard, 42 percent to 29 percent, with 24 percent undecided. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Term-limited Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette is running for governor.
Stone was dismissed the same day as the resignation of campaign manager Max Glass, who had joined Nessel recently after leading gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed’s campaign through the August primary.
Nessel spokesman Austin Fisher said of the recent shake-up: “Dana’s campaign was built out of a movement of grassroots volunteers. While successful at securing the nomination, Dana has brought on a strong team of political veterans to lead her way to victory in the general.”
Dart, a veteran of Democratic politics, said Nessel yelled at and made abusive comments toward campaign workers, including in writing.
“Obviously candidates, particularly first-time candidates, are under a lot of stress,” she told the AP. “But that doesn’t give them the authority to have the behavior that’s just really out of line, really out of line.”
Dart said while she is a “tough person” who “stuck it out,” her stress level on the Nessel campaign — combined with constant turnover and a lack of campaign management — “took a big toll on me both emotionally and physically.” She said she is not a “vindictive” or disloyal person but decided be truthful about Nessel’s “unacceptable” conduct when asked about working at the campaign.
Stone said staffers were concerned about interacting with Nessel.
“People had developed strategies for interactions with her,” he told the AP, adding that when he joined he was quickly warned about a “toxic environment.”
Asked why voters should care about Nessel’s “Type A” personality and if she is being held to a different standard than a male opponent would be, Leonard said “being abusive” and “creating a hostile work environment” is different than having an aggressive temperament. Asked separately if the electorate should take notice given reports of chaos in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and now the White House, Leonard said: “I believe when you’re talking about the state’s top law enforcement official: absolutely.”