Peters, Zahra latest alums to reach high political office

When Gary Peters won statewide office in the recent election, he joined an elite group of university alums who have reached high office.

Peters, who earned an M.B.A in finance at UDM, was the Democratic nominee for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat.

He defeated Republican Terri Lynn Land 54.6 to 41.4 percent in what was the most expensive race in Michigan history.

The 55-year-old Peters moves to the Senate from the U.S. House, where he has served since 2009.

Also on the statewide Nov. 4 ballot was University of Detroit Law School graduate Brian Zahra, who was reelected to the Michigan Supreme Court. Zahra, appointed to fill a vacancy in January 2011 by Gov. Rick Synder, was first elected in 2012.

While in law school, Zahra was a member of the Law Review and served as articles editor of the State Bar of Michigan’s Corporation and Finance Review.

Dr. Victoria Mantzopoulos, associate dean for academic affairs, noted that having alums reach public office reflects positively on UDM.

Whether UDM students, faculty and staff know about said officials is whole other story.

Mantzopoulos suspects that many on campus do not realize how many UDM alums hold office but that the alums are devoted to this university regardless.

While Peters and Zahra are the most recent to become top elected officials, they are certainty not the first (and probably not the last). This university has a long line of graduates who have gone on to important offices.



UDM has had three graduates serve as mayor of the Motor City. Interestingly enough, they served in succession from 1957 to 1974.

n Louis C. Mirani: As noted in earlier issue of The VN, Miriani was a 1922 graduate of the University of Detroit School of Law who would later serve time behind bars for income tax evasion.

n Jerome Cavanagh: Cavanagh succeeded Mirani and served two terms as mayor from 1962 to 1970. He also had two degrees from U of D, according to university archives. Cavanagh graduated with a bachelor of philosophy in 1950 and a law degree in 1954.

A popular mayor, Cavanagh was seen as having a high political ceiling. Some argued that he might eventually have a shot at governor – or even president.

His fortune plummeted, though, because of the 1967 race riots. As the city burned, so did Cavanagh’s reputation. He would not run for a third term and later died in 1979 at age 51 from a heart attack.

n Roman Gribbs: The last mayor before Coleman A. Young began his 20-year tenure, Gribbs served only one term.

Like Cavanagh, Gribbs has two degrees from U of D. He graduated with a bachelor’s in economics and business in 1952. Later he earned a law degree.

Gribbs had been considered Detroit’s last white mayor – until last year’s election saw Mike Duggan take office.



Aside from Zahra, at least five other law-school alums have served on the state’s highest court.

n Maura D. Corrigan: Now the director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, Corrigan was chief justice for four years. In 2004, she was named alumna of the year by the law school.

n James Brickley: Brickley served from 1982 to 1999. He was chief justice in 1995 and 1996. Brickley also served as lieutenant governor before receiving his bachelor’s and law degrees from the university.

n Thomas Brennan: A 1952 graduate, Brennan served from 1967 to 1973. He was chief justice for three years.

n James Ryan: Ryan, a 1956 graduate, served on the court from 1975 until 1986.

n Michael Cavanagh: Currently on the high court, Cavanagh received both his bachelor’s and law degrees here. He was elected to the court in 1982, serving as chief justice 1991 to 1995. He was named alumnus of the year in 1993 by the law school. He is retiring on Jan. 1.



Some other prominent Michigan politicos have also emerged from the McNichols and law school campuses.

n L. Brooks Patterson: The ever-outspoken Oakland County executive received a liberal arts degree in 1961 and a law degree in 1967.

Patterson was elected county prosecutor in 1972. After 16 years, he stepped down in 1988 before winning the county executive election in 1992. He’s held the position ever since.

He was named alumnus of the year in 2005 by the law school and his plaque can be found on the CLAE Hall of Honor in Briggs Building.

n Robert Ficano: The disgraced Wayne County executive is a 1977 grad of the university’s law school. He was defeated in a reelection bid earlier this year.

n Thaddeus McCotter: A former member of the U.S. House, McCotter received both his undergrad and law degrees from the university. He resigned from the House in 2012 amid a petition-signature scandal.

n Dale Kildee: Kildee received his teaching certificate at the McNichols campus in 1955. He would serve in the U.S. House from 2003 to 2013.

n Frank J. Kelley: Kelley received both his undergrad and law degrees from the university. What makes him especially noteworthy is that he served as Michigan’s attorney general for 37 years.

Given the nickname “Eternal General,” Kelley holds the distinction of being both the state’s youngest and oldest attorney general. He served from 1961 to 1999.



Don’t let the above list fool you.

Several graduates of this university have gone on to hold public office far away from the state of Michigan, among them:

n Richard Arrington Jr.: Arrington was a grad assistant in the mid-1950s and received his master’s in biology in 1957. He returned to his native state of Alabama and became Birmingham’s first black mayor, serving for 20 years from 1979 to 1999.

n Zanaida Moya: Moya received her M.B.A in financial economics. She became mayor of Belize City in her native Belize in Central America. She was the first female mayor in the city’s history.