March 17, 2022

Wayne State alumna Mary Sheffield discusses new role leading Detroit City Council

Mary Sheffield became president of the Detroit City Council in January. A dedicated community activist, she earned a public affairs degree from Wayne State University in 2008. James E. Tate Jr., also a Wayne State alum, serves on the council as president pro-tempore.

The Sheffield pedigree is steeped in faith, community engagement and public service. Her father, the Rev. Horace L. Sheffield III, is a prominent pastor and executive director of the Detroit Association of Black Organizations. Her grandfather, Horace Sheffield Jr., was one of the first African American leaders of a United Auto Workers local and helped stage the 1941 Ford River Rouge strike that eventually led the automaker to recognize the UAW.


Sheffield became a member of the city council in 2013, and at 26, was the youngest person ever elected to Detroit's City Council. She recently sat down with Wayne State to talk about her goals for the city, and her abiding commitment to faith and public service

How have your previous work experiences prepared you to lead the city council?

All my life has been dedicated to service in the community both personally and professionally. Even during my time as a Disciplinary Hearing Officer right before working for City Council. I have always used my profession as preparation for this current platform. I always worked roles that required diplomacy, integrity, leadership, and public service. Collectively, along with my high sense of morality, I was positioned to operate as a solution-based, servant leader.

What’s your plan to restore faith in the city council in the wake of recent indictments?

I pledge to do my part to ensure that this Council honors you in all we do. You deserve leadership that’s accountable, transparent, accessible, and mindful of the community’s needs and I, along with my colleagues, intend to ensure that is precisely what you receive

What are your other chief goals as council leader?

As president I will focus on delivering real and tangible quality of life improving results for those we serve. This cannot be accomplished alone which is why I recognize the value of working closely with my colleagues and being unified in the execution of our chartered mandated duties.
I am excited about embarking on this journey with this incredible team of elected officials that the voters in their infinite wisdom had the foresight to assemble. While the challenges are great there has been no more resilient City or people on the planet than Detroit and its residents. So together, we will meet those challenges with ingenuity, hard work, innovation, solidarity and a love for one another and our city.

You come from a rich political legacy in Detroit. How has the work of generations of Sheffields before you shaped your approach to politics today?

Everything I am, I am because of those who have come before me. My grandfather stood for change and progression, even standing alongside Martin Luther King. Interestingly, the photo of them is included in my grandfather’s exhibit at the Charles H Wright Museum of African American history. Watching him, and my father, and the great leaders I was privileged to be around, I have always felt a moral responsibility to be an advocate for change. The name Sheffield is synonymous with forward thinking, and it is honestly in my blood.

How would you characterize the impact that Wayne State has had in terms of producing local leaders who’ve helped shaped the political/cultural landscape in Detroit?

Wayne State has educated so many great leaders in politics and other fields of interest. It was an experience I don’t think any of us will ever forget. The lessons learned at WSU will imprint on wherever each alumni resides whether Detroit or anywhere else in the world. I am excited to see its continued evolution and the inclusive culture it provides for future world-changers.

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