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FERNDALE – The first time Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey ran for City Council in 1995 he came in dead last in a race among four candidates. But he did not let the disappointment stop him from continuing to be involved in the community, both as an AIDS awareness activist and a Ferndale community volunteer. Now as he sits a decade and a half later at the bar of Rosie O’Grady’s among supporters and volunteers on election night, his second mayoral victory celebration is slightly bittersweet.
Covey ran unopposed for his second term as mayor, and easily captured the office with 92.62 percent of the votes. But the charismatic first openly gay elected mayor in Michigan had hoped for a little competition. “I wanted someone to run against me so I could talk more about the issues,” Covey said. “I can only assume that I am doing a good job, but without a choice you can’t really know.”
Being competition-free had given Covey more time during the campaign season to actively endorse and promote his choice candidate for City Council, Greg Pawlica. Pawlica is also an openly gay Ferndale resident with involvement in several organizations. He shares Covey’s opinions of a unilateral budget cut for all city departments rather than eliminating some services completely in the face of a $3.7 million budget deficit. They also agree that the city should stop considering plans to renovate the police station, city hall and courthouse. “We just can’t take on a 30-year debt when the economy is so bad,” Covey said.
He added that Pawlica would be “a very strong and independent council member,” and “smart in his decisions about the budget and taxpayers.”
Unfortunately for both, Pawlica received the least amount of votes in the four person fight for open council seats. Melanie Piana received 1,331 votes and incumbent T. Scott Galloway kept his seat with 1,091 votes. In third was Thomas Gagne with 1,013, and Pawlica had 1,004. Though he didn’t make it on council, Pawlica says he will stay involved with the city by attending council meetings and continuing to volunteer for groups the Ferndale Community Foundation and the Ferndale Police and Fire Board. “I don’t know what will happen in two years, if I’ll feel like running or not,” he says, “but we’ll see. It is exciting, and I think maybe I’ve got the bug.”
Covey says he hopes to work with everyone on council to solve the city’s budget problems, and he is confident Ferndale will continue to be a welcoming place for all. “I didn’t hear at the debate earlier much discussion of diversity. In some sense that’s good because we’ve made it,” Covey said in a recent community forum. “Most people are in agreement that this is a welcoming town, that we have all sorts of folks who live here. And it’s not a gay, lesbian, straight issue. It’s an idea that Latino people and vegetarian people and left-handed people and seniors and young families and gay people can come to the city of Ferndale and all feel welcome. That’s partly why our downtown is so popular. It’s not just bars and restaurants; it’s that people feel safe. They feel welcome when they come here.”
Council person elect Melanie Piana says she is looking forward to her new position and being able to work with people in the community. “I’ve always supported diversity in Ferndale,” she said. “It’s what attracted us to Ferndale, and I think that the entire region can work together to build strong partnerships with each other and share Ferndale’s spirit of diversity with the entire area.”
Piana is the Associate Director at the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, and is the Chair of the Business Development Committee at the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority.