FERNADLE-Leadership in Ferndale has taken an interesting twist. Craig Covey (former mayor, now Oakland county commissioner) switched spots with Dave Coulter (former Oakland county commissioner, just appointed mayor). The switch-a-roo, which came about after a series of steps that could not have been planned if they tried, is only one of many coincidences in the lives of these two community leaders.
To begin with, Covey and Coulter are both openly gay politicians who have served the community by being leaders of HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations. Covey started the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project after moving to Ferndale in the 1980s. Coulter was executive director for the Michigan AIDS Fund. Though each was a longtime Ferndale resident, they didn’t really work closely together until their organizations merged in 1999, forming the Michigan AIDS Coalition.
Coulter served as the county commissioner for the 25th district from Jan. 1, 2003 until he resigned in 2010 so that he could run for state Senate. He lost in the primary and has since been looking for a way to be involved.
Craig Covey, who has been a member of Ferndale City Council since 2000 and mayor since 2008, resigned in January so that he could take Coulter’s spot at the county level.
But the similarities don’t stop there. Covey is a 52-year-old, 6-foot tall gay male with light hair and blue eyes. Coulter is 5’11 with a similarly slim build, light hair and blue eyes and is 50 years old. Both have been active in the LGBT community in addition to running HIV/AIDS organizations. They both served on the second attempt at passing a Human Rights Ordinance in Ferndale in the early 1990s. They have supported each other in campaigns, beginning in 1995 when Coulter was the lawn sign manager for Covey’s city council campaign. Covey is known as the first openly gay mayor elected in Michigan, and Coulter was one of the first openly gay men elected to serve on the Board of Oakland County.
“People confuse me with Craig all the time,” Coulter said. “I think that might get worse now.”
Despite the similarities, there are differences. Those who know the men could say that the main difference is that Coulter is a Democratic Party man, whereas Covey just likes to party.
“Dave’s always been more establishment than me,” Covey said. “He has always been very involved in his church and very active in politics and the Democratic Party. I came up being prominent in the fight for gay rights. He’s a community leader who is gay. I’m a gay rights leader who happens to serve in politics. The world needs both.”
Coulter said “I’m more suit and tie, while Covey wears jeans and jackets.”
Covey is the founder of the Ferndale Blues Festival and the Annual Ferndale Pub Crawl. He was instrumental in making tattooing legal in the city, and can often be seen doing ribbon-cuttings and enjoying events. Coulter worked hard behind the scenes to create unity in the Ferndale Democrats, working with politicians at all government levels.
Coulter also commented that Covey was well-known for reaching across the aisle and connecting with Republicans and Independents, and for sometimes voting contrary to the other Democrats on city council. Yet Covey pointed out that Coulter transcends party lines, not in votes, but in collaborative spirit.
“Everybody I’ve talked to loves Dave,” Covey said. “Staff, including [L. Brooks Pattison], hold Coulter in high regard, which is rare in county Republicans.”
Coulter took the oath of office officially on Jan. 25, and will serve until the end of what would have been Covey’s term, ending Dec. 31 this year.