It’s not every 17-year-old who gets to attend a dinner party at the White House with his mom. That was the fortune of Connor Berdy, currently a candidate for Warren City Council, after President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012. Berdy and his brother often joined their mother when she volunteered for Obama’s campaign that year.
“That’s when I got my introduction to politics,” Berdy said, adding how exciting it was to be civically engaged in his community for the first time. Obama won; thus, the dinner party.
“At that point, I was just like, wow, I never thought I would be in this kind of space,” he said. “I got to shake his hand, and Michelle’s. It was a very inspirational moment.”
Berdy’s mom, Leah Berdy, was inspired, too, as she’s now a trustee on the Warren Consolidated School Board.
Later, Berdy named Obama as his primary political role model, citing Obama’s capacity to encourage and empower people. He said his trademark ability to bring people together was something in particular that struck a chord for Berdy, who is openly gay.
“I remember his last State of the Union speech almost brought me to tears when he was talking about all the fathers out there who support their gay sons,” Berdy said. “It was just so cool to be able to hear that coming from the president of the United States, that I personally could feel that connection with him.”
Not a Newcomer
While Berdy is 23, and 2018 graduate from Michigan State University, this Gen Z candidate is no newcomer to politics. After changing his major to political science and transferring to MSU, Berdy interned for state Sen. Steve Bieda and was vice-chair of College Democrats of America. Managing Nate Shannon’s successful campaign for state representative came next, and now Berdy works in Lansing for his own state representative, Lori Stone, as her legislative director. Not only that, Berdy serves on the Warren City Crime Commission; he is involved in other Macomb County Democratic organizations as well.
During his college years, Berdy was never shy about standing up, literally, for causes he felt strongly about. Advocacy and activism were Berdy’s passions. As a senior last January, Berdy made national news when he interrupted the proceedings of an MSU meeting to appoint John Engler interim president after Lou Anna Simon resigned amid the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. Numerous students did not feel the former governor represented their values. And when the announcement was made, there was little time to respond.
“We organized and got people to show up at the board meeting the next day,” Berdy said. “They said, ‘No public comment, no one can talk, we’re just gonna push this vote through.’”
However, Berdy refused to let that happen. After Berdy told his friends, “We should go sit up on the table and block the vote,” that’s exactly what he did, climbing up on the table to make his comments. Headlines and photos of Berdy reached across the nation and, having broken the ice, other students aired their opinions as well.
“It was definitely an empowering experience to be able to stand up for what I believe in,” Berdy said. “I spoke my truth in the situation, and then a year later, we won. Things have changed.”
“It’s the City That Made Me”
“Moving Warren Forward,” Berdy’s campaign slogan, is at the heart of the lifelong Warren resident’s vision for his hometown, at a time that Berdy acknowledges can be difficult for people his age to find jobs there, and the reason why many of his peers have moved away.
“It’s the city that made me; it’s the city that raised me,” Berdy said, calling his decision to return home after college and utilize his experience in government and his political savvy a “unique opportunity … to turn things around.”
“I definitely think there’s so much work that can be done,” he said. “There’s no reason Warren, Michigan, can’t be a world-class city.”
“The biggest thing is diversifying the city’s economy,” Berdy said, when asked to name the number one challenge he’d like to tackle if elected to one of the two at-large seats open on city council. The GM Tech Center is by far the city’s largest employer, followed by TACOM.
“Especially with the auto industry so up in the air, with its future so unknown, I really think we need to start looking right now about what we can do to promote small business in the city, to attract new business, to attract young people to the city,” Berdy said.
He stressed the urgency of being preemptive when considering the city’s long-term survival in a globalized economy, particularly in light of the prospect that the tech center could close.
Berdy recognizes and appreciates Warren’s growing diversity, which has accelerated rapidly over the past 20 years or so. It’s not too long ago that Michigan’s third-largest city was notable for being overwhelmingly white. Further, he described his high school’s diverse community, a largely accepting place where he said he graduated with a transgender student who didn’t experience problems there.
Berdy himself was not out at the time, because he said he wasn’t aware of an LGBTQ “presence” in the area.
“So I didn’t have something to look up to or model myself after,” he said. “But coming to know the city more intimately, now that I’m older, I know a lot of gay and lesbian couples that live in the city.
“I’ve never seen Warren as being an anti-LGBT-friendly place,” he continued. “I just don’t think our leadership at the moment embraces that or reflects that. That’s something [where] the campaign becomes personal to me, because if I can be that role model for that high school student that’s looking for something, then that means a lot to me. I think there are institutional barriers in the city government that are wary about embracing that, and that’s what city elections are for.”
Berdy doesn’t anticipate negativity about his sexuality during his campaign, saying, “if they plan to use [that] as something to attack me, I don’t think that will go over well.”
“The residents of the city, they’re supportive,” Berdy said. “My campaign’s not about my sexuality, my campaign is about my vision for the city, how I want to help my community.”
Could a pride festival be coming to the city of Warren in the near future? If Berdy is elected this November, and has his say, that’s definitely on his to-do list. Not just as a way to publicly celebrate the LGBTQ residents of Macomb County on their own turf for the first time, but it also has great potential to boost business in Warren as well. Everybody wins.
“If I’m elected, I want to have a pride event for the city,” Berdy said. “I think Warren is one of the perfect places to start doing something like that. Having a pride event brings people to the city, it brings people spending money to the city. We can get local businesses to partner and sponsor—these are all things that we should be doing.”
“I’ve tried to promote things like this, but I’ve definitely been shot down at some levels of city government, and so this is something I will spearhead if I am on city council,” he said. “Not just for a pride event, but to promote other diversity we have in the city, other community events and organizations. [It’s] something that I’m very passionate about.”
Warren’s Rank According to HRC
In 2018, the city of Warren scored 14 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, which evaluates how inclusive municipal laws, policies and services are of LGBTQ people who live and work there. This is how Warren’s score breaks down: 12 points for reporting 2016 hate crimes statistics to the FBI, plus two points for county-wide protection against gender identity discrimination in public accommodations. It should be noted that Sterling Heights, the other large city in Macomb County scored by HRC, received 20 points: The breakdown was identical to Warren, plus additional points for its leadership’s public position on LGBTQ equality (five points) and pro-equality legislative or policy efforts (one point).
Further, the MEI offers two bonus points for openly LGBTQ elected or appointed municipal leaders. Therefore, because Berdy was appointed to the crime commission in 2017 and is openly gay, the city of Warren should technically have a score of 16. Berdy said he was not aware of this, and suggested that the accuracy of Warren’s MEI may not be a priority for the mayor’s office.
Find out more about Connor Berdy by following him on social media: Twitter, Facebook. There will be a Connor Berdy for Warren City Council Fundraiser held at Soho located at 205 W. 9 Mile, Ferndale, on Sunday, April 28, 2 to 4 p.m. Find out more here.