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An Attractive Proposition
Two and half months after being appointed Oakland County Executive following the death of L. Brooks Patterson, Dave Coulter has announced he will run in 2020 for the full four-year term. That decision adds yet another wrinkle in the ever-evolving race, which has already experienced numerous twists and turns.
“I didn’t expect when I got the appointment that this was where the path would lead,” Coulter said. “I just wanted to do a good job and see what it was like to be the county executive. Since I’ve been in the role, I’ve really enjoyed the issues that I’ve been able to work on and helping to advance the things that got me into politics in the first place. Over time, I realized that I’ve been given a very unique and amazing opportunity to be a change agent in Oakland County and in Michigan and that’s an attractive proposition for me.”
One of those things that Coulter said steered him toward politics was the possibility of regional mass transit. It was a passion in 2002 when he first ran for office and now, 17 years later, Coulter finally sees that within reach.
“I’m at the table with regional leaders, actually trying to craft a plan [for transit] that makes sense for Southeast Michigan and I think we can get there, and I’m excited to be part of those discussions,” Coulter said.
Yet the lure of leading Oakland County following more than 40 years of Republican administration, and possibly making inroads when it comes to regional transit among other neglected areas, is not felt by Coulter alone. Both County Board of Commissioners Chair Dave Woodward and County Treasurer Andy Meisner were the presumptive opponents in a primary battle, but Coulter’s announcement has altered that calculation.
“Since Dave became county executive, we have an incredible partnership with the board, putting not just reforms into place but leading on new initiatives,” said Woodward, who announced he will not seek the county executive post and has endorsed Coulter.
“What changed is we have a county executive who shares the board’s values, my values and we want to continue to work with him so that we can make Oakland County a more successful and prosperous county for everyone, not just a few,” Woodward said. “I was proud to be the deciding vote that helped put Dave Coulter in that spot originally. I’m extremely excited after a few months on the job … that he’s made the decision to not just finish up this term but continue to build on the path that we’re on.”
Back in August, Coulter told Between The Lines the reason he had not applied for the county executive appointment was that he supported Woodward for the position. Following the complex route that led to Coulter’s appointment and fast forward to today, Coulter addressed the significance of Woodward’s endorsement.
“The legislative and the executive branch need to be on the same page really to achieve the kinds of successes I’m talking about. I’m very fortunate to have Dave’s support, and a number of commissioners, as we do this work,” he said. “They appointed me to the position, I’m honored by their trust in me, and I’ve been delighted by the way we’ve been able to work together on issues that are important to all of us.”
Meisner, whose campaign launched in March and who has raised more than $500,000, has decided to stay in the race and will challenge Coulter in the Democratic primary.
“I’ve known Dave for many years and respect him,” Meisner said. “It’s his right to [run]. I was happy when I had his endorsement for my [county] executive run. I obviously think he got that endorsement right … because I think that I’ve got a proven track record, not only on the job but also at the ballot box, winning countywide three times. I look forward to a very vigorous discussion about the future of Oakland County going forward.”
Coulter said he shared the news with Meisner the day before it was made public, and “we had a very honest and candid conversation,” Coulter said. He added that they agreed on the necessity to maintain a good working relationship.
“I would never tell another candidate that they should or shouldn’t run,” Coulter said. “When I ran in 2002 for the first time, I ran against an incumbent. People have to make their own decisions about what’s in their heart.”
Coulter responded that the situation in Oakland County today is different than it was four months ago when asked about his endorsement of Meisner over the summer. And as to Meisner’s fundraising, Coulter stated, “I wouldn’t have made the decision to run if I didn’t think I could be competitive — and that means financially as well.”
As County Executive, Coulter said he is excited about the prospect of working with other leaders in ways that benefit not just Oakland County but the region at large.
“I think, too often, Oakland County has been perceived as an obstacle or a barrier to issues, whether it be transit or economic development or other initiatives. And I want to declare for the world to see that I want a collaborative relationship,” Coulter said. “I want to be at the table with the other leaders in the region. I know my first responsibility is to the residents of Oakland County because I am the county executive, but I think there’s things that we can all do together that will lift the entire region up.”
Because of Coulter’s recent work as director of external relations for the Children’s Foundation of Michigan, he said he is especially focused on issues related to the health and wellness of his constituents, particularly children.
“I’m asking the questions in Oakland County now: Are we doing everything we can to address the gaps that exist in health care, including things like lack of access to mental health services?” Coulter said. “Are we addressing the health disparities between communities in Oakland County?
“It’s really critical to me, because the health division is under the county executive, and I believe there’s no greater responsibility that the executive has than to promote the health and wellness of the residents of Oakland County — and I take that very seriously.”
Responsibility to the LGBTQ Community
As he did in Ferndale, Coulter wants to assure residents that Oakland County is welcoming and inclusive for everyone.
“Sometimes some of that is symbolic, like when we put the Pride flag in our city council chambers,” Coulter explained. “Some of it goes beyond symbolism and it’s things like becoming a Welcoming City, where anyone based on any criteria is protected.”
Sharing those values countywide is a priority for Coulter.
“I think it’s historic that we have [not only] our first Democrat executive but our first LGBT executive,” Coulter said. “I’m proud to represent our community, and I want to make sure that our community and every resident of Oakland County feels included and is included in the success that people enjoy here.”
Further, Coulter agreed that being an LGBTQ elected official of his rank carries with it a certain responsibility, too.
“I do feel a responsibility to represent our community with dignity and to the best of my ability,” Coulter said. “I know that if I fail, it could reflect in some people’s eyes on our community, and I certainly don’t want that to happen.”
In April, Coulter announced he would not seek reelection as mayor of Ferndale after serving nine years. Three months later, in July, he launched his campaign to represent Michigan’s 27th State House District. The following month brought Coulter to the county executive’s office for what most assumed was a placeholder role until now. The way Coulter explains it, it was a matter of the pieces falling into place.
“I couldn’t have made it up if I tried,” Coulter said plainly. “And it goes back to my general philosophy that you just prepare yourself, try to get the skills and the talents and the experience you need for whatever life might throw at you or whatever opportunities might come your way, so that when they do come, you are prepared to take advantage of them. I still pinch myself, to think that I am in this position and I have the ability to do the incredible work that I get to do. And to me it’s just the universe worked this way and I’m just trying to be open and receptive to the opportunities that have presented to me.
“I’m just humbled by the support of so many people. You can’t do a job at this level by yourself. And part of what helped me decide I could do this, is the support I had from our staff, from the employees in Oakland County, from my friends, from our community,” he continued. “Literally, without that support, I would not have felt that ability to put my hat in the ring and ask for four more years in this role.”