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By Sharon Gittleman
FERNDALE – In just a few short months in office, Ferndale Councilman Joe Trice has had a rough introduction to city politics. Trice was appointed to the City Council this summer to serve out the term of David Lennon, who died in a tragic car crash on June 4.
Many gay and lesbian suburbanites became alarmed about Trice’s views about the LGBT community, following the publication of comments attributed to the Councilman earlier this year. Trice believes his political enemies may be encouraging these fears.
“I’ve been the target of a smear campaign,” said Trice. “There’s a rumor going around that I’m anti-gay. It all stems from my not sticking to my press protocol and speaking off-the-cuff to a reporter.”
In a recent interview published in “The Weekly Tribune Plus,” Trice was quoted as saying, “With people moving farther out in the country I think maybe we have to change the image here to attract families.”
Trice said the article caused many non-gay Ferndale residents – including singles and childless couples, to question him about his views.
“I was not aware that using the word ‘family’ was a code word for an anti-gay stance,” he said. “My definition of ‘family’ includes traditional and non-traditional and everything in between.”
Trice, who is running for a seat on the Council this November, said he made his comments in response to a question about Ferndale’s “hot button” issues during the election campaign.
“I knew about the fact that we lost our student population in the schools,” he said. “My comment was of a generalized nature. If we had more families with children, it would alleviate the problem.”
The “smear campaign” is being conducted against him for “political gain,” in the hope he will drop out of the race, said Trice.
“I am not anti-gay and I’m not out to hurt them, despite the whispering campaign against me,” he said.
Trice describes himself as a “moderate Democrat” adding he doesn’t agree with extremes on either end of the political spectrum.
“I’ve been the butt end of bigotry, prejudice and injustice all my life, so why would I impose this on someone else?” asked Trice, who is African-American.
“If I do judge anyone, it’s based on the content of their character.”
Council members chose Trice as Lennon’s replacement from nearly a dozen applicants for the post.
“I had a lot of people pushing me from behind, telling me I had a lot to offer,” he said. “I didn’t think I would be appointed.”
People watching the Council meetings in person at City Hall or at home on TV don’t see the entire decision-making process, said Trice.
“The Council is kind of PC – they don’t reply when people make groundless accusations,” he said.
Trice hopes the LGBT community will view him in a new light.
“If people have fears, I want to set their minds at ease,” he said. “I’m not your enemy.”