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For Out Pleasant Ridge Mayor, the Road Ahead Is Linked to the Past

Bret Scott on his vision for the queer-friendly city and why he loves vintage cars

Since becoming mayor of Pleasant Ridge in 2021, Bret Scott has married twice, soon to be three times. More precisely, he’s officiated at two weddings. Though he’s single, it’s one of Scott’s favorite mayoral duties.

“This is something that was totally unexpected to me as an ability to do as a mayor,” Scott said. “It's a great pleasure to be able to help people get married.”

Scott is Pleasant Ridge’s first openly gay and first Black mayor. He's also an automotive enthusiast and self-described introvert, but he's more likely to be found tinkering with classic cars than tooting his own horn.

“It wasn't ever my interest to serve in public office because it seemed like such an extroverted thing to do,” said Scott, who first secured a seat on the Pleasant Ridge city commission in 2013. “But I spoke with some neighbors and it seemed that it was a good time for someone like me who had very practical experience in the business world and just a solid interest in helping out around town.” Further, because residents had questions about the budget as well as a desire to become more engaged in local government, “It just seemed to make sense for me to participate,” he said.

Nestled along the Woodward corridor between Ferndale and Royal Oak, Pleasant Ridge, almost exclusively residential, has a land area of 0.57 miles and a population of 2,627 according to 2020 Census data. Notably, this affluent city has the highest same-sex household ratio in the state — though those figures from the Williams Institute only reflect households, not every individual LGBTQ+ person. Known for its historic districts and tight housing market, it’s been said that a resident of Pleasant Ridge who dreams at night of selling their home will wake up to a dozen offers.

“I met Bret when he started coming to city commission meetings when he was requesting some improvements in the parks to the in-ground grills,” said Ann Perry, a Pleasant Ridge city commissioner. “It was a time when the city was going through a lot of changes. Bret recognized he could help make a positive difference in the city.”

When Scott was elected in 2021 — in the midst of the pandemic — it was a difficult time for residents, but Scott and the city commission were able to help them return to their normal lives. “We helped senior citizens get back together with road trips and field trips,” Scott said. “And we managed to get a major water infrastructure project approved and helped people understand how that would work despite the fact that there was social distancing and an inability to meet in person for so many of the months that we put that together.”

Perry noted Scott’s work on the Woodward streetscape projects, calling Scott a “transportation nut.”

“His work in the automotive industry and his love of vehicles — including an amazing assortment of vintage, newer and electric vehicles, as well as really cool bikes from collapsible travel bikes to electric bikes — makes the Woodward improvement projects something he’s very excited to work on,” Perry said. “He really appreciates the complexities of the area we live in, and Woodward is something that is important to thoughtfully design so we have the road we want.”

Because of its dense population of LGBTQ+ residents, one might expect Pleasant Ridge to earn high marks on any scale of queer-friendliness — yet the city scored just 69 out of 100 on the HRC Municipal Equality Index (MEI) last year. By comparison, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Ferndale scored 100. In Macomb County, Sterling Heights earned a score of 91. What gives? Scott said it’s hard to compete with the big guys based on identical criteria.

“[HRC’s] focus is largely on big cities and big companies,” Scott acknowledged. “We're just so small that it would be very difficult for us to hit all of their targets. With that said, we appreciate the targets. We know why they're there, but we also know that we'll probably never hit a 100 on their scale. We're fortunate to live in a community that has a high concentration of LGBTQ+ folks. In my conversations with them, they understand the challenges that we have.”

Scott was raised in Pontiac, an only child “in a really good family.” Having lived in other states, Scott keeps returning to Southeast Michigan where he enjoys the four seasons. When Scott’s current home in Pleasant Ridge came on the market, he was quick to make an offer.

“To be honest, I never thought about Pleasant Ridge until a friend had driven past my house,” Scott said. “It was for sale. I was living in Virginia at the time, and he took a picture of the house. I literally flew in the next day and left a deposit and then figured out that I kind of needed to find a job to move back to Michigan.”

With a degree in electrical engineering and a career in the automotive industry, finding work wouldn’t be too difficult. Scott spoke of his 20 years with GM, where he first came out publicly, around the same time he joined the Lambda Car Club, a club for LGBTQ+ classic car enthusiasts and their friends.

“For many of us, there's that moment that first time that we hold hands in public,” Scott began. “Well, it's a similar thing to hold hands or to talk about it in an office place, because so many of the hours of the day that we have, we spend [at] work. And just building that level of comfort where we work and where we live can be a challenge for a lot of people. I'm fortunate to have had good folks around me to make that an easy process.”

 While the office he holds is nonpartisan, Scott freely discloses he votes Democratic “95 percent of the time,” though on occasion, he’ll vote for a Republican. He said he votes for the right person for the job.

“America is the kind of place that needs at least two healthy political parties to function properly,” Scott said. “That tension could be a really healthy tension or really unhealthy tension. I think we're going through a bit of an unhealthy phase right now, but when they're working well together, then we see that push and pull moves us forward.”

He said he has no problem voting for a Republican candidate who shows a good fiscal conservative nature and also has public policy that aligns with Scott’s beliefs.

Still, as far as the Democrats’ recent big wins in Michigan are concerned, Scott couldn’t be more pleased. “The folks that are representing us in the Democrat Party now are just phenomenal,” Scott said. “We're really lucky to have [state Senator] Jeremy Moss and others to represent us in Lansing.”

Scott is even considering a career shift to the public sphere himself.  “There's not much to tell,” Scott said. “I'm deciding whether I want to move into the public space and consider a future in Lansing or elsewhere moving forward.”

Most of his life Scott has worked in the auto industry and then the technical industry around data and electronics and future technologies. “I’m just weighing what’s available,” he said.

Meanwhile, when he isn't working on one of his 14 classic cars, a collection that includes a rare 1959 DeSoto, Scott enjoys traveling “and just understanding how other people live.” He said a recent trip to Bulgaria was a lot of fun. Exploring locales that aren’t necessarily “tourist-oriented” especially appeals to Scott.

At the same time, because he’s had to travel extensively for work, it’s been difficult to grow roots. Hence, Scott’s solitary status.

“It's one of the things that will probably become more of a focus for me as time goes on,” Scott said. “Now that I've been home and in Michigan, it's something that I think about more.”

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