Plymouth City Commissioner Alanna Maguire on Why She's Married to Local Government (and Dana Nessel)

The Fair Michigan President recently won one of four open Plymouth City Commission seats

Local government matters. Who sits on your city commission is important because those are the people who make the decisions that are closest to your front door. Municipal races don't get the kind of breathless horse-race coverage that, say, a presidential election does. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention.

Alanna Maguire has definitely been paying attention.

Maguire, 36, won one of four open Plymouth City Commission seats on Election Day. While there were only four candidates running for the four seats, the three highest voter getters would be seated for a four-year term and the final candidate would get a two-year term. Maguire was elected to a four-year term.

"This is really where local decisions that really impact you and your neighborhood are made," Maguire tells Pride Source. "It's important to have your voice heard and to understand and help shape the community where you live."

Maguire says she ran on issues that are important to her, like environmental protection, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives."My day job is I'm a finance manager for a renewable energy company," she says. "I want to see a lot more focus on green space development, environmental sustainability practices, composting — things that we can do at the local level."

Maguire attributes her election success to her longtime ties to the city. "I'm a lifelong resident of Plymouth, so I have really strong community roots," Maguire says. Maguire also has strong roots in the LGBTQ+ community. She is the President of Fair Michigan, a group that seeks to secure legal protections for LGBTQ+ people. She is also the wife of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

"[Plymouth is] actually a much more progressive community than I think people might realize," she says, pointing to a human rights ordinance passed in 2014 that includes protections for LGBTQ people. "It made me feel like my family belongs here; we're accepted," she says. "We are a welcoming community. We want people to feel safe and accepted."

Alanna Maguire, second to right, with twin sons Zach and Alex, and wife Dana, at the Michigan Capitol on Inauguration Day on Jan. 1, 2019. Photo courtesy of Alanna Maguire

Maguire and Nessel are parents to 18-year-old twin sons Zach and Alex, who attend Michigan State University. Maguire says she and Nessel have worked to instill "compassion and empathy" in their sons. "I think that's how Dana has approached her office, caring about other people, especially people who have been marginalized," she says, adding that they also value "integrity and honesty" in their family.

With Nessel such a prominent public figure, the current era of political polarization and Republican extremism has been difficult for their family. Nessel has received death threats, and Maguire herself has been the target of threats and rude comments. 

"It's hard to get used to," she says. "It's one thing to disagree with someone and to make it about the policy disagreement," even going so far as to call someone an idiot for having that position. "But rising to, 'I think you're an idiot, and I want to kill you or harm your family' is a very scary thing."

She says she thinks her sons are safer away at college because "people know where we live."

"I worry about the safety of my whole family and I wish, no matter how angry you are about something, you take a step back and try to put yourself in our shoes and think about how it feels to live like that," she adds. "It's not pleasant — I can tell you that."

Still, she supports Nessel in her role. "I try to remind her first of all that I'm very proud of her," she says. "I think that her heart is always in the right place, and she's always thinking about how best to lead the state in the Attorney General office."

Similarly, Maguire, just recently sworn in, is thinking about how best to lead Plymouth and says that the negative political climate did not dissuade her from running. In fact, the timing finally felt right. "I had been thinking about it for a few years, and there were always things that got in the way," she says. "This time I felt like I could commit the time, energy and effort in order to be successful with it."

Maguire doesn't just want to fill a commission seat, she wants to actually represent Plymouth residents and encourage people to be active participants in their city government.

"[The City Commission meets] every other Monday at the city hall…and there's always a section for citizen comments," she says. "It's a way to have a say in where you live and the direction of your community, and it helps us when people participate to know what is important to our residents."

Maguire acknowledges that what often inspires citizen engagement is when government isn't meeting the needs of its residents. "People start paying attention locally when they're unhappy about something. Then you have people coming to the meetings," she says, complaining about things like garbage pick up. "If your city is running smoothly, you take it for granted."

Overall, she says, Plymouth seems to be generally very satisfied with their city government, an indication "that things are going well in the city."

The commission is currently focused on long-term planning. "We are formatting in writing, on paper, about what we want our community to look like in the next five years and how we're going to do that."

Maguire grew up in Plymouth with her mother, Mary Maguire, father, Raymond, and two younger brothers, Evin and Ross. Her mother was on the local library board for many years and is the founder and current president of the Plymouth Democratic Club.

"She was a big inspiration to me growing up," Maguire says, noting that her mother taught her "how to work for the community, how to advocate for causes that are important to me, and things like that."

Mary also serves on the board of Fair Michigan and works with the National Marriage Challenge, the non-profit formed to help cover the legal costs of DeBoer v Snyder, the Michigan marriage equality case that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and became part of Obergefell v. Hodges, the June 26, 2015 decision that made marriage equality a nationwide reality.

Alanna Maguire and wife Dana Nessel at the Michigan Democratic Party endorsement convention in April 2018. Photo courtesy of Alanna Maguire

In fact, Maguire and Nessel met while working together on the DeBoer case, Nessel as one of the lead attorneys and Maguire as a project manager. "It's a nice way to meet actually," Maguire says. "I think that part of what I love so much about my relationship with Dana is that we do really work well together, and we're very supportive of each other. And what we accomplish, we do together."

Maguire and Nessel got engaged on April 28, 2015, the date of the oral arguments of Obergefell. "She asked me to marry her after she came out of the Supreme Court after the oral arguments," Maguire remembers. "It's a pretty cool story."

Another cool story is the order in which the Maguire family met Nessel. "My wife met both of my parents before she actually knew me at all, which is pretty funny," Maguire says. Nessel worked with Raymond Maguire when the two were both Wayne County Prosecutors and also when Nessel was in private practice.

"She met my mom actually because she was looking for community support for the DeBoer v. Snyder case and she learned that there was a Plymouth Democratic Club," Maguire recalls. "She went to one of our club meetings and introduced herself to my mom and told her what she was doing with the legal case."

Mary Maguire got to organizing to support the case, helping to put on a fundraiser at Affirmations that raised over $20,000.

Maguire remembers the day of the Obergefell decision. "It was just such a joyful occasion when the decision came down in June of 2015," she says. "I've never seen so many people so happy." Being a part of that was "so incredible," she says. "Marriage is not just a nice of paper — it's so much more than that."

Which is why when asked what her most prized possession is, she says it's her marriage license. "Because I know how hard we had to fight for that and how long," she says. "Everything that it symbolizes. I had it framed. It's up in my office."