By Sharon Gittleman
ROYAL OAK – Three pro-gay City Commission candidates heard bad news on Election Day in Royal Oak. Gary Lelito, Andy Prentice and Bill Reisdorf all lost their bids to serve a term in office. Jim Ellison won his mayoral race, beating opponent Shirley Evoe. Ellison will decide city issues along with newly-elected Commissioners Terry Drinkwine, Pat Capello and Mike Andrzejak.
Ellison earned 5,509 or 52 percent of the 10,577 votes cast by residents, defeating Evoe who won 4,742 (45 percent) and Cecelia Adkins who took 302 ballots (3 percent). There are 48,700 registered voters in Royal Oak and according to the 2000 Census, 60,062 people living in the suburb.
Residents could vote for up to three candidates for City Commission. Mike Andrzejak carried the most votes – 5,735 (21 percent), followed by Terry Drinkwine who won 5,020 (19 percent) and Pat Capello who earned 4,852 (18 percent). Andy Prentice’s total of 4,730 ballots (17 percent), Gary Lelito’s 4,409 votes (16 percent) and Bill Reisdorf’s 2,304 (9 percent) meant all three failed in their attempts to win a seat on the Commission.
Lelito was the only openly gay candidate running for office.
“I could have done nothing smarter or better,” he said. “There are five candidates, all of whom are good. Royal Oak will be well-served.”
Lelito said last-minute phone calls by anti-gay activist Fred Birchard urging voters to cast their ballots for people who opposed gay marriage did not affect the campaign.
“They were a non-issue,” agreed fellow candidate Prentice.
Drinkwine said he had no idea whether the calls helped or hurt his victory.
Community activist and one-time commission candidate David Light also questioned the effectiveness of Birchard’s calls.
“I’m sure it had an impact on the campaign. I can’t say if it was positive or negative,” he said. “He had a really hateful message, but he called people like me, so he wasted his time.”
City Commissioner Marie Donigan also doubted the political value of public appeals to anti-gay sentiments.
“I’d like to think voters have tired of it,” she said. “It’s not appropriate to single out gay people.”
Alan Semonian said he thought it was clear that “gay” wasn’t an issue in the race.
Many LGBT activists were disappointed to see Lelito lose.
“He had very wide support,” said Light.
Affirmations Lesbian Gay Community Center Executive Director and Royal Oak resident Leslie Thompson wondered why a Democrat won the Mayoral race, while more liberal-minded Commissioners lost. She said she thought the election meant “more of the same” for Royal Oak residents.
“We didn’t elect change,” she said.
Thompson didn’t view Drinkwine’s victory as a cause for LGBT celebration and questioned Andrzejak’s support for the gay and lesbian community.
“I never know with Mike,” she said. “He courted the gay community and then came out and said he didn’t support the human rights campaign. We’ll just see.”
Former City Commissioner Laura Harrison said she believed the election would bring change to Royal Oak, but primarily in the city’s economic realm.
“Social issues will be put on the back-burner because there are so many financial problems,” she said.
Andrzejak’s victory will be good for residents, in Harrison’s view. Harrison served with Andrzejak on the City Commission several years ago.
“I’m so glad Mike won,” she said. “I think he will make a difference just like he did before.”
As the ballots were counted on election night, Prentice was the third most popular vote-getter throughout the evening. When the final tally was made, Prentice lost by only 122 votes.
“He was winning all the way up until the end,” said Harrison, who described herself as Prentice’s unofficial campaign manager and “motherly advisor.” “It was the absentee votes that made the difference. Because they vote so early on, I think a lot of people don’t know enough about the candidates to make a decision. There are some people who will go down the list and vote for a woman first and then name-familiarity.”
The new Mayor will serve a two year term, while the Commissioners will remain in office for the next four years.