Council also-rans reflect on positive campaign experience

Candidates say running for office brought them closer to community

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published December 13, 2017

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MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — Last month’s election for City Council featured a crowded field in each city — eight candidates on the ballot in Madison Heights, and six in Hazel Park — and not everyone would make the cut. But those who didn’t secure a seat said it was still worth the time and effort getting to know the community and make themselves heard.

The candidates all put in solid showings, but in the end, the winners of the Madison Heights race were incumbents Mark Bliss and David Soltis, along with challenger Roslyn Grafstein. Over in Hazel Park, the winners were challengers Alissa Sullivan and Amy Aubry, along with incumbents Andy LeCureaux and Bethany Holland. 

The Madison-Park News reached out to those who came up short at the polls for their thoughts on the experience now that a month has passed. Madison Heights challenger Mark Kimble declined to participate, and Hazel Park challenger Anja Barmettler did not respond. 

But here’s what the others had to say:  

 

Ronald Butcher

A Madison Heights candidate, Ronald Butcher offered his congratulations to the candidates who won the race. 

“I look back at the election as a positive experience. It was a clean and friendly battle between the experienced and the novice,” Butcher said. “I met some fantastic people along the way. I would rate it as a great experience. 

“I cannot recall any negatives about the race itself,” he said. “I did have a few people react negatively to some of my ideas. However, I took that as a good thing. People are at least interested in what I have to bring to the table.” 

Butcher said he is concerned that the city does not have enough firefighters and paramedics — a claim that council veterans have contested. He wants the new council to take another look at the city’s daily minimum staffing for firefighters. He also wants the city to add street lamps along Dequindre Road, between 11 Mile and 12 Mile roads.

“Another area of concern I have is the lack of school speed zones and traffic lights around our schools,” Butcher said. “We have many deficiencies throughout the city, as it pertains to traffic around our schools and seniors.”

He said he definitely plans to stay involved with the city moving forward. He currently serves on the Madison Heights Crime Commission and the Madison Heights Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and he’s also an active member of the Madison Heights Men’s Club. 

“Even with a couple of angry knees, I will get out there with (the Men’s Club’s) ‘Adopt a Stop’ program and shovel as many SMART bus stops this winter as I can,” Butcher said.

He said he’s deeply thankful for everyone who voted for him.

“Even though I didn’t win, it was humbling to have so many people believe in me and my ideas for Madison Heights,” Butcher said. “I don’t know what the future holds politically for me, but I do know I am so very happy I made the run.”

 

Johnnette Eggert

Running in Madison Heights, Johnnette Eggert said it “was an experience of a lifetime.”

“To our citizens and all those that voted, thank you,” Eggert said. “Meeting and being welcomed into homes around our city was simply wonderful. What I learned is that our citizens are inviting and willing to open their hearts and minds, sharing issues of concern to themselves and the community. Keeping their neighborhoods safe and clean is important.”

She said she hopes the new council will do more to embrace the two local school boards — Madison District Public Schools and Lamphere Schools — since many residents told her that education is important to them, and they’d like to see more collaboration between the city and the schools. 

Part of this effort could be cultural awareness. Eggert said she looks forward to continuing to serve on the city’s Multicultural Relations Advisory Board, and potentially other boards in the future. 

Eggert also noted that she recently opened a bridal store, Sarah’s Bridal at 28810 John R Road in Madison Heights, which will help young girls in the local schools who need dresses for prom, homecoming and other special occasions. 

“I’m looking forward to working with an amazing teacher at Lamphere High School, (Jackie) Gilmore, who’s been a blessing to so many students in meeting their needs for prom and homecoming over the years,” Eggert said. “In short, the pleasure and honor to serve in any way possible here within my city and local schools is a blessing, and I’m looking forward to a greater future as God leads.”

 

Aaron Flanigan

Aaron Flanigan was another candidate in the Madison Heights race. He said the campaign was a positive experience, but at the same time, he was happy when it was all over.

“In other words, although I rarely felt comfortable with self-promotion, I still enjoyed meeting so many great people throughout the process,” Flanigan said. “I also learned a lot about the city, and even more about myself. So for me, it was a good experience.” 

He said that even with eight people “out there hounding folks for votes” on his behalf, he never heard of a single negative encounter with any resident. 

“Everyone I met was friendly, willing to listen, and would almost always offer up some words of encouragement,” Flanigan said. “So that was by far the biggest takeaway.”

He also enjoyed meeting the current members of council, as well as the mayor, and left conversations with them feeling more optimistic about the direction of the city.

Still, there are things he’d like to see done. Flanigan said he hopes to see the council focus on making the city even more attractive to young people. 

“I think it’s become somewhat trendy to bash millennials, but the truth is, they are going to be the future of our city,” Flanigan said. “And as the cost of living downtown continues to rise, young folks will start looking for more affordable options that will still keep them close to all the exciting things going on in the city and surrounding areas.”

He thanked everyone who supported him during his campaign, especially Councilwoman Margene Scott and Mayor Brian Hartwell for their guidance. 

“You all made this experience such a positive one for me, and I’m eternally grateful for that,” Flanigan said.

 

Charles Gladue

One of the Hazel Park candidates, Charles Gladue, said he learned a lot from the experience.

“Running for office was an interesting undertaking,” Gladue said. “Yes, it’s a lot of work. However, the effort was beneficial in the fact that I got a pretty good gauge on what the citizens think of the direction the city is heading.

“It seems the older voters I talked to were more interested in property taxes and blight, while the younger voters were more interested in continuing the development of the John R corridor, and are excited to see what’s happening next,” he noted. “Overall, the residents are very positive about the city. … That’s a great sign that we are heading in the right direction.”

He said he hopes that the new council — which includes Sullivan and Aubry, two candidates who ran unsuccessfully two years ago but tried again this year and came out on top — will focus on new development in the city.

“I have already heard talk of being ‘environmentally friendly,’ which is fine, as long as it doesn’t hinder future development by turning potential investors off,” Gladue said. “I also hope the newest members stay out of the day-to-day operations of the various departments that are running well, and leave the boards and commissions intact.” 

He said he’s thankful for everyone who trusted him and voted for him and who did legwork on his behalf, with special thanks for Mike and Robbie Webb, Rachel and Steve Noth, and City Councilwoman Bethany Holland for their guidance and support.

“I will continue to be active with the Historical Museum and the various boards and commissions I am on, so you will still see me out and about, as always,” Gladue said. “I will continue to support the city in any way I can.”

 

Emily Rohrbach

Emily Rohrbach, a candidate for Madison Heights, said the campaign was “an eye-opening experience” for her.

“While it was definitely a lot of work, I really enjoyed the opportunity to get out and talk to people about what was important to them for our city,” Rohrbach said. “I was honored to have people open their doors and their lives to me, literally welcoming me into their homes and opening up about their struggles and concerns, about their history with the city and their hopes for the future.

“As a mother of three small kids, it was difficult to step away to go knocking on doors in the evenings. Finding a balance between my dedication to my family and our routines, and my commitment to doing my best in the election wasn’t easy,” she said. “I feel like even though I didn’t win a spot on council, I set the groundwork for future campaigns and what it takes to run a successful campaign.” 

She said that based on what she heard from residents, the city needs to crack down on blight, address the needs of senior citizens, and invest in natural resources such as trees and parks. She hopes the current council will work to resolve these issues. 

“To everyone that supported me, I’m incredibly grateful for your vote,” Rohrbach said. “I’m already looking at running again in 2019 because I am passionate about being a voice for everyone in this community. Our City Council now has two wonderful women, and I look forward to seeing the diversity and representation of our City Council continue to improve in the future.”