Election heating up after primary in Center Line

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published August 11, 2017

CENTER LINE — The field is set for November’s City Council and mayoral races in Center Line, while some candidates said the campaign season had already turned “strange”  or “bizarre,” with some “irregularities.”

Voters went to the polls Aug. 8, where they trimmed the field in the City Council race from six to four candidates. According to the unofficial results, Richard Moeller garnered the most votes with 373, followed by Peter Harenski (370), Mary Ann Zielinski (292) and incumbent City Council woman Mary Hafner (226). Jane Lapham (224) and Kawsar Dewan (68) finished fifth and sixth, respectively, and were eliminated from contention in November.

According to City Manager Dennis Champine, 12.7 percent of the city’s registered voters took part in the primary.

The turnout was questioned by Zielinski, the city’s former longtime mayor and a former member of the council, who also raised questions about absentee ballots and a controversial piece of campaign literature that arrived at homes in Center Line in the days leading up to the election.

Zielinski said the piece claiming to be from a group calling itself the “Center Line Watchdogs” promoted just two candidates, Moeller and Harenski, and “slammed” the others. She also said the address on Helen Street listed on the literature is a vacant lot, and that ambiguity remains about who owns it. 

“It’s a scurrilous piece of trash,” Zielinski said of the literature, adding that at least two residents who found the piece in their mailbox, along with other campaign mailings, had filed complaints with the U.S. Postal Service. “There’s games that are being played, and there are questions about these election results.”

Moeller and Harenski have since said they had nothing to do with the literature, and that they are concerned it could upset their own supporters put off by negative campaign tactics.

“It’s not affiliated with us at all. When I saw it came out, I thought, ‘Man, I hope that doesn’t hurt us,’” Moeller said. “It’s unfortunate that it came out. I’m just going to move forward and hope we don’t see it again.”
Harenski said the piece also showed up on his doorstep and that he has no idea who sent it out.

“I was concerned, too, when it came out. I have my own literature that I put out,” Harenski said. “I’m working door to door and meeting people. That’s how I’m getting my word out. I’m not into bad politics or bashing people.”

Hafner said she doesn’t believe the two candidates supported in the literature knew nothing about it.

“That’s an out-and-out lie, and I don’t respect that,” Hafner said. She added that she felt something was “strange” about the final number of absentee ballots counted, a month after she had inquired about how many had been returned at that point.

Reached for comment on the concerns put forth by Zielinski and Hafner, Champine said a vacant city-owned lot exists where the address listed on the literature could fall numerically, but that the actual address on the piece has never been tied to an actual property on that block, according to city records.

“It is city-owned property. The city took it over many years ago, demolished the home that was there. However, the address of that house was not the address that was listed on the flyer,” Champine said. “Whoever wrote that flyer decided to remain anonymous, which is their right.”

Champine also said he has complete confidence in the election results, including the absentee ballots, as counted by the city’s election workers, and that no recount requests had been received at press time.

“I trust they have achieved perfection with regards to the counting of the vote,” Champine said.

Hafner, Harenski, Moeller and Zielinski will next appear on the ballot Nov. 7, when Center Line voters will select two candidates for four-year terms.  

The city’s two mayoral candidates, incumbent Mayor Robert Binson and challenger William Sherman, were not on the primary ballot but will appear on the ballot for the general election, vying for a four-year term.