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Grosse Pointe Farms

Ricci edges out Vogel in tight Farms City Council race

February 27, 2013

Less than 30. That was the number of votes separating Joe Ricci from Liz Vogel in the Feb. 26 special election for a seat on the Farms City Council.

Ricci, 63, received 499 of the 970 total votes cast — just 28 more than Vogel, 30, who received 471, according to unofficial vote tallies available at press time. He will serve the remainder of the late Joseph Leonard’s term, which was slated to expire Nov. 3, 2015.

Ricci said he was out at the polls the morning of Feb. 26 to greet voters.

“My only regret is that my wife, Susan, wasn’t here to see this,” Ricci said. Susan Ricci died Dec. 6 at the age of 65 after battling breast cancer. Joe Ricci said his wife encouraged him to run for the council last spring.

“I wanted to give back to the community,” he said.

Although Farms residents are diligent voters, with only the council seat on the ballot, turnout was unusually low. Slightly less than 12 percent of the city’s 8,222 registered voters cast ballots in this contest.

“Every vote does count,” Mayor James Farquhar said. “The best part of democracy is local government. You’re closest to the people at the local level.”

Brutal weather didn’t help turnout. When voters weren’t faced with icy rain, they were battling heavy, wet snow that fell at an angle and left roads treacherous.

“Definitely once (the snow) started, that’s when it slowed down,” said Kara Reynolds, precinct chair at Grosse Pointe South High School.

Reynolds said there was a rush of voters when polls opened at 7 a.m. and two more — around noon and at 5 p.m. — but after that, few voters came in.

“It’s been … slower than other elections have been,” she said.

George Heidt and Jerry Christ, the precinct co-chairs at City Hall, said they never had any rush period; they said voters were coming in by ones and twos throughout the day. Christ has been working the polls for 13 years, and Heidt has been doing it for 16 years. Christ said this one “by far” was the slowest election he’s ever worked.

“It’s not been a busy day,” Heidt concurred.

At the end of the evening, one female election official remarked that there was “quite a difference from November,” which was a presidential election.

Voters were few and far between by the evening, but they were determined to make their voices heard. Jan and Susan Starr braved the blinding snow to make it to their precinct at South, in no small measure because, as Jan Starr pointed out, “A good friend of ours is running.”

He added that it was important to both of them to vote.

Carlos Bermudez said he heard turnout was low and he “wanted to do my civic duty,” but at his precinct at City Hall, he was disappointed to learn that he wasn’t registered to vote. He said he recently moved back to the Farms. Bermudez is registered now, but can’t cast a ballot until the next election, which is likely to be in November.

City Manager/City Clerk Shane Reeside wasn’t surprised by the numbers.

“Not unexpectedly due to the special nature of the election, turnout was lower than what is typical for a general election,” he said. “However, there was strong turnout in the number of absentee voters.”

More than half of the ballots cast were absentee.

Farquhar was at City Hall on election night to receive the results, and he called both candidates to tell them the news.

“I look forward to working with Joe,” he said of Ricci. “I think both of them were very good candidates.”

By having a special election rather than appointing a council member, Farquhar said the Farms could maintain its schedule of staggered terms for city leaders.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said of holding the February election.

Ricci, a veteran car dealership owner who’s now semi-retired, has lived in the Farms for more than 30 years. He said “maintaining our neighborhoods and protecting our families” is one of his priorities while in office, as is the city’s pension plan, which he said is unfunded.

“I can dive into this because I’ve got the time and the energy,” Ricci said of being elected to council. “I’m very excited about this.”

Farquhar said he hopes Vogel — a member of the city’s Communications Committee — remains active in the city. Vogel said she intends to do just that.

“I’m excited to keep involved,” said Vogel, who’s also a Grosse Pointe Historical Society trustee, among her many civic duties. “My commitment to the community hasn’t changed at all.”

Vogel, a lifelong Farms resident who works as an executive assistant to the president of one of the state’s biggest beer distributors, said she plans to run again for council in November. She also ran a strong council write-in campaign a couple of years ago. Vogel’s been a regular attendee of City Council meetings for the past two years, even missing important family events to keep up with city activities, but she said her efforts have the support of family and friends, for which she said she “feels blessed.”

After the votes were tallied, she even got a call from Congressman Gary Peters — whose district now includes the Pointes. He was able to share his own experiences of running for office with her.

“I feel privileged to have been involved in the community as much as I have,” Vogel said. “I see both of my recent elections as wins (in a way). I wish Joe the best of luck. He ran a good campaign.”

Ricci is slated to be sworn into office at the next regular City Council meeting at 7 p.m. March 11 at City Hall.

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