Council, mayoral candidates in Madison Heights, Hazel Park outline goals

By: Alex Szwarc | Madison - Park News | Published September 17, 2021

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MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — In Madison Heights and Hazel Park, voters will decide the next mayor and council during the general election Nov. 2. In a series of emails, candidates were asked to share a bit about themselves and the goals they plan to pursue if elected to office.

The candidates for the mayor of Hazel Park include the current mayor, Michael Webb, and the challenger Jerry Bertrand. The mayoral term is for four years.

The candidates for the Hazel Park City Council include incumbent Luke Londo, running for his first full term on the council after being appointed earlier this year, and incumbent Alissa Sullivan, as well as challenger Beverly Gibson. There are two seats available, and each seat is a four-year term.

Michael Webb

The current mayor, Webb, 54, has lived in Hazel Park for 34 years. He is a business owner and automotive technician.

“Serving on the council for many years makes me a constant and effective representative for the city,” Webb said. “Over the years, this experience and my business mind have allowed me to bring creative, fiscal and responsible solutions to the table.”

He cited his work on the council, helping to steer the community through the Great Recession. In more recent years, the city of Hazel Park has rebounded, with a variety of businesses opening along the John R corridor and a major redevelopment in the form of the Tri-County Commerce Center at the site of the former Hazel Park Raceway.

“My top goals are to continue moving Hazel Park into the 21st century with growth in our business areas, and to continue to revitalize our residential areas and improve our infrastructure,” Webb said. “I want to maintain budget stability and fiscal responsibility, and to promote a strong sense of community by working with residents’ ideas and concerns. And I want to retain our excellent Police and Fire departments, to help keep our community a safe place to live.”

Jerry Bertrand
Bertrand did not respond by press time for this story.

City Council    
Beverly Gibson

Gibson, 59, the challenger running for the council, bought her first home in Hazel Park in 1985. She then moved away in 1999 and returned in 2014. She said she is a small business owner, and described past occupations in real estate, home rehabbing and land redevelopment. Gibson also ran a limousine service in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and worked as a certified home inspector in Oakland County.

When she moved up north for 15 years, she maintained a 28-acre organic farm, worked for a corporate benefits insurance company, ran a bed and bath, and helped start a nonprofit charity for Liberian refugees in Ghana.

She returned to Hazel Park after the birth of her granddaughter, wishing to be closer to family.

“After moving back from up north, I loved seeing Hazel Park looking more beautiful than ever, but found the ‘Friendly City’ to be considerably less friendly than I remembered,” Gibson said. “I have several areas where I’d like to see this improve, which I believe will continue the ‘beautifying’ process of our lovely city.”

To this end, she wants to start a city-run network of volunteers to help low-income, elderly and disabled residents manage their code violations and other needs. She also wants to see more effort from the city helping residents who are behind on water bills and other service payments. She also wants to see a more “common sense” traffic flow pattern in Hazel Park, and improved relationships between the public and police.

“All in all, I’d like to see people connecting here — with each other, the city and the council. I’ve tried watching our council meetings online, and the sound quality has been inaudible. Perhaps we could get a part-time or even volunteer tech person to improve our online presence while also encouraging residents to participate in more face-to-face meetings. And perhaps we could develop a (city) newsletter delivered to their doors.

“These and other issues are part of why I decided to run,” she concluded. “I believe by taking the right steps, Hazel Park can be the friendliest city in Oakland County, and the absolute jewel of the tri-county area!”

Luke Londo
Newly appointed to council earlier this year, and now running for a full term, Londo, 33, has lived in the city for five years, and works as the senior public relations manager for Rock Ventures.

He said that he has “the most non-elected government experience of any candidate,” with past work as the director of constituent services for a congressman, and for the Michigan Department of Attorney General as an executive office representative.

“I am familiar with advocating for the needs of residents at every level of government,” he said. “I am also proud to be part of a City Council team that brought in new business, high-paying jobs and housing, and that banned discrimination, approved funding for updating roads and infrastructure, improved parks and recreation programming, and increased funding for public safety.

“Working in public relations, I’ve frequently utilized my skills in writing and press relations to shine a spotlight on Hazel Park, and I look forward to continuing to market The Friendly City as a premier destination to live, work and play — whether it’s for you, your family or your business.”

He said he hopes to keep the momentum going if elected.

“We will soon have the opportunity to decide how $1.7 million in (American Rescue Plan Act) dollars are disbursed, and I will listen to the administration and residents on how they best feel those dollars are spent,” Londo said. “I want to continue working with the Parks and Recreation Department to implement its master plan, ensuring recreation is accessible to everyone and can be enjoyed by all.

“It’s also important to look for additional opportunities for revenue capture, due to the state stealing millions of dollars in funding through revenue sharing, as well as hamstringing our ability to grow revenue due to the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A,” he said. “Lastly, I’d like to make government more transparent and accessible by meeting residents where they are — online, and through social media.”

Alissa Sullivan
An incumbent, Sullivan, 44, has lived in the city for 22 years — including 20 as a homeowner — and is self-employed, running her own Hazel Park-specific nonprofit. She said that in her time on the City Council, she has been happy to bring several social programs to the community at no cost, including the Hope Not Handcuffs program in 2018. That same year, she co-sponsored the city’s Pride resolution, establishing Hazel Park as a welcoming community for LGBTQ+ individuals.

In 2020, she helped establish a High Risk Response Team aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence, and this year she co-sponsored a human rights ordinance protecting vulnerable minorities against discrimination. She also brought forth an anti-discrimination ordinance for source of income in Hazel Park, which protects homebuyers as well as renters, and makes housing more accessible for everyone by preventing exclusion based on a person’s source of financing.

Currently, she serves as the city’s representative on the Eight Mile Boulevard Association, and this year she organized a multi-city neighborhood cleanup in that role. She is also the vice president of the Hazel Park Arts Council, and the co-chair of the planning committee for the Hazel Park Art Fair.

“I believe that my background and experience as both an advocate and a volunteer, as well as an entrepreneur lends itself to my ability to facilitate and organize efforts that are of great value to our community as a whole,” Sullivan said. “I’m a terrific problem-solver, and I love to help. I strongly feel that an elected official’s top goal is to be of service to their community. I am proud of the service that I’m able to give back.”

She said that if reelected, she will continue her efforts to increase access to social programs in Hazel Park, at little to no cost to the community.

“I’m also currently the council liaison for our new Environmental Sustainability Commission, and in that role I hope to further expand the re-greening of Hazel Park, which would include alternative lawns, increased green spaces and replenishing our diminished tree canopy,” she said.

“I will continue to seek more and better accessibility, communication, transparency and accountability for all members of City Council, city boards, commissions and staff. We’re currently working on establishing more opportunities for community art, as well,” Sullivan said. “Our city has shown so much progress in my time on council. I’m so proud of how far we’ve come, and I am excited to continue our growth and revitalization!”

There are two candidates running for mayor of Madison Heights, a two-year term.

The candidates are the current mayor, Roslyn Grafstein, who is serving a partial term by appointment to the vacancy left by the previous mayor, Brian Hartwell, after he became judge of the Hazel Park 43rd District Court; and the challenger William Mier, a trustee on the Lamphere Public Schools Board of Education.

The candidates for the Madison Heights City Council include incumbents David Soltis and Bob Gettings, incumbent Mark Bliss — running as a write-in due to a technicality, and challengers Toya Aaron, Sean Fleming and Quinn Wright. There are three seats available, each a four-year term.

Roslyn Grafstein

The current mayor, Grafstein, 51, is a business consultant who moved to Madison Heights from Toronto in 2004. Prior to her appointment to mayor, she had served on the council since 2017.

Grafstein said that she has participated in municipal courses with officials across the state, building connections that she believes will help the city. She said that since 2017, she and the council have added staff to code enforcement and increased emergency services personnel by about 18%. She and the council also created a hotel ordinance aimed at reducing human trafficking and blight.

Last year, she reached out to HAVEN to implement a High Risk Response Task Force to support victims of rape and domestic abuse. Grafstein said she also helped secure private funding for recreation programs, environmental programs and permanent installations.

The environment has also been an area of focus for her. After the 2017 election, Grafstein helped reboot the Environmental Citizens Committee and completely overhauled the invasive species ordinance to promote native gardens that are friendly to pollinators. Already this year, the city has planted 15 times as many trees as in 2017, with even more planned for 2022.

Grafstein said she will continue to seek out partnerships that will bring innovative new services to senior citizens. She will continue volunteer programs like the annual “Rake with the Mayor” event that rakes leaves for senior and disabled residents. She will also seek grants and sponsorships to fund park projects and upgrade existing facilities, and work to increase the city’s walkability.

She said it’s also important to continually revise and update ordinances to provide incentives to property owners to clean up their vacant or derelict properties. She also wants the city to be open to builders looking to invest in new housing developments throughout the city.

“Finally, I will continue meeting with business owners who want to invest in Madison Heights, vetting new projects that align with our community values while bringing new jobs to the community, and new channels of revenue to fund more city programs,” Grafstein said.

William Mier
Mier, 62, is a trustee on the Lamphere Public Schools Board of Education who works as a computer software manager. He has lived in the city for more than 30 years. Mier has served on the school board since 2013, and is currently the treasurer. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Mier has also been active in the community, as a member of Little League Baseball for 27 years, where he has served as secretary and league commissioner, and as an officer for Lamphere’s Athletic Booster Club for 23 years, 18 of which he was president.

“I want to continue to give back to the entire community, and I can provide strong leadership experience, integrity and common sense to help prosper and enrich our city. I have a strong financial background, and will make sure I have all the data when making decisions,” Mier said.

If elected to the office of mayor, he said his top goals would be reducing the crime rate, creating more recreational opportunities for families, and continuing to review the work of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to promote economic growth throughout the city.

On the topic of crime, Mier said, “We need to look for ways to use technology to help our officers be more efficient, and try to have more police reserves patrol our neighborhoods, and to encourage more community policing. We also need to allow our citizens to get more connected with the officers and feel more comfortable around them.”

On recreation, he wants to see more park upgrades and events on the south end of the city, while continuing to maintain the programming at Civic Center Park. He wants more updates for the Active Adult Center as well. And on the DDA, Mier said he wants to better “enforce the reduction of blight to brighten up the city, and attract a good mix of businesses to expand the city’s tax base.”

City Council    
Toya Aaron

“I believe I am the most qualified candidate to represent the families of Madison Heights,” said Aaron, a volunteer coordinator and resident of 13 years.

She received her undergraduate and graduate degree from the University of Detroit Mercy. She has a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology, which is the study of human behavior in the workplace and organizations. She has worked at a consulting firm as an organizational psychology assistant, and she has also worked at an area hospital as the assistant director for patient and colleague engagement, helping to address patient and employee complaints about treatment, safety, wait times and more.

Aaron also volunteers with an organization called SAVE Detroit, which stands for “Stopping All Violence Everywhere.” Her work there the last six to seven years has been focused on improving safety in Detroit, as well as community outreach programs and youth mentorship initiatives.

Currently, she is the coordinator for volunteer services at a church where she interviews and conducts on-boarding for volunteers, placing them in areas that fit their skill-set and interest. She is also the founder and owner of Life Rediscovered Guidance Center, which counsels individuals with anger management and substance abuse issues.

Aaron feels that her background in helping organizations and the people within them will lend itself well to work on a council that oversees local government, its staff, and the residents they serve.

“When I think of changes and improvements for the city, I would like to see more accessibility for the disabled and senior residents, including resources for transportation, available services and affordable housing, Aaron said.

She said she wants to improve the safety and security of Madison Heights homes, as well, and work on initiatives that improve the sense of community, collaborating with the Arts Board and other groups to bring in more activities for families. She also wants to work on infrastructure by collaborating with investors to eliminate what she sees as a growing amount of blight in the DDA.

“I want to see Madison Heights as a city where families make memories, where there are generations of families living here for years to come,” Aaron said.

Mark Bliss
Bliss, 36, a member of the council since 2013, is running as a write-in due to a technicality, so to vote for him, residents will need to fill in the bubble next to a blank line and write “Mark Bliss.”

He said he is proud of his record and approach to office, which has included attending town hall meetings to hear resident ideas, and combing through budgets to find savings that were diverted into quality-of-life enhancements like installing bathrooms in parks, and making personal Wi-Fi adapters available for checkout at the library.

He also is proud to have spearheaded two new boards: The Arts Board that has brought multiple outdoor murals and events to the city, and the Information Technology Advisory Committee that has helped modernize City Hall by advising on everything from live-streaming meetings to policies around police body cameras. The boards have received accolades, such as the Arts Board being nominated twice for the Michigan Municipal Leagues’ statewide Community Excellence Award. Recently, Bliss proposed his third board concept: an Animal Welfare Commission.     

Bliss also supported the council’s decision to reinstate the Special Investigations Unit and to join an FBI task force on violent crime prevention, as well as adding firefighters and police officers. Bliss also worked with the Planning Commission on the city’s first master plan in decades, and helped revise nearly 20 ordinances to make the city more attractive for business. Bliss has also been working on the parks, seeking grants to add new playscapes, a fitness court, and improved walking trails.

“Finally, I’m proud to have personally co-chaired our successful Trail Tunes music festival each of the past two years, allowing our citizens to safely enjoy some live music during the pandemic,” Bliss said.

He said that if reelected, he will continue the work he has done.

“Serving our city on council has been an absolute honor,” Bliss said. “As a lifelong resident of the city, this isn’t about politics for me — it’s personal. My children are the third generation of my family to grow up here, and I want to make sure that this city is as good for them as it was for my dad and I when we each grew up here. I think that’s an important perspective, because I do understand where we came from as a city, but as a millennial and vice president at a software startup, I also know how to make modern technology and ideas part of our future.”

Sean Fleming
Fleming, 49, is a military veteran and telecommunications professional who has lived in Madison Heights for 22 years, and who has served on city boards such as the Historical Commission and the Human Relations and Equity Commission. He worked for Oak Park’s Recreation Department and also served as an emergency management officer for the city of Southfield. As a district legislative chairman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he has worked with state legislators on policies affecting veterans. He is also a past commander of the Madison Heights VFW post. Currently, he is a service officer for VFW Post 1407.

“As a council member, I will work with other council members, boards and commissions to enhance our library programs and parks and recreation programs, bringing new programming for seniors and disabled people, and provide culturally diverse programs,” Fleming said. “I will also be an advocate for a fair and effective code enforcement department, where we are more humanistic and helpful in our approach in code enforcement.”

Fleming said he is also committed to maintaining well-trained and professional first responders to keep residents safe. He is also an advocate for small business, and plans to collaborate with the local Chamber of Commerce to help fledgling startups with administrative processes and education.

“For the last year, I’ve been advocating for the city to create a business unit where a dedicated person would be working on business licenses and reviewing records to ensure that businesses have proper licenses,” Fleming said. “This has come to fruition and is now in place. I believe in not just enforcement but helping businesses correct their situations.”

Bob Gettings
Gettings, 69, an incumbent, has lived in Madison Heights for more than 50 years. He also worked for the city for 30 years as a coordinator in Parks and Recreation. He has served on the council for more than nine years.

“I believe I am qualified to remain on the City Council because I have the experience to serve,” Gettings said. “While serving, I’ve participated in over 250 meetings. I have a vast knowledge of city government and know how it works. I pride myself in my ability to work as a member of a team. I always study the facts presented to me, listen carefully to all points of view, and make well thought-out decisions.”

Gettings said that if reelected, he wants to continue supporting the city’s successful past events such as the Pre-Fourth of July Festival in the Park, the Memorial Day Parade, the Holiday Tree Lighting, and more. He also wants to continue new events like the Juneteenth celebration and the return of Trail Tunes.  

“Programs for the youth of our city and our senior population are near and dear to me,” Gettings said. “I want Madison Heights to continue being the kind of city that is inclusive to all and one we are all proud to call home.”

David Soltis
Soltis, 54, has served on the council since 2013. He works in healthcare marketing and has lived in the city for about the same time he has served on council. He ran for office after he finished his master’s degree in public administration, and after he did a six-month graduate internship in the city of Madison Heights. He got involved with the city’s Crime Commission and Youth Assistant group, as well.

“I wanted to help make a difference, in particular for seniors and children — those who are most vulnerable. And in the last almost eight years, I trust I have,” Soltis said, noting that he worked to eliminate the waiting list for Meals on Wheels and helped deliver meals to senior homes amid COVID, and how for seven consecutive years he organized bus trips for seniors to Lansing so that they could meet their state legislators. He also recalled the time he organized the donation and installation of a wheelchair ramp for a local senior veteran, courtesy of Lowe’s.

Soltis also researched issues such as child abuse and poverty, raising awareness and crafting a child protection resolution that discourages spanking children on public property, including parks, and also launching the city’s first Diaper Bank, which provides childrearing supplies to caretakers. He also pushed to reinstate the city’s Special Investigations Unit to help eliminate human trafficking in the city and rescue victims, including minors.

“If the citizens of Madison Heights see fit to reelect me, I will continue making sure our city is a safe place to live and raise a family,” Soltis said, adding that he wants to see additional staff training and equipment upgrades for first responders. “Public safety is my No. 1 priority. Our residents deserve that. We live in a difficult time, and I would continue to support our Police and Fire departments in order to maintain the high level of public safety our residents should expect.”

Quinn Wright
Wright, 40, is a financial advisor who has lived in the city for 15 years, and who also currently serves on the Human Relations and Equity Commission.

“I was raised in a strong union-centered family. I’m a dedicated leader with a passion for giving a voice to the people and issues that don’t always have a seat at the table, and I have a fierce drive to stay active and make my communities the best they can be, including Madison Heights, where my wife and I have chosen to raise our three fiercely intelligent and compassionate daughters,” he said.

Wright described how he comes from a family of police officers, preachers, teachers, coaches and building trade workers. He said he grew up in a vibrant community “where people had each other’s backs” and “parents looked out for all of the kids on the block,” which is something that he wants to replicate in Madison Heights. He has advocated for early childhood education while serving on a board specializing in infant mental health, and he has also done nonprofit work with his friends raising scholarship money for students from his high school.

Wright also believes he has professional skills that would serve the city well.

“Working in the business world, in supply chain management and now as a financial advisor, I’ve had the opportunity to understand what it takes to implement and make sound, long-term plans toward goal growth and sustainability,” Wright said.

If elected, he plans to focus on quality-of-life projects that are easily implemented at low cost, as well as getting more residents involved in government processes. He wants the city to continue modernizing the parks and improving accessibility for residents with disabilities and special needs, and he wants “exciting new spaces for well-being and health,” aimed at both children and adults.

Another priority will be short- and long-term planning to navigate the current pandemic, as well as the lingering effects of the Great Recession. And given the country’s divisive climate, Wright also wants to find ways to bridge differences between people.

“One of the biggest issues for the city is something that we’re seeing nationally, and that is the division of the community,” Wright said. “We need to come back together and find ways to connect the community; find ways to be neighbors; find ways to be community members; find ways to plug into each other’s lives. The priority for me is to reconnect our neighborhoods, and keep them growing into communities — to turn them back into families knowing their neighbors, and also looking out for each other as neighbors. That’s how we increase safety. That’s how we help our police.”

To that end, he wants to start a Neighbors First campaign focused on recognizing the similarities between residents. He said that before acknowledging parties or politics, “We are neighbors first: You’re my neighbor, and I make a commitment to look out for you. And I ask you to make a commitment to look out for me and my family, as well.”