Familiar candidates to face off in Utica mayoral election

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 10, 2018

UTICA — Two candidates have filed for the mayoral race in Utica and will face off in the Nov. 6 election.

Mayor Thom Dionne and City Councilman Frank Czapski are running again for mayor after both ran for mayor in 2016, when Dionne won by six votes over Czapski in a three-candidate race.

Dionne is a Grosse Pointe Farms public safety officer and has been in the government service industry since he was 18 years old. He spent five years in the U.S. Army and about 20 years in law enforcement. As a public safety officer, he performs both police and firefighter duties. His family moved to Utica in 1976, and he attended St. Lawrence Catholic School, H.H. Wiley Elementary School, Eppler Junior High School and graduated from Utica High School in 1991.  

“I am running for re-election because I feel like we’ve only just (begun) to make changes that are meaningful. I believe that Utica has made advancements under my watch and has become a better place to live, work and visit than it was before I was elected,” Dionne stated in an email.

Dionne said that if he is re-elected, his plans are to continue on the projects that he has started as mayor.

“I plan to continue the projects that I’ve started. Those projects include the development of Pioneer Park, which was previously a landfill and had been undeveloped and underutilized as a vacant, unregulated landfill. Now the property will be developed into a municipal park for all of our residents to enjoy. The park will have immediate connectivity to our hike and bike trail and downtown. The funding for this has already been secured via a generous $500,000 grant from the state of Michigan for brownfield redevelopment,” he stated.

“I have secured another grant of $25,000 from the state of Michigan to develop our Memorial Park. This project will be started under my administration and completed to reflect the honor that our American heroes well deserve. I’ve also secured (two) other grants from the state, which will be for roads and infrastructure. These grants will replace the curb/gutter along Van Dyke Avenue, which are crumbling.

“Additionally, the grants will pay for the repaving of Summers Street between Van Dyke Avenue and Cass Avenue and will have a new water main installed. Another project that I’ve presented to our Parks and Rec and the DDA is the parking situation at Grant Park. Parking is limited. Working with our engineers, I’ve developed a parking format that will double the parking area and not encumber any of the park’s playground area,” he stated.

Dionne said he looks forward to running for another term in office.

“I like that I can listen to the residents and bring forth ideas that can make a difference. The changes that you see in Utica, for example, on Auburn Road. … The no left turn (was) brought on by the requests of the residents. The umbrellas and new benches at the JKN Riverwalk Park (were) brought on by a resident. The new traffic plan for Van Dyke/Hall Road (was) brought on by a resident. There’s a difference between being a politician and a leader. A leader listens to those that support him and brings about change. I prefer to be a municipal leader,” said Dionne.

As mayor, Dionne attends many events.

“Part of my role as being mayor, for me, has meant being accessible. I’ve hosted Tuesdays at Tim’s with Thom, which is an informal meeting with residents where they can share ideas or give feedback. Additionally, I attend every city function that we post on our website or social media. I think it’s vital to be seen and interact with our residents and guests,” said Dionne.

Czapski, who has served as a councilman since 2015, has been a resident of Utica for 14 years and is currently an assistant principal in the Southfield Public Schools district. He attended Eastern Michigan University from 1993 to 1998 as a football scholarship athlete and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and health. He earned a master’s degree in education leadership from Wayne State University from 2005 to 2009.

He is a union president for the Southfield Association of School Administrators; a Michigan Municipal League Energy, Environment and Technology Committee member in Lansing; and a Utica Downtown Development Authority executive board member. He is involved in St. Lawrence Catholic Church, the Utica Heritage Association, Special Olympics Michigan and Strong Towns.

“Utica requires a collaborative, visionary leader with the skill set to restore a positive culture and climate to our city departments and all neighborhoods in our community,” Czapski stated in an email. “It must be a ‘we’ not ‘I’ approach as we move the city forward united as one. The mayor must possess principles, integrity and experience to bring all stakeholders together. The mayor must empower the entire leadership team to dream, innovate and focus on community engagement and needs in all neighborhoods.

“As mayor, you must build a collaborative culture with all team members where all Utica neighborhoods, citizens, business owners and community partners are valued and represented. Utica has a strong mayor that works alongside City Council. Servant leadership is essential to lead as mayor in Utica. You must serve the community first before you can lead it,” he stated.

As mayor, Czapski would like to introduce many changes to the culture, climate and strategy of the city.

“(I would like to) restore transparency and a positive culture and climate in the city of Utica, push for state revenue sharing reform with local and state leadership, and redevelop our current brownfield that is aligned to the Utica master plan. This redevelopment would be data driven and have a strategic long-range vision that benefits all residents,” he stated.

“(I would like to) continue to engage and solicit feedback from all stakeholders (residents and businesses), bring data forward to better assist City Council (to) make informed decisions, commit to redevelop the Van Dyke corridor to mixed use, and commit to strategic place-making that combines partners from private, public and nonprofit to strategically shape public areas and streetscapes,” stated Czapski.

Those who want to file to run as a write-in candidate can file a declaration of intent with the City Clerk’s Office until 4 p.m. Oct. 26.