City Council member Raylon Leaks-May, seen here at a meeting Nov. 13, will become the first Black mayor of Ferndale after voters elected her on Nov. 7.

City Council member Raylon Leaks-May, seen here at a meeting Nov. 13, will become the first Black mayor of Ferndale after voters elected her on Nov. 7.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Ferndale elects first Black mayor in city’s history

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published November 16, 2023


FERNDALE — The city of Ferndale made history Nov. 7 as it elected its first Black mayor.

City Council member Raylon Leaks-May will become the city’s mayor, having won a two-year term on election night. She will succeed Melanie Piana when she is sworn in at the beginning of 2024.

Leaks-May said she still is trying to grasp her historic victory, but that she is humbled by the faith that the community has shown in her over the last several years.

“We knocked on over 3,000 doors and we canvassed the city two and a half times over. So reaching those voters, talking to them at their doors, I think, spoke in terms of the election results. So I’m humbled and I know that there’s work to be done, and I’m just grateful for their faith in me,” she said.

Leaks-May said that becoming the first Black mayor in the city’s history was important to her because, in this community and country, there are a lot of firsts and she thinks it’s important for people to pave the way.

“I also want to celebrate the fact that I think it would be even more of a victory if it wasn’t the last (Black mayor), so that it’s no longer something that seems new,” she said. “So if I can pave that way, so be it. I would love to be a mentor. I think it’s important for leaders to mentor others up and coming, and that’s what I intend to do. So I don’t steer away from that title or that recognition, because it’s important. It’s important to a lot of people.”

Leaks-May defeated her opponent, Sean Hurley, with a tally of 3,219 votes to 720, according to Oakland County’s election results, which were made official Nov. 16.

In the year ahead, Leaks-May said, she’d like to see the city’s focus turn to affordable housing with barrier-free options.

“I find that becoming a need in this community, but me working at the Area Agency on Aging, I think I bring that perspective to the table,” she said. “The need for barrier-free housing, and then to make sure we have options for seniors and adults with disabilities that reside in this community. So I’m hoping to bring the council on board regarding that.”

Three people ran for two open seats on the City Council: Donnie Johnson, Rolanda Kelley and Dennis Whittie.

Johnson received the most votes, and in a very close race, Kelley edged out Whittie for the other seat. Johnson collected 2,680 votes, Kelley received 2,370 and Whittie took in 2,360, a 10-vote difference in the unofficial results between winning a council seat and going home empty.

“I’m deeply honored,” Johnson said of his win. “It’s very humbling to know that the hard work that my friends and I, my team, put in was recognized by the community, but they recognized the value of my vision for Ferndale and moving the city forward.”

Johnson, as well as Leaks-May, mentioned the Headlee millage override vote as something the city needs to focus on in the coming year.

“We need to really engage with that as a community and discuss, you know, how we’re going to move forward on that,” Johnson said. “Are the residents going to be willing to renew that? … If it doesn’t get renewed, then how are we going to move forward with that into our city budget. So there’s a lot that needs to be … dived into for that.”

“We have that task force right now that is looking over our facilities, talking about the financial implications and whether or not this goes on the ballot next year,” Leaks-May said. “The Headlee is probably the biggest thing that we’re going to focus on in the coming year.”

This will be Johnson’s and Kelley’s first times serving on council, with both winning four-year terms. Kelley said that getting elected was exciting and rewarding.

“We worked really hard and had a great team, and (the support) grew daily and it feels great,” she said.

Kelley said she is interested in bringing the voices of the community together, as she felt there has been a disconnect between the city leadership and residents, and that residents don’t feel heard.

“They don’t feel like their voices are being heard in the decision-making process,” she said. “I really just want to bridge that gap and bring the voices of the residents together. … I’m just super excited about how we’re going to move Ferndale forward, and I know that it’s going to be a big difference and the residents are going to see it, and I’m just looking forward to the next four years to see where it takes us.”

Because of the 10-vote differential between Kelley and Whittie, Whittie had considered asking for a recount.

According to Whittie, who spoke before results were official, his belief is that not much will change, but there were three ballots that needed to be cured, which were to be counted by the county.

“It won’t change the result unless somehow they find a mistake in addition from Election Day,” he said. “So it looks like pretty much I’m just gonna look (and) if it starts to narrow, I’ll probably seek a recount. If it starts to go the other way with those three ballots, probably not. Conventional wisdom was one vote per precinct is when you ask for a recount. We have nine and there’s a difference of 10.”

After the results were made official, Kelley led Whittie by 12 votes. Whittie could not be reached immediately after the official results were posted.

In Pleasant Ridge, incumbents Chris Budnik and Ann Perry ran unopposed for their seats on the City Commission. They will continue to be on the commission for the next four years.