Grosse Pointe Park primary thins field of council candidates from 7 to 6

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 22, 2023

 Grosse Pointe Park City Council candidate Kirk Merametdjian talks to voters at Windmill Pointe Park during the primary election Aug. 8.

Grosse Pointe Park City Council candidate Kirk Merametdjian talks to voters at Windmill Pointe Park during the primary election Aug. 8.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE PARK — There was plenty of buzz at the polls for the Aug. 8 Grosse Pointe Park City Council primary, but it had nothing to do with the candidates.

It was a warm, sunny day, and yellowjackets — which look like brighter honeybees but act like they need anger management classes — swarmed candidates and their supporters around the polling places at Windmill Pointe Park, stinging at least two people in the process.

Because of a quirk in the city’s charter — something the city hopes to change, with voter approval, this fall — the Park needed to hold a primary this year because there were more than twice the number of candidates running for the number of council seats available. In this case, there were seven candidates who filed to run for three available council seats; the primary eliminated one of those candidates, while the remaining six will go on to compete for the three seats this November.

First-time candidate Kirk Merametdjian, a project management consultant who has lived in the Park for the last seven years, was the one who was eliminated during the primary.

“It was just a great experience,” Merametdjian said after the results came out. “We made a lot of new friends, (including) among the other candidates, and we learned a lot about our community.”

Merametdjian isn’t ruling out a future run for office, and said he hopes to stay active in the community. He said he was impressed by “just the graciousness and professionalism” his fellow candidates exhibited, which he said is “indicative of our community.”

“I support whoever our new council members will be and (hope) they will serve with honor and integrity,” Merametdjian said.

The top vote-getter during the primary was Timothy Kolar, a state office administrator who has resided in the Park for six years. Kolar, who was narrowly defeated in a run for school board last November, received 20.47% of the vote. Incumbent City Councilman Marty McMillan, a retired office furniture store owner and 60-year Park resident, came in second, with 19.42% of the vote. Brent Dreaver, a senior business analyst and 8-year resident, was the third-highest vote-getter, with 17.59%.

The remaining three candidates who’ll be on the ballot this fall include Grosse Pointe Park native Heather Ulku, a Realtor, who got 12.96% of the vote; Elvis Torres, a three-year Park resident who owns an infrastructure consulting services business, who received 12.53% of the vote; and attorney Jay Kennedy, a Park resident for a total of more than 50 years, who got 9.38% of the vote.

During the primary, voters were asked to select as many as three candidates. City Clerk Meaghan Bachman said primary voters weren’t allowed to choose six because the election law doesn’t permit them to vote for more than the number of open seats, which in this case is three.

Incumbent City Council members Vikas Relan and Brian Brenner aren’t running for reelection this fall.

For a single-issue local election during the summer, turnout was surprisingly strong. More than 24% of the city’s 10,304 registered voters — 2,489 — cast ballots.

“I think the turnout seems pretty good for a primary,” said Torres while campaigning at Windmill Pointe Park.

Merametdjian said the voters he met were familiar with the issues facing the city.

“Whoever has been coming through (to vote), they’re very well informed,” Merametdjian said Aug. 8. “We’ve had good conversations.”

This marked the one-year anniversary since the city moved all seven of its polling locations to Windmill Pointe Park, with some precincts being housed in the Lavins Center and others in the neighboring Tompkins Center. The first election to feature this precinct consolidation was the August 2022 primary.

“The collection of precincts has definitely helped,” said Denver Higley, an election inspector for Precinct 1 at the Tompkins Center. “People are getting used to the idea.”

Precinct 1 Chair Amelia Johnston agreed, pointing out that voters who show up at the wrong precinct can more easily be redirected to the correct one.

“It does minimize frustration when you can say (your voting precinct) is just across the hall or just across the parking lot,” Johnston said.

She said some voters were also using their trip as an opportunity to enjoy time at the park.

Michael Florian, an election inspector for Precinct 4 at the Lavins Center, said turnout was “slow but steady,” while Precinct 4 Chair John Rizzo called it “sporadically busy.”

This was the first election helmed by Bachman, who thanked her colleagues for making sure everything went well.

“It’s been a really smooth day,” Backman said the night of Aug. 8, shortly before the polls closed. “The precinct workers have done a great job.”

Continuing a trend statewide since no-excuse absentee voting was approved, the number of voters who cast absentee ballots continued to tick up. Roughly two out of every three ballots cast in this election were absentee ballots; 858 were cast at the polls, while 1,631 were absentee.