Local communities to have contested races in November general election

By: Mike Koury | C&G Newspapers | Published September 6, 2023


OAKLAND COUNTY — The filing deadline for the November election has passed and there will be several contested races in local cities.

Voters will either cast absentee ballots or head to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 7, to vote in many local elections, including races in Ferndale, Royal Oak, Berkley, Clawson, Huntington Woods and Pleasant Ridge.

Both the mayoral and City Council races will be contested in Ferndale. For mayor, current Council member Raylon Leaks-May and Sean Hurley will be running, while Donnie Johnson, Rolanda Kelley and Dennis Whittie will be running for two open seats on the council.

Mayor Melanie Piana and Mayor Pro Tem Kat Bruner James both will not be running for reelection. Piana first was elected in 2009 and served for 10 years on the council before her election to mayor in 2019. James was elected to council in 2019.

Piana said being a public servant for Ferndale has been one of the best jobs she’s ever had.

“I look at leadership knowing when it’s time to step down and let others lead, and I felt like I was at that place in my life,” she said. “I also took a new job as well. I’m the new program director of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan. I started in May, and so that was one of the reasons that led to me not running again.

“I’d like to remind everybody, because not everybody knows that we have full-time jobs on top of our elected service, and so I think, you know, I’m ready for just the pivot in my private life and focus on family and giving my full attention to the Regional Transit Authority,” she said.

Piana said she will be using her professional experience in transportation mobility in her new job.

“I will still be representing Ferndale and other cities across the region, which I love to do,” Piana said.

James said her decision not to run again was a combination of a couple of factors, as she’s both a small business owner and a partner in a law firm. With her law firm also entering a period of growth, she said she needed to refocus some of her efforts.

“I also have a 6-year-old who more and more started asking me, ‘Why are you leaving? Why aren’t you home tonight?’” she said. “So just sort of refocusing on personal and professional priorities for a bit, although I’m planning to stay (active), and I’ll always make myself available for volunteer opportunities, and I’m not ruling out the possibility of running again in the future.”

In Royal Oak, incumbent Mayor Michael Fournier will be running against opponent Trish Oliver. In the City Commission race, incumbent Monica Hunt will be running alongside Rebecca Cheezum, Peter Ferenczy, Kathie A. Grant, Amanda Herzog and Wade Sutton for three open seats.

Commissioner Kyle DuBuc, who will be finishing his 12th year on the City Commission, declined to run again for his seat, stating that work obligations have increased over the past decade at his job at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, where he is the vice president of communications & advocacy. He also said there’s something to be said for making way for new leaders in the community.

“We have so many great leaders with different experiences and voices and points of view at the table that, after 12 years, I feel like I’ve had my say and I’ve really put my stamp on the city and led from my values, and I think we’ve all benefited from some of the things that we’ve done, but there’s some value in bringing fresh voices to the table. There’s still lots of work to do. I’ll certainly remain actively, civically involved and close to the commission and the mayor and the city’s leadership, and I’ll be paying attention and certainly weighing in when appropriate,” he said.

Huntington Woods Mayor Bob Paul will be running unopposed for his seat, while Mayor Pro Tem Michelle Elder and resident Jessica Jacobs Steinhart will be running unopposed for two seats on the commission.

Originally, Commissioner Jeff Jenks filed to run for reelection this year, but his application was disqualified by Oakland County for not having enough signatures.

Jenks, who has been on the commission for 24 years, said the technical fault was on his part, as he turned in his application the day before the deadline. Because he did not have the correct number of signatures, he didn’t have time to rectify the situation.

“It would have been a situation where there was a team, the mayor, the commissioners and the brand-new person, they would have been running against me and it just wasn’t worth it. I can still do everything without being elected,” he said.

“I want to just watch and see how my colleagues do. And I still work with Berkley, I still work with Oak Park, I still work with members in Royal Oak and Hazel Park and the judge and Madison Heights and stuff like that. And I’ve done that for years,” Jenks said.

Jenks said he’s proud of what he’s been able to help accomplish during his time on the commission, including the naming of Rackham Golf Course as a historic district, passing a human rights ordinance to help protect LGBTQ+ members of the community, improvements to the recreation center and, more recently, hiring Chris Wilson as city manager.

In the city of Berkley, Mayor Bridget Dean will be running unopposed. For the City Council, Clarence Black will be running for one of three seats against three incumbents: Mayor Pro Tem Ross Gavin, Council member Michael Dooley and Council member Greg Patterson.

The race for mayor of Clawson will be contested between incumbent Paula Millan and challenger Andrea Hodges. For the City Council, incumbents Louis Samson and Scott Tinlin will be running against Matt Binkowski, Nathan Hara and Susan Moffitt for two open seats.

In Pleasant Ridge, incumbent City Commissioners Chris Budnik and Ann Perry will be running unopposed for reelection.