New face elected to Clawson City Council; incumbents take the win in Royal Oak

Voter turnout is low in both communities

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published November 3, 2015




Familiar faces ushered in election night victories in Royal Oak, while a newcomer will soon take a seat on the Clawson City Council.  

According to unofficial results issued by the Oakland County Elections Division, newcomer Matthew Ulbrich received the most votes for the Clawson City Council during the Nov. 3 election — 854 votes, good for 38.23 percent of the total vote.

“It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work,” Ulbrich said. “I got the chance to meet really a large portion of the voting block in Clawson, and the people I spoke with, I think they were excited to get a new perspective on council, and I’m looking forward to putting forth the effort, the hard work and the energy it is going to take to continue making Clawson great.”

Ulbrich said he wasn’t really sure what to expect when the results were revealed.

“There aren’t any hard numbers kind of leading up to today for us to look at, but I thought it was a real possibility based on the feedback I was getting,” he said.

Incumbent and current Mayor Pro Tem Howie Airriess will join Ulbrich on council after receiving 31 percent of the total Clawson vote, which equals 713 ovals darkened by his name.

Both men will fill the two open four-year-term seats.

Current City Councilman Greg Kucera Jr. was the only other contender; he lost his seat by 58 votes. In all, he received 655 votes — 29.32 percent of the total ballots cast.

Before the 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3 Clawson City Council meeting, Kucera said he had voted but was unsure of what the outcome would be.

“I think Matt is going to do well,” he said. “I think he is going to get some good numbers. We’ll see if he gets enough. He’s a real nice guy.”

As expected, current Mayor Penny Luebs took an election night victory with 97.52 percent of the vote. Luebs ran unopposed.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I’m humbled again, because it is an honor.”

In Royal Oak, it was an incumbent sweep as current Commissioners Kyle DuBuc, Michael Fournier and Patricia Paruch were re-elected to four-year terms.

It was a tight race for the top vote-getter with 1-3 percent of the ballots cast separating the three incumbents. Fournier received the most votes with 4,614, followed by Paruch with 4,451 and DuBuc with 4,094.

The current commissioners faced one opponent, Kim Gibbs, who received 18.21 percent of the votes cast — 2,943.

“I’m happy that the incumbents were elected,” Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison said. “We are on a roll right now, we have a lot of good things going, and I want to have those three back up there so we can continue it.”

Ellison said he appreciates all of the votes, including voter support for all five charter amendments.

“It’s been a good day,” he said.

The mayoral election victory was Ellison’s seventh run at mayor and his fourth election running unopposed. He received 94.68 percent of the vote.

“It is exciting,” he said. “I always look at the vote counts and take that as a vote of confidence from the voters. They don’t have to vote for me, but they do, and so it’s nice to see there is an overwhelming number of people who still appreciate the job that I do.”

Both Luebs and Ellison will serve two-year terms.

Voters approved five Royal Oak charter amendments that officials classified as general housekeeping for ordinances written decades ago.

The beautiful weather didn’t entice many voters to the polls, as evidenced by low turnout.

According to Oakland County, Royal Oak reported a 13.61 percent turnout Nov. 3.

Before the election, Royal Oak City Clerk Melanie Halas said that the absentee ballots that had been issued up to that point were comparable to the City’s Nov. 5, 2013, non-presidential election.

“I am expecting about a 25 percent turnout,” she said before Election Day.

Precinct volunteers at the Royal Oak Farmers Market said that elections with local-only issues on the ballot have a much lower turnout than presidential elections.

At about 10:30 a.m. Nov. 3, the Farmers Market, which houses precincts 5 and 9, had seen 94 voters. Precinct 21 at the Royal Oak Senior Center had seen approximately 28.

“We were warned it might be a little slow,” said precinct co-chair Kelly Allen. “But we expect it might pick up at lunch or after work.”

Clawson City Clerk Machele Kukuk said voter turnout in Clawson remains pretty consistently between 14 and 24 percent. Kukuk said the 24 percent figure was from an election with opposition and a millage proposal.

Actual turnout for the Nov. 3 election in Clawson came in at 13.78 percent.

At about 7 p.m., the precinct at Clawson City Hall had seen about 201 voters.

“When it is an unopposed election, we still average between 14 and 18 percent. So yes, some people do vote no matter what the election is for,” Kukuk said.

The last similar election for both communities was Nov. 8, 2011, when Clawson’s turnout was 13.87 percent and Royal Oak’s turnout was 14.82 percent. In both elections, Luebs and Ellison ran for mayor unopposed and City Council and City Commission seats included incumbents and challengers.

“The local elections are what affect you the most,” said Royal Oak resident and election poll volunteer Angela Doolin.

Doolin also looks at being involved in local elections and politics as a way to become a part of the community.

“It’s a good way to root yourself,” she said. “Put a little skin in the game.”

Allen said she agrees that being involved with local politics is a good way to help the city.

“It gives you a sense of connection,” she said.