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New mayor, council member elected in Grosse Pointe City

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 6, 2019

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Grosse Pointe City will be swearing in a new mayor and City Council member at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Neighborhood Club.

During an off-year election with a respectable voter turnout of more than 35%, voters named City Councilwoman Sheila Tomkowiak as the new mayor, besting incumbent Mayor Christopher Boettcher with 51.5% of the vote to Boettcher’s 48.21%. According to unofficial vote tallies available at press time, only 55 votes separated them.

Tomkowiak, who runs a publishing company and teaches journalism at Wayne State University, is the second woman to become mayor in the City — Susan Wheeler was the first.

“I think what resonated with voters was my message of looking towards the future and setting a strategy for the future,” said Tomkowiak, adding that they need to preserve the traditional elements that work while also managing change. “Change comes whether you want it or not. Either you manage change, or it manages you.”

Incumbent City Councilmen John Stempfle and Donald Parthum Jr. were reelected for another four-year term — Stempfle received 29.01% of the vote and Parthum received 19.38% of the total — and they’ll be joined at the council table by newcomer Terence Thomas, who received 17.82% of the vote — 38 votes more than the next-closest challenger, David Fries. Like fellow challenger Matthew Boddy, Fries received almost 17% of the vote.

Boettcher, a business owner who spent eight years on the council before he defeated longtime City Mayor Dale Scrace in 2017, was disappointed by the outcome, but acknowledged that “the will of the voters spoke” and they apparently want to take the City in a different direction.

“Good luck (to the new council), and my best wishes to all of the supporters who supported me,” Boettcher said.

He said he’s proud of the work he did on the council and during his two years as mayor.

“I changed the course and direction of the city, and that can’t be taken away,” Boettcher said.

Thomas, an attorney, business owner and community engagement consultant, said he was “really excited” to learn that he’d been chosen by voters in the hotly contested council race, which had five candidates running for three seats.

“I have to give God the credit,” Thomas said of his victory. “I don’t know what the tipping point was (for voters).”

He said he’s eager to bring new ideas to the table and introduce more people to Grosse Pointe City.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Thomas said of his first term on the council. “I really think Grosse Pointe has a lot going for it.”

It was the first local election during which no-reason absentee voting was allowed, and Tomkowiak — who was campaigning on Election Day outside Maire Elementary School — said “there’s more absentees now” than in past council elections.

Tomkowiak was appointed to fill a council vacancy in 2016 and was reelected by voters in 2017.

Unlike the 2017 City Council race — which involved efforts by some candidates to smear their rivals — this one has “been a nice, clean campaign,” Tomkowiak said.

Stempfle echoed that.

“We’ve all gone out of our way to be positive on this campaign,” Stempfle said. “We’ve learned from past years.”

It was a frosty night to be standing outside with a campaign sign, but candidates said it could have been worse.

“It’s cold, but based on what I’ve been hearing from more seasoned people, this isn’t bad,” said Thomas, who was running for elected office for the first time.

Scrace was at Maire to campaign for some of his colleagues.

“I had plenty of cold, rainy, sleety nights at Maire school over the years (as a candidate), but I’m glad I could come out for some candidates (I support),” he said.

After the election, Tomkowiak said her first priorities include conducting a statistically accurate community survey and establishing a vision for the City through consensus.

“(We need to) craft a vision mission strategy and goals so we can measure ourselves and chart a path forward,” Tomkowiak said.

She thanked her “really engaged and active team of supporters” for all of their hard work and assistance during the campaign, and also thanked the voters.

“I am just honored by the support — I truly am,” Tomkowiak said. “And I believe it will be an honor to serve.”

Because Tomkowiak’s council term doesn’t expire until November 2021, there will now be a vacancy. She said the City’s charter calls for the mayor to fill a council vacancy with approval from the council. Tomkowiak said she anticipates that she and the council will be discussing the process of filling the vacancy at the Nov. 18 meeting.

“It will be an open and transparent process,” she said.