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Three newcomers elected to council in contested Grosse Pointe Park election

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 12, 2019

GROSSE POINTE PARK — Change seemed to be a common theme at the ballot box Nov. 5 in the Grosse Pointes, and nowhere was that more abundantly clear than in Grosse Pointe Park.

Half of the City Council — three members — are brand-new, as voters selected political newcomers Vikas Relan, Aimee Rogers Fluitt and Michele Hodges over incumbents John Chouinard and Daniel Clark. Clark had a particularly long record of service, having been in office for the last 32 years. Relan was the top vote-getter in the council race with 26.59%, followed by Fluitt with 22.73% and Hodges with 18.2%.

Mayor Robert Denner ran unopposed for another two-year term.

Relan, the manager of global education for Henry Ford Health System Innovation Institute, might be new to the council, but he’s already familiar with the issues, having been a regular attendee at council meetings for more than three years.

“Our council is half female now,” said Relan, noting that the current leadership also includes City Councilwoman Lauri Read. “I’m so happy for that.”

Relan, who was born in the United States and is of Indian descent, is excited about the increase in diversity ushered in by voters.

“It changes the face of the council — a brown guy and three women,” he said.

Relan credits the support of his wife and a strong team of volunteers with getting him elected.

“We all knocked (on) so many doors,” he said.

Like his supporters, Relan said he was tired of seeing the council make decisions without adequate public input.

“One of the things I was running for was transparency and openness,” he said.

Increasing safety standards around schools and for children, pedestrians and cyclists are among Relan’s first priorities.

Although they weren’t reelected, Relan hopes Clark and Chouinard will remain active with the city.

“It’d be great to see them stay involved,” he said. “I’m hoping they still stick around.”

Fluitt, a security consultant and stay-at-home parent, was likewise a first-time candidate, but said she’s “always been very politically engaged.” She’s one of the founders of the community organization Welcoming Everyone Grosse Pointe — better known as We GP — which organizes the annual Grosse Pointe Pride March, among other activities. She said she ran for the council because she “felt there was a lack of transparency” in Park government.

“I think you should always have options,” Fluitt said. “Elections should always be contested.”

Her first priorities as a council member include setting up a system of engagement with residents, getting public input on major decisions, establishing a committee to come up with green and sustainable initiatives, and pursuing family-friendly services such as additional day care and early childhood options. With Trombly Elementary School expected to close at the end of the school year — unless the school board reverses its earlier decision — Fluitt said city leaders “need to start working (with the school board) on what it’s going to be” next.

“It’s very important that we make it an asset for that neighborhood,” she said.

In an email interview, Hodges said she “took the bold step of not raising money” for her campaign, which meant she couldn’t purchase campaign signs or literature.

“I was convinced this put me at a major disadvantage, and assumed I’d place last,” said Hodges, a nonprofit executive. “I remain in disbelief at the outcome, and am further inspired because of the responsibility my beautiful community has entrusted me with. To say I am thrilled is an understatement.”

She said she’s looking forward to getting more information about several major projects under consideration in the city.

“I hope to bring my experience with city management, community engagement and philanthropy to the table as we consider initiatives like the dog park, art center, school closures and others,” Hodges said. “I am committed to implementing policies and procedures that will ensure professional management of them. Trust building is an important priority too, and I expect to achieve this goal through solid management, engagement and transparency. I also will be recommending creation of an ethics committee, or similar tool, to ensure trust in leadership.”

Hodges believes her “strong relationships in all areas of the community” will enable her to serve as a bridge.

Nearly 36% of the Park’s 9,966 registered voters cast ballots this year. They included residents like Ken Korejwo, who proudly said he’s voted in 33 straight elections.

“These (local elections) are more important than the national (ones),” Korejwo said outside of Pierce Middle School on election night. “This is who we are.”

Reid Kurvink, the chair of Precinct 5 at Defer Elementary School, said turnout wasn’t as heavy as it would be for a presidential or gubernatorial election year, but it had been “steady all day” nonetheless. Sheila Minetola, an election inspector for Precinct 6 — also at Defer — echoed that, saying it had been “busy” and “steady” all day.

“It’s hard to tell if their interest is (in) the city ballot or the school bonds,” Kurvink said of the relatively short ballot.