Voters send Ellison to represent them in Lansing

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published November 15, 2016

 Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison casts his ballot Nov. 8. Ellison was elected as 26th District state representative.

Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison casts his ballot Nov. 8. Ellison was elected as 26th District state representative.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ROYAL OAK — Since before he was mayor, Jim Ellison developed an annual ritual on Election Day that takes place long before the sun comes up.

Ellison leaves the warmth of his home and makes the short trip to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oakland and Macomb Counties building near Campbell Road and Lincoln Avenue to make sure he is the first person in line to vote. He races to be first in line, perpetuating a friendly rivalry with his fellow Precinct 2 voters.

“It is just a game that started. I happened to do it because I always worked early, so I wanted to make sure I got in early enough to get to work on time,” he said. “Then it started turning into a game where other people started showing up.”

Ellison made it first this year.

“But just barely — by about 10 minutes,” he said last week. “It’s going to be a long day anyway, so you might as well start off with a little bit of frivolity.”

Through the years, the feat has become tougher as other residents are on to his ways.

Resident Bethany Devlaminck was fourth in line and knew of Ellison’s Election Day game. She did wonder if she would beat him; she said she always tries to be first.

But kidding aside, Devlaminck said it is an important day.

“You want to be heard,” she said. “Like they always say, and you read, ‘If you’re not going to vote, you can’t complain.’”

Mackenzie MacDormott was third in line, and coincidently lives across the street from Ellison, but she wasn’t looking out the window and trying to beat him to the polls. She was just early because, as a student teacher, she must make sure to make it to her classroom on time.

One resident who didn’t want to give his full name said it was his goal to beat the mayor, but he fell short by about 20 people.

Ellison, who arrived at 6:15 a.m. — like he said he would — had coffee in hand, ready to take the lead spot and cast his ballot 45 minutes later.

His stepson and 26th District state representative campaign manager, Jacob Kuhn, was with Ellison and took the second place in line.

While Ellison and Kuhn waited for about 10 minutes before they could make small talk with newcomers, the mayor had time to reflect on his vote and where his name would and would not appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

For the first time in more than a decade, Ellison ran for a new role — state representative of the 26th District. He won the election by 59 percent of the vote, beating challenger and Republican Randy LeVasseur by 8,457 votes.

Although he will miss being the mayor of Royal Oak, a place he has lived his entire life, he is ready for his new role.

“It’s weird,” he said. “The first time you see your name on a ballot, it is kind of fun and exciting; it’s been there a long time for me, but now it is for a new job, and it certainly is big stakes for me.”

Ellison attended orientation in Lansing and is ready for the new chapter in his life.

“From a practical matter, the time is right. My age, I will be 65 in January, and if I’m lucky enough to get three terms, that would put me at 70,” he said.

Ellison said he will most likely step down from his role as mayor in December so that he has time to prepare before he is sworn in to his new office in January.

When he steps down, his action will leave two vacancies — mayor and a seat on the City Commission.

The city charter states that it is the discretion of the commission as to whether members want to appoint someone to the commission or go through an application process, as long as the majority of the commission is in agreement.

“It’s going to be up to them, because I have no say in it, because there isn’t a vacancy until I quit,” Ellison said.

After the last vacancy due to Peggy Goodwin’s decision to step down in October 2014, the commission approached Patricia Paruch, a former commissioner and mayor, who accepted the position.

The new mayor will be appointed from someone who is already on the commission.

Resident Ron Wolf has placed his bet on Mayor Pro Tem Michael Fournier.

During the Oct. 24 City Commission meeting, Wolf spoke directly to Fournier during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“Mr. Fournier, I told you over a year and a half ago. I predicted what was going to happen,” he said. “You would be the captain of the ship.”

Whoever the next mayor is, Ellison has some advice for his successor.

“Be visible, get out there and meet the people, and take the job seriously,” he said. “You really have to take the job seriously and realize you are on duty 24-7.”

Ellison said it has been a “tremendous honor” to serve as mayor of the city he was born and raised in.

“And I’m going to miss that,” he said. “This was not an easy decision. It really wasn’t.”

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