'I would hate to lose you as mayor of our Ferndale but I know you would bring the same conviction, loyalty and great vision to our county!'
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Published: Thursday, Nov 8, 2007
Craig Covey for Ferndale
Ferndale´s new gay mayor says vote highlights diversity

Of Journal Register News Service

FERNDALE Craig Covey thinks Ferndale is setting a positive example by being so accepting of the sizable gay population in the city, and its growing role in government.

"We are showing the region a new way," Covey said. "This city embraces diversity, smart growth, efficiency, bipartisan compromise and eco-friendly policies."

This was evident Tuesday, when residents voted Covey, a longtime City Council member, to be Ferndale´s – and the state´s – first openly gay mayor.

Covey, 50, said that sexual orientation is no longer a primary factor in Ferndale, the city he moved to 18 years ago.

"We in Ferndale have embraced diversity," said Covey. "I´ve really seen the integration of the gay community with the rest of the community here."

Covey received just over 54 percent of the 3,542 ballots cast in the mayoral race against challenger Thomas Gagne.

While Covey has long supported and worked on many of the progressive issues for which the city is known – a vibrant downtown, green policies, reduced parking fees for hybrid cars and support of mass transit – he has also been a fiscal conservative opposed to tax increases.

Covey estimates that about 3,000 of the roughly 20,000 residents in the city are gay and have been part of the changes that have put Ferndale on the map.

"Gay folks have been serving on boards and commissions here for two decades," he said. "I probably had 30 people who volunteered to work on my campaign and I´d say about three-quarters of them are straight."

His time in the city has coincided with the arc of the city´s resurgence and the eventual acceptance of its gay population.

"I adopted the city as my home in 1989," said Covey, a native of Columbus, Ohio. "I think it took another 10 years for Ferndale to adopt me as one of its sons."

Covey is also the CEO of the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project. Aside from his work as a city official, he is well-known around town for organizing the city's annual pub crawl and blues festival, both of which benefit nonprofit groups in Ferndale.

At the polls Tuesday, Covey´s sexual orientation was not a major factor with many voters, even some of those who cast ballots for Covey´s opponent.

"I don't have any issue with Covey being gay," said David Chess, 54, a Gagne supporter.

Others, like resident Hannah McCollum, 31, saw the fact that Covey is gay as a plus.

"I think the fact that this is a vibrant community depended a lot on gay people moving here, opening businesses and patronizing businesses that are here," she said.

Resident Julie Sevakis, 50, said things in Ferndale are going well and she sees Covey as being part of that effort during his time on City Council.

"I like the direction the city has taken," Sevakis said. "His (sexual orientation) had no effect on how I voted, because we all are human."

Still, the fact that Covey is gay rubbed at least one voter the wrong way.

"I´m a Republican and I live my life according to the Bible," said Brian Tweedle, 40. "His sexual orientation bothers me."

Fellow City Council member Mike Lennon said he expects Covey will do well as Ferndale´s mayor.

"Craig is fair and open-minded," Lennon said. "He has quite a following and he´ll work well with all members of council."

Covey said that while his election shows the gay issue is not a significant factor, it doesn´t mean everyone is progay; rather they are accepting of diversity and enjoy living in Ferndale.

"Like most people, I want to live in a city that is accepting and interesting," he said. "With 3,000 gay people here, I think that acceptance simply comes from neighbors getting to know other neighbors. That's the most important thing."

He added that the residents have shown they want efficient government that works within its means without higher taxes.

In other races, Ferndale Mayor Robert Porter, who bowed out of the mayoral race, lost his election bid for a seat on the City Council in Tuesday's election. Newcomer Kate Baker was elected to the City Council and incumbent Lennon won his re-election bid.

Voters also approved a pay raise for council members from $500 to $5,000 a year. Council pay had not increased since the city was founded in 1927.

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