Published: Thursday, Nov 8, 2007
Ferndale´s new gay mayor says vote highlights diversity
By MICHAEL P. MCCONNELL
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
"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
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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Friends of Craig Covey
445 W Woodruff Ave.
Hazel Park, MI 48030-3226