Mayor No More: Craig Covey Sworn In as 25th District County Commissioner
Helping make Ferndale hip was great, but 'the biggest battles were reducing the city’s workforce.'
As Craig Covey resigned as mayor of Ferndale to take his new post on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, the 52-year-old Democrat was remembered for helping promote the city as a diverse, culturally hip community; his advocacy of gay rights and diversity; founding of the local blues festival; and his support of green initiatives.
What was less well remembered was the harder, nuts-and-bolts municipal stuff of the past decade: cutting the city payroll and budget.
“The biggest battles were reducing the city’s workforce,” Covey said last week about his tenure as a Ferndale councilman and mayor over the course of 11 years.
All of those experiences – acting as a proponent of a cool arts and culture scene to working to deliver municipal services in cost-effective ways – will almost certainly come into play in his role as commissioner for the county’s 25th District.
The district takes in Ferndale, Hazel Park and the southern part of Royal Oak. Covey was sworn in last week with his 24 colleagues on the county board as they started their new two-year terms.
Covey knows that because he’s been a very public proponent of gay rights, cultural diversity, ecological issues and other matters high on the progressive/liberal agenda, some perceive him as a liberal who is ready to raise taxes to pay for new programs. Not true, he maintains.
“I’m pretty moderate,” he said. “I’m fairly conservative when it comes to taxes and I’m not a knee-jerk liberal. Some of my battles have been with people on the far left.”
Covey grew up in Canton, OH (“Like Flint, without the glitter,” he joked) and bought a house in Ferndale in 1989, a time when the city had a reputation as a rather seedy, down-at-the-heels town with plenty of empty storefronts. He and other community and municipal leaders were part of the effort that slowly turned around the city’s reputation and quality of life over the last 20 years.
Ferndale traditionally had a relatively large number of employees, and Covey said it was clear that couldn’t go on, given the steady decline of the domestic auto industry, periodic recessions and other factors that struck southeastern Michigan hard. For example, he noted that the city had always had a sizable police force, but the fact was that it was a “Cadillac” department when Ferndale was only going to be able to afford a “Chevy” force. Reductions were sometimes controversial, but necessary.
“We knew we had to start the process of cutting and trimming the city budget, because 10 years ago we saw what was coming,” he said. “The recession just didn’t pop up. The council members took early action and it got Ferndale in better shape.”
Covey won the county board seat in November, gathering just more than 60 percent of the vote in a three-way race with Libertarian Andy LeCureaux, a Hazel Park city councilman who garnered a little more than 7 percent, and Republican Richard Parisi, also of Hazel Park, who got just more than 32 percent.
Covey said that while Oakland County is sometimes thought of as a big white suburb, people should remember there are thousands of gays, Asians, Arabs, Latinos and other minorities making up the community. As an elected official, he is also concerned about the lack of public transportation and the incredible developmental sprawl that has taken place.
“If I drive from Ferndale to Pontiac, I go by empty stores, gas stations, commercial properties of all kinds,” he said. “Do we really need to plow up more land for shopping centers and movie theaters, given all the empty stuff? We just can't afford to keep doing this.”