Pontiac mayor’s race tops Oakland County ballot

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac – Oakland County voters go to the polls in 31 communities Tuesday to decide dozens of local office races and ballot questions.

A field of candidates from library boards to mayors has been busy trying to convince neighbors they deserve their votes. Perhaps one of the hottest mayoral campaigns is in Pontiac, where incumbent Deirdre Waterman is opposed by city councilman Mark Holland and two write-in candidates, Linda Kay Hasson and Alfred Patrick.

Waterman appears to be the favorite, having bested Holland, Patrick and five other challengers in the August primary with 37 percent of the vote. Holland had 15 percent of the primary total and Patrick 12.9 percent. Hasson ran a close third in a separate race for the 5th District city council seat – Holland’s current office.

She also is listed as a write-in candidate for that same council seat.

Waterman took office in 2014, the year after the last of a series of state-appointed emergency managers left office. While under state control, the city implemented a series of cost-cutting measures, including the layoff of dozens of city workers and the elimination of the city’s police and fire departments.

The city contracts with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, which businesses and residents agree has made streets safer. Fire services are contracted with Waterford Township.

The city shed many of its money-draining properties, including the Pontiac Silverdome, which cost more than $1 million a year to keep secured.

“Today control (of the city) has been returned to the mayor’s office and city council,” Waterman said. “We have a budget surplus rather than a deficit. And consistent leadership – something we didn’t have for years – is helping us move forward for the good of the city and its residents.”

Not so fast, says Holland, who has a different take on the state of the city.

“There has been a major cost to the city when emergency managers sold off just about every asset we had, including water and sewage treatment facilities,” said Holland, who sits on several committees, including real estate and finance. “We don’t even have any community centers where children can go and be safe. If business are coming in, it’s because they are getting land cheap and tax incentives. But I don’t see them opening their doors with new jobs.

“I see all the (city’s) bills and revenue, and if we have a $15 million surplus, it’s only because we haven’t paid off retiree health care or funds that may eventually have go to pay off the lawsuits for the Phoenix Center parking lot.

“I think she is taking credit for things others have done,” Holland said.

But Waterman points to development in Pontiac under her watch, including at least two Oakland County companies that will soon bring thousands of workers to the city.

“The city is turning around and new businesses are up and running in our downtown, including the Strand Theater, Slows Barbeque and a brewery,” said Waterman. “High tech businesses, like Pete Karmanos’s MadDog, are moving into offices and some loft and apartment projects are being occupied or underway.”

Williams International, which makes turbine engines for the aviation industry and military, is moving operations in Commerce Township to Centerpoint Parkway addresses, including a former motion picture studio. It’s a $344 million expansion expected to add 400 jobs by 2022.

And by next June, United Shore Financial plans to move its operations and 2,100 employees from Troy to the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise building, Waterman said.

The M-1 Concourse – with more than 220 “car condos” and a 1.5- mile race track built on the bulldozed site of the former GM Truck and Coach, has drawn attention. Over half of the condos, costing $280,000 each, have already been purchased, operators said.

Waterman said legal battles over the city-owned Phoenix Center parking garage and amphitheater appear on the way to being resolved.

An anti-blight program is about 86 percent completed and has resulted in safer neighborhoods and increased property values, Waterman said.

Demolition of the Silverdome is expected soon.

Holland, who has nearly 18 years experience in banking, is an associate minister and a member of the board of directors for the city’s Tax Increment Finance Authority.

“You live in the south end (near the M-1 Concourse) and wake up to tires squealing at 7 a.m.,” said Holland. “It’s a rich-boy, million-dollar club and I don’t know anyone who’s part of it – or can afford a $280,000 car condo. Meanwhile neighborhoods are falling apart around it.

“Then you drive past the Silverdome every day and see how it’s not kept up,” he said. “Now, if my property is a mess, I will get a ticket. Or if I have a junk car, it gets towed away. Not there. How would that make you feel?”

In other mayoral races:

■Novi Mayor Bob Gatt is being challenged by Jason Dorsch, who ran for a state House seat last year, and Bin Qamruzzaman, an automotive engineer.

■Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier faces businessman Mike Skinner.

■Southfield Mayor Kenson Siver is running against write-in candidate Marc Motley.

■Walled Lake Mayor Linda Ackley is being challenged by Patrick Bryant.

Oakland County voters also face a variety of ballot issues:

■Clawson: A $2.1 million bond issue for sidewalk improvements.

■Keego Harbor: Charter amendments to levy 4 mills for police protection and require a criminal conviction for city property seizures.

■Lathrup Village: Charter amendment to require a criminal conviction for city property seizures.

■Pleasant Ridge: Millage proposal to raise money for the city’s underfunded police pensions.

■Avondale School District: $30.7 millon bond issue for building and outdoor facility improvements and bus purchases.

■Farmington Public School District: 1.15-mill, nine-year operating levy.

■Mason District Public Schools: $29.2 millon bond issue for building and outdoor facility improvements.

■Oxford Community Schools: $28.2 million bond issue for building and outdoor facility improvements and bus purchases.

■Royal Oak Schools: $59.9 million bond issue for building and outdoor facility improvements.

■Troy School District: 1-mill, 10-year sinking fund for building and site repairs and improvements.