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Dearborn Heights Mayor Paletko remembered as tireless public servant

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Dearborn Heights — Mourners gathered Monday to say goodbye to a man who "diligently served his community and his parish."

A funeral Mass for Dearborn Heights Mayor Daniel Paletko, who died from complications from the coronavirus, was held at St. Linus Catholic Church.

Funeral Director Scott Boleski, left, and Dearborn Heights police officers bring the casket to the front of the church during the funeral service for Dearborn Heights Mayor Daniel Paletko at St. Linus Church in Dearborn Heights on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. Paletko, who had been mayor since 2004, died from COVID-19 last week.

Paletko, 70, died on Dec. 29 at a local hospital. He was hospitalized a day earlier for severe symptoms and received a positive test for the virus a day prior to his death, his office told The Detroit News.

The private Mass, held at the church where Paletko served as an usher, was presided over by the Rev. Paul Ballien. About two dozen mourners joined together in prayer and hymns including "Shepherd Me, O God."

"He gave a small-town type of community feel to the parish that you don't typically see in a city the size of Dearborn Heights," Ballien said. "We were captivated by Mayor Paletko. This is what Dan was about. It was about community. He served and worked tirelessly for the community."

Ballien said Paletko was involved in the community while juggling the city budget, maintaining city services and protecting the environment.

"Even as he was getting through a mitigation plan to eliminate constant flooding threats to the community, he had an open-door policy," Ballien said. "He made himself accessible to the people of Dearborn Heights and was often seen attending events throughout the city ... and devoted usher at St. Linus. This connection to his faith was really a big part of him."

City hall and both city libraries were closed Monday.

Paletko was appointed mayor of Dearborn Heights in January 2004 after then-mayor Ruth Canfield retired. Paletko was elected to full terms in 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017.

He previously served on the City Council from 1974-2002, and was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives, a post he resigned when he became mayor, according to Detroit News archives.

Paletko retired from Ford Motor Co., where he had been a financial manager. He was a certified public accountant and had degrees from the University of Michigan, the University of Detroit and Wayne State University, the city said.

He had several passions, including NASCAR racing, driving his Ford Mustang and cheering on the University of Michigan Wolverines, according to his obituary.

Paletko is survived by his two daughters, Ann Paletko and Marie Paletko, his sister, Claudia Cassidy, and brother Gerard Paletko. The family did not speak at the funeral.

Elisabeth Sobota-Perry, director of the city's human resources department, shared a reading at Monday's service, as she typically does during Mass at the parish. Sobota-Perry said Monday was different because she wasn't able to look toward the back where Paletko was usually standing as an usher.

Sabota-Perry met Paletko through the church and he interviewed her for a city position 14 years ago, she said.

"The mayor really worked tirelessly over four decades to bridge the community and bring about a sense of community," she said. "As a lifelong resident, I was very fortunate to work in the office because he gave me a seat at the table. He was a different kind of politician and cared so much. His office was often filled with newspaper clippings because whenever he saw a student or someone in the community make headlines, he'd clip it out and send it to them with a stationary note saying how proud he was."

Dearborn Heights Director of Human Resources 
Elisabeth Perry speaks during the funeral service for Dearborn Heights Mayor Daniel Paletko at St. Linus Church in Dearborn Heights on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. Paletko, who was the mayor since 2004, died from COVID-19 last week.

Kurt and Catherine Heise, both former city employees, watched the funeral virtually and said Paletko's death was a shock. Catherine Heise is a former city councilwoman and a Wayne County Circuit Court judge, and Paletko endorsed her when she ran for the county position.

"That time was a big part of our lives and Dan was there for all of it," said Kurt Heise, former assistant city attorney from 1993-2002. "We both considered him a mentor and a friend. He had a level-headed approach. He was always fair and honest. Frankly, we're seeing less and less of that positivity and need more Dan Paletko's in government."

City Council Chairperson Denise Malinowski Maxwell will assume the duties of the mayor's office until the council appoints someone to serve the remainder of Paletko's term.

Malinowski Maxwell joined the drive-by funeral procession Monday and said Paletko was "sent off in the style he deserved."

"Today is a sad day for the City of Dearborn Heights as we mourn a good man with a long history of devotion to this city," Malinowski Maxwell said. "This is a very hard time for the city as we continue to mourn the loss of our beloved mayor while battling the pandemic. We are trying to stick through as best we can."

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be directed to the Dearborn Heights Rotary, Dearborn Heights Goodfellows or St. Linus Parish.

With more than 3,500 cases of the coronavirus and nearly 100 deaths from COVID-19, Dearborn Heights continues to be one of the top suburban hot spots for the virus in Michigan.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_