Bill Laitner Detroit Free Press "FERNDALE, Mich. -- A man who pundits said wasMichigan's first openly gay mayor in 2008 now wants the job back. But he's running against a friend said to be Michigan's second openly gay mayor. The race has left many of Ferndale's gay voters perplexed as they now have to decide between two strong gay candidates in the November election. "What can you do? They're both great guys," said Cass Varner of Ferndale, who is communications director for the gay social organization Affirmations in the city's downtown. Some gays said the former mayor, Craig Covey, will stifle their political gains by targeting another gay politician, Mayor Dave Coulter. Others said that a gay politician should be free to run against anyone, anytime. On Monday night, Covey spoke at the Ferndale City Council meeting. He looked into the face of Coulter sitting a few feet away while speaking publicly for the first time as an announced candidate for the part-time mayor job. He spoke only about the need he felt for the city to prevent bike thefts. In June, his bike was stolen from the city's business district, the third bike he had lost to a thief in several years. Ferndale, Mich., Mayor Dave Coulter will face fellow openly gay candidate and friend former mayor Craig Covey in November's election.(Photo: Provided by Dave Coulter) He and Coulter did not speak about the campaign at the meeting. "Some people have said, you two are pretty similar in a lot of ways," Covey said. "We're both gay, we've both run AIDS organizations, we're both liberal on social issues, we're both white Anglo guys in our 50s. "But on fiscal issues, I'm pretty conservative," Covey said. Covey, who served on the council in 2000-08, then was elected mayor twice before leaving to become an Oakland County commissioner, was known for strongly opposing plans hatched in 2007 by others on the council to build a $9 million civic complex. The plan was dropped in late 2008, just as the housing meltdown and Wall Street bank bailouts began. Another contrast between the two is that Covey is more openly pushing for the legalization of marijuana, he said. Last month, he helped collect signatures to put a proposal on city ballots this fall that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Violations would become the equivalent of traffic tickets, as in Ann Arbor and several other cities in Michigan, supporters of the proposal said. The council decided not to vote Monday night on whether to pass the proposal directly into law. Coulter spoke against it, saying it should be up to Lansing lawmakers to decide whether to decriminalize marijuana. A former county commissioner who lost a primary bid for state senate, Coulter was appointed mayor of Ferndale in January 2011, weeks after Covey resigned to take the county commission seat that Coulter had occupied. Coulter, like many Ferndale gays, said he is stunned that Covey, his friend and longtime political ally, is running against him. But voters who prefer substance over style will choose to keep him in office, Coulter said. "I'm not as likely as he is to make symbolic gestures. I'm a nuts and bolts guy and my campaign is going to focus on what I've actually achieved," Coulter said. Covey lost his commission seat last year, when Oakland County's Republican majority merged Covey's seat with that of a commissioner from Huntington Woods; Covey lost the runoff election. Now, Covey works as a special assistant to Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash. He would keep that job if he became the part-time mayor of Ferndale, he said. Coulter is program officer for the Children's Hospital of Michigan Foundation. The two will vie with longtime city resident Sherry Wells, an attorney and community activist.
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