By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — All seven City Council incumbents will make it to the November general election after last week’s primary cut a field of 25 candidates to 14.
About 18 percent of the city’s 59,170 registered voters made it to the polls on Tuesday, which is more than the typical primary turnout of about 14 percent (see full results on Page ??).
If the results are any indicator, incumbents Douglas Thomas and Robert Abraham have some work to do if they hope to gain election to another four-year term. Thomas and Abraham finished eighth and ninth, respectively, getting nudged from the top seven by a local political veteran in one case and a relative neophyte in the other.
Finishing sixth, former longtime Dearborn School Board President Sharon Dulmage proved she still could get out the vote after failing to win re-election to her school board post in November. Rounding out the top seven is community activist and political newcomer Brian O’Donnell, whose black and green lawn signs have reached ubiquity in several west side neighborhoods.
The high finish was nothing new for Dulmage, who has been a part of several winning campaigns in the past.
“I sort of just use the same process. Nothing major, just out there talking to people and listening to people,” Dulmage said.
First-time candidate O’Donnell said his finish was the satisfying culmination of a lot of hard work. He said his top seven finish shows that Dearborn voters are ready to see a change in the way the city is run.
“What we’re talking about is resonating with the voters,” O’Donnell said.
“Folks are buying in, and for a guy like me – who doesn’t have any allies, I don’t have a slate I’m on – to come in out of nowhere and beat two City Council people … that the people of Dearborn are ready to do something differently to get back on track.”
Even with the upset to Abraham and Thomas, University of Michigan-Dearborn political science professor and local political analyst Ronald Stockton said the results appear to indicate a relatively satisfied electorate.
“A lot of familiar names were there, and all of the incumbents were renominated, which usually indicates that people are happy with the way things are being run,” Stockton said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if one, maybe two new faces made it.”
Still, neither Thomas nor Abraham are too concerned with their showing, at least in part, because it’s not uncharted waters for them.
Thomas came close to losing his council seat in 2001 when he finished eighth in the general election, but was moved onto council with the departure of Gino Polidori to the state Legislature. Abraham showed signs of vulnerability in the 2005 primary when he finished out of the top seven before rebounding to make the cut in the general election.
Thomas attributed his finish outside of the top seven to an absence of any campaigning on his part. He hasn’t put much effort in yet because he wasn’t sure if his heart was still in it, he said.
Thomas’ outspoken criticisms of mayoral initiatives through both late Mayor Michael Guido’s administration and that of current Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. have been his calling card in getting elected to five terms on council, but he said he’s sick of being one of the only voices of dissent.
“It just gets tiresome being on the wrong side of those 6-1 and 5-2 votes. But I didn’t put a single lawn sign out there or work the polls at all and we still had a pretty good showing. It tells me the people of Dearborn still care about what I do and we’ll be energized and ready to go for the (general election),” Thomas said.
Thomas added that he is now spending most of his time in Dearborn again after spending significant time last term with his wife in Florida.
For his part, Abraham said he would need a focused campaign in the remaining three months for a favorable outcome in November, a familiar drill for the second-term councilor.
“I’ve always been a strong finisher in November and a little bit of a slow starter. If history repeats itself, I’ll be successful in finishing in the top seven again,” Abraham said.
And with only 700 votes separating the fifth- and ninth-place primary finishers, the race should pick up now as candidates zero in on the issues as they try to differentiate themselves. Stockton, the UM-D political science professor, said now the campaign begins in earnest.
“What it will come down to is who has the best organization and who has the best system. The candidates who know how to get out and reach people and engage the community are the candidates who win,” Stockton said.
Listed below in order of votes received are the primary results for the 2009 Dearborn City Council race. Finalists for the general election are in bold and incumbents are marked with an (I).
Thomas P. Tafelski (I) — 5,629
Nancy A. Hubbard (I) – 4,457 George T. Darany (I) – 4,140 Suzanne Sareini (I) – 4,051 Mark C. Shooshanian (I) – 3,931 Sharon Dulmage – 3,533 Brian C. O’Donnell – 3,417 Doug Thomas (I) — 3,284 Robert A. Abraham (I) – 3,232 David W. Bazzy – 2,759 George Hart – 2,372 Patrick M. Kiernan – 2,267 Patrick D’Ambrosio – 2,170 Ali Sayed – 2,004
Adrenne Wygonik – 1,958
Nancy Siwik – 1,644 Stephen S. Dobkowski, Jr. – 1,497 Rabih Hammoud – 1,432 Terry Burke – 1,182 Scott J. Marquette – 1,031 Khalil Dakhlallah – 989 Mark J. Dawdy – 884 Hussein Sobh – 880 Molly Sharp – 630 Joseph Agius – 446 WRITE-IN – 94
TOTAL BALLOTS – 10,861