By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — Voters gave the status quo a stamp of approval in last week’s City Council election, returning six of seven incumbents for four-year terms.
And on the heels of last year’s national elections, where the overwhelming theme was “change,” the story in this race was the restratification of an entrenched body – with one notable exception.
Newcomer Brian O’Donnell, a 36-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative, ran a campaign focused on fiscal responsibility highlighted by a promise to return 25 percent of his salary if elected. O’Donnell said he couldn’t pinpoint one specific thing that led to becoming the only challenger to unseat an incumbent.
“I wish I could tell you that I did something different, but I know that all the candidates worked really hard,” he said. “I’m just humbled to have this opportunity and knowing that my message resonated with voters.”
O’Donnell will replace five-term Councilman Douglas Thomas, who finished 10th in the 14-person race. Thomas, 77, likely was hurt by public allegations in the month preceding the election that he was not a city resident, as well as an admitted lack of campaigning on his part.
The self-proclaimed “Watchdog of Dearborn” said he has no regrets about the campaign and was complimentary of his successor.
“I think Brian O’Donnell has some good ideas, and I hope he will have the intestinal fortitude to ask the tough questions,” Thomas said.
Current Council President Thomas Tafelski led all candidates with 9,744 votes. The first-place finish is his highest in three successful council bids and solidifies his position as president, which he assumed in 2007 in a procedural move when then-President John O’Reilly Jr. left to become mayor.
Tafelski said he was happy with the results and looks forward to getting back to business after a tough campaign.
“I was honored that the citizens of Dearborn entrusted me with leading a council during a time when we have some very difficult decisions to make,” he said.
Coming in second was five-term Councilwoman Suzanne Sareini, who credited her endorsements for her personal best finish. She unseats longtime Councilwoman Nancy Hubbard to become council president pro tem.
“I’ve always focused on working hard and paying attention to the issues that affect our residents most and I think that message made its way through (to voters),” Sareini said.
One thing she hopes to accomplish in the coming term is stricter ordinance enforcement on the upkeep of city businesses.
In third was Councilman George Darany, who finally won after a series of close defeats in previous elections. His current council seat was another product of O’Reilly’s departure for the mayor’s office; Darany finished eighth in 2005 and was added to the council in 2007.
Next came Councilman Mark Shooshanian, who won his fifth consecutive term. He was followed by Councilman Robert Abraham, who pulled off what is becoming routine for him: a general election victory after a lackluster primary performance.
After finishing ninth in August, Abraham catapulted to fifth in the general election tally. He said fifth — his highest finish in three council races — was about where he thought he should end up.
“I’m thrilled that I got in that top five group, and I think if you look at it, we have a really solid leadership group as we look to face some unprecedented challenges,” Abraham said.
Abraham was followed by O’Donnell and Councilwoman Nancy Hubbard rounded out the top seven with 6,970 votes.
Following consecutive second-place finishes in 1997 and 2001 and a third-place finish in 2005, her latest showing was the lowest in more than a decade.
“Honestly, I am disappointed in where I finished in the council race because I haven’t changed my approach to public service. I will continue to do everything I can over the next four years to provide the people of Dearborn with the best services possible. It is a Hubbard tradition and as the last Hubbard who will run for public office in this city, I am proud to carry it forward.”
For complete election results go to www.downriversundaytimes.com.