By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — A number of local offices will be up for election in November and already some candidates have begun their campaigns.
Seeking re-election to a fourth consecutive term is 19th District Court Judge William Hultgren. He first was elected to the bench in 1992 after 17 years as an attorney for the city’s Legal Department, where he gained prominence for successfully defending the city in the 6th Circuit Court of Ohio in a case involving a Nativity scene at City Hall. He ran unopposed in 1998 and 2004.
As the court’s chief judge from 1998 to 2001, Hultgren instituted several policies that remain in effect today. One of the most significant initiatives he pursued was the creation of a juvenile division, which allows the court to handle cases involving youth offenders rather than sending them to Wayne County Circuit Court in Detroit.
He also helped to expand legal educational programs for Dearborn students. And on the technology front, Hultgren said he facilitated upgrades in the court’s computer system and worked with police to help pave the way for the reinstallation of in-car video recording.
For Hultgren, who is age-restricted from seeking a fifth term, a November win would be a fitting end to a long career in the town where he grew up.
“You do a little soul-searching in light of (the age restriction),” he said. “It’s kind of putting the cap on a long career of public service in my hometown.”
But recently it hasn’t been all roses for the Edsel Ford High School grad. In 2008, the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, the judiciary’s self-policing body, recommended a 60-day suspension for Hultgren based on his actions in a debt collection case.
The JTC ruled that Hultgren acted improperly when he wrote a letter on court letterhead to the collection company on behalf of the defendant, an acquaintance of Hultgren’s who was being targeted mistakenly for the collection because he had the same name as the actual debtor.
The Michigan Supreme Court eventually overturned the suspension on a 4-3 ruling, but it inflamed tensions with current 19th District Court Chief Judge Mark Somers, who was hearing the collection case and reported Hultgren to the JTC.
The two judges already were at odds because Somers did not consider Hultgren’s live-in girlfriend, former 19th District Court Deputy Administrator Julie Pucci, for the top administrative position during a 2007 court restructuring.
The Pucci issue remains the subject of an ongoing federal lawsuit and has left Hultgren and Somers not on speaking terms.
Hultgren said the controversies of late have been trying. But, he added, they are only a sidebar to a long career in the city.
“If anyone wants to debate this stuff during the course of the campaign, I am more than happy to do that,” Hultgren said. “But I think it’s important to understand that this is just a small, small piece of my 30-plus year career in the city.”
Also filing campaign paperwork is retired schoolteacher Linda Tafelski, who will seek Dearborn’s state representative seat in Lansing. Incumbent Gino Polidori is term-limited and cannot run for re-election.
Tafelski, who is the mother of Dearborn City Council President Thomas Tafelski, is making her first foray into politics after becoming a casualty of the state’s school funding crisis. Not ready to retire, but cognizant of the writing on the wall, she accepted a buyout from Dearborn Public Schools in February.
“Because of the funding problems for our schools that were brought about by Lansing and my educational background, I felt it was a natural fit and, even bigger, I felt it necessary to do my part,” Linda Tafelski said.
The longtime educator said that since filing nearly three weeks ago, she herself has become the student, traveling to Lansing three times and meeting with numerous civic and governmental groups locally. The primary campaign platform she will pursue is jobs through education, she said.
Linda Tafelski, who is running as a Democrat, brings with her a political outsider’s mentality that she said would prove useful in tackling state challenges that for too long have been kicked down the road.
“I think too many of the politicians don’t see the solution and they just can’t break out of the paradigm to do what’s needed,” she said.
But along with the outsider’s mentality, she also has an insider’s edge, thanks to her son’s election successes. Linda Tafelski said she has learned some of the finer points of politics from Thomas’s experiences. She made clear, however, that a shared name doesn’t mean the same views.
“Anybody who knows Tom and I knows that we each have our own ideas, and we have had no shortage of debates on issues where we differ,” she said.
Like mother, like son.
“Of course I will be supporting my mom in this election and I believe she has a lot to offer,” the councilman said. “But she is definitely her own person with her own ideas, and I think that will be clear as the campaign progresses.”