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Veteran lawmaker, political newcomer battle to be next Pontiac mayor

The Detroit News - 10/26/2021

Oct. 27—Pontiac — City voters on Tuesday will decide whether a political newcomer or a veteran politician will become Pontiac's next mayor.

Tim Greimel, a former county commissioner and state lawmaker, and Alexandria T. Riley, the city's former development chief, are battling to execute their visions for the future of the Oakland County seat.

The winner will replace Mayor Deirdre Waterman, the city's first female mayor. Waterman was tossed from the August ballot over campaign finance issues before she waged an unsuccessful write-in campaign in the primary election. She could not be reached for comment.

Both Greimel, 47, and Riley, 35, agree that change is overdue in Pontiac.

Greimel, the top vote-getter in August, has said voter must choose "if they want to do things as they always have been done or with (his) experienced competent leadership."

Riley, a lifelong resident of the city, argues "our elected leadership has failed us" and that she's ready to "usher in a new generation of leadership."

Pontiac voters "just want someone who can deliver for them," said Bill Ballenger, publisher of the Ballenger Report, which looks at politics across Michigan.

Ballenger said Greimel, with his past experience, is a "known commodity" and might be "better positioned to deal with power brokers locally and in Lansing" than Riley is.

Greimel received about 56% of the primary votes cast, while Riley earned 23% in a four-candidate field plus Waterman.

Greimel raised more than $137,000 in campaign donations in the past year from a variety of sources, including local businessmen and unions, according to the most recent pre-election campaign filings. Riley's election committee missed the deadline for filing financial reports and previously was assessed a $500 fee and reported to the State Attorney General's Office for not filing statements before the primary.

Riley has not responded to calls or emails from The News.

Waterman, who did not file to run as a write-in for the general election, inherited a multitude of problems when she took office in 2014.

The city of 61,6000 residents was bleeding red ink and staved off bankruptcy only after three state-appointed emergency managers made painful budget cuts.

The city laid off employees and its police and fire departments were disbanded in favor of policing by the Oakland County Sheriff's Office and fire services from the Waterford Township Regional Fire Department. City facilities, like youth centers, were shuttered and many city-owned properties, including the Pontiac Silverdome, were sold off at a small fraction of what it cost to build them with taxpayer dollars.

No longer on the brink of bankruptcy, state oversight or budget debt, the city under Waterman welcomed businesses like Amazon, United Wholesale Mortgage and the Henry Ford Health System. It's seen hundreds of blighted buildings torn down and a decade after Pontiac's police department was disbanded, crime has decreased.

But what's still incomplete will be supervised by new eyes.

"I believe in our future, " said Greimel, an attorney who represented Pontiac as an Oakland County commissioner from 2007 to 2012 and in Lansing as a state lawmaker from 2012 to 2018.

Greimel noted city voters approved a youth recreation millage in 2018 that generates nearly $1 million per year. Yet, three years later, the mayor and city council "haven't been able to agree on how to spend the funds," he said.

"As a county commissioner and state representative for Pontiac, I was always able to work collaboratively with other elected officials to get the job done and deliver results," Greimel said. "I'm ready to hit the ground running on Day One by finding common ground with city council to start investing in youth recreation and enrichment programs. In addition, my connections at the federal, state, and county levels will allow me to bring additional resources to our city so that Pontiac finally gets its fair share of funding."

Greimel said his top priorities are improving basic services and youth recreation and fixing the roads. He also wants to create job training and job placement programs.

Riley, the city's former chief development officer, is now sales and development director for the Genesee County Land Bank Authority.

She considers herself a grassroots candidate and said voters "are desperate for a change."

Riley's major goals for Pontiac are economic development, including job opportunities; development of the downtown business district; and improving community services for youth and senior citizens.

She's a proponent for closing the Woodward Loop — known as Wide Track — that in 1964 provided north and southbound motorists a way to avoid the downtown business district. Riley would like to reclaim a section of the Clinton River, which runs underneath the business district, and make it a resource for visitors.

She has touted plans to ensure law enforcement in Pontiac emphasizes community policing and strategies that tackle mental health and crime.

"We will bring positive change and hope back to Pontiac," Riley, a licensed builder and real estate broker, wrote this month on her campaign Facebook page.

Riley unsuccessful challenged Waterman in 2017 and ran for the Oakland County Commission in 2012. She has said she's confident her voter supporter will grow into the general election.

Riley has played up her longtime residency, noting, like Waterman has, that Greimel moved to the city from neighboring Auburn Hills in 2020 to run for mayor. Riley also has accused Greimel of not delivering resources for Pontiac.

Greimel countered that he's proud of his track record in office, including securing job training programs and renewed funding for Pontiac's schools.

Two other residents filed by Friday's deadline to run as write-in candidates in the general election, according to Pontiac City Clerk Garland Doyle: Wanda Denise Coates and Nicholas Luppino.

Coates, who couldn't muster enough votes in the primary to get on the November ballot, said her emphasis has been education and recreation programs to promote personal growth, enhance community involvement and aid in crime reduction.

"We are working day and night to get people to vote," Coates said. "We must have a city that is managed correctly and has transparency. The community should be involved in the overall planning, development and progress in Pontiac."

Luppino, who ran unsuccessfully for Oakland County treasurer in 2020, said he's a writer and publisher of legal resource issues, including the application of federal and state treasury law.

"I would have preferred treasurer but that didn't work out, so I thought I would file as a write-in for mayor," he said.

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