TRAVERSE CITY — Michael Estes will leave his future in the hands of voters following his arrest on a drunken driving charge.
Estes asked for forgiveness and indicated he does not plan to resign during a brief press conference at the governmental center Wednesday morning. He was widely favored to win re-election to a third term on Nov. 5 prior to his arrest.
“I apologize for my actions and I can only say with the grace of God, the support of my friends and family, nothing similar to this will ever happen again,” Estes said.
Estes refused to answer any questions or elaborate on his actions prior to his arrest, which occurred as he headed home from a candidate forum.
Despite Estes’ refusal to offer specifics, his statement and apology appeared to be well received by area officials interviewed by the Record-Eagle. His opponent on the ballot, Rick Buckhalter, expects Estes to be re-elected.
“You can feel the political wheels moving,” Buckhalter said.
Several area voters said, though, they had mixed emotions about Estes and his arrest.
“I’m glad he apologized and I’ll probably vote for him ... as long as he makes sure he has it under control,” said resident Alice Hansen.
Voter David C. Berg II said he believes Estes should have resigned.
“People say he’s a great guy, but I just don’t think it is right,” Berg said. “I don’t think it’s respectful. I don’t think it’s responsible. His time is done.”
Estes, 63, was arrested Oct. 23 and charged with first-offense drunken driving. Estes said he made a “serious mistake” that is an embarrassment to his family, friends, and the citizens of Traverse City. He said he plans to attend Monday’s city commission meeting, then wait for voters to cast the final ballot the following day.
“If elected on Nov. 5 I will do everything in my power to serve the citizens of Traverse City to the best of my ability,” Estes said. “I understand that forgiveness must be earned, and in time I am hopeful I will earn that forgiveness.”
Estes did not take questions and said he will not discuss his arrest again outside of the legal process. He faces arraignment Monday morning.
City Commissioner Jody Bergman gave Estes credit for making his statement and plans to vote for him even though she thought he should have resigned.
“To be honest, Estes has been a pretty good mayor,” Bergman said. “I don’t always agree with him, but he’s got the city going in the right direction.”
City commissioners Jim Carruthers and Barbara Budros, along with commission candidates Patrick McGuire and Gary Howe, attended the Estes press conference.
Budros gave Estes a hug afterward.
“I’m glad he’s staying,” Budros said. “He’s done great things for the city and I feel confident he’ll do what needs to be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
McGuire said Estes has done a good job for the city and the mayor’s decision did not surprise him.
“It was nice to see a bit of honest reflection,” Howe said before declining to say if Estes should have resigned.
Carruthers said he appreciated the apology but had hoped Estes would have said more about what he plans to do to “address his problem.”
Carruthers and Bergman both said it’s appropriate for Estes to let the election play out.
“To do anything else at this time just confuses people,” Bergman said.
Grand Traverse County Commissioner Larry Inman, one of the county’s longest serving elected officials, said Estes was held in “pretty high esteem” and voters can be sympathetic when someone apologizes, shows remorse, and promises to take steps not to let it happen again.
“But I also think voters are sometimes critical and they will let you know fairly quickly how they feel,” Inman said. “It will show in this next election.”
John Reid, a dual candidate for city commission and a write-in for mayor, said he would have resigned.
“I don’t know if it’s the right decision or the wrong decision — we’ll let the voters decide,” Reid said.