TRAVERSE CITY — Election results likely will change the tenor of debate among Traverse City commissioners and possibly trigger a new approach toward street projects.
But neither new nor holdover commissioners predict major changes in the city’s charted course.
“If the commission decides to abruptly change direction, that would shock me,” said Mayor Michael Estes, who won re-election on Tuesday.
Estes lost two close allies on the commission and a reliable voting bloc when conservatives Mike Gillman and Mary Ann Moore decided not to seek re-election. Voters replaced them and incumbent Jody Bergman with former Grand Traverse County Commissioner Ross Richardson, a Democrat, and two younger voices, Gary Howe and Tim Werner.
“It’s exciting,” said Commissioner Jim Carruthers of the city’s newly elected leaders. “I think it speaks to a more progressive, more Democratic vote on the commission.”
But all three new commissioners downplayed progressive labels.
“Some people think walking and sidewalks are more progressive, and if that’s the case, I’m guilty,” Werner said. “But I’m also pretty fiscally conservative.”
The commission theoretically should be more “progressive,” Richardson said, but the group will be something of a mystery until new commissioners “get in the saddle and start acting.”
All three said they plan to work on building consensus on the commission.
“The ability of the mayor or any other commissioner to do anything relies on their ability to build coalitions around issues,” Richardson said. “Estes seemed to have four votes for doing whatever he wanted to do before, and he doesn’t have that now.”
Estes said a look at the city commission voting records shows most votes were unanimous, so he disagrees there were groups or coalitions allied for or against each other. Estes said all three new commissioners appear fiscally conservative, and outside of a different approach to street projects, he doesn’t expect huge divides.