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Interim Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter reverses course, says he'll run in 2020

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Interim Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter has had a change of heart: he now says he will run for a full, four-year term in 2020.

Coulter is a Democrat. He was the mayor of Ferndale when county commissioners appointed him to fill the vacancy left by the late Republican L. Brooks Patterson back in August.

Then, Coulter said he planned to stick to an interim role. But now he says he sees opportunities to both maintain stability and motivate progress.

“I really feel that this is an historic opportunity for us to leverage our county’s tremendous strength to create the next and best Oakland County,” Coulter said. “For me, that starts with boosting opportunity for all people in all parts of our county.”

Coulter says he wants to build on Patterson’s legacy in some ways—he says he’s committed to maintaining the county’s solid fiscal footing, and focusing on business development. But he made clear that he’ll also pursue some fundamental changes from how Patterson, a staunch conservative Republican, governed.

Coulter says he wants to focus on improving health disparities and economic disparities within Oakland County—home to some of Michigan’s wealthiest communities, but where around 15% of children also live in poverty. He also wants to hone in on the county’s growing diversity as a strength.

“I want to make sure that our county government reflects that diversity, and that we’re building partnerships and programs that lift up the diversity of this great county,” Coulter says.

Coulter says he’ll also diverge from his predecessor in one big way—he’s committed to fostering regional cooperation, especially when it comes to mass transit.

“We need to see and act like our futures are intertwined, because I believe they are,” Coulter said of regional cooperation. As for mass transit, he says he’s having “ongoing conversations” with other regional leaders.

“We don’t have a plan yet—to me, the plan is more important than the timing, we’ve got to get this right—but I’ve been encouraged by the conversations that we’ve had so far, and we’re going to continue to work at that, and try to get to a plan that makes sense,” Coulter said.

Coulter has county government experience. Before he was Ferndale Mayor, he served on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners from 2002-2010, where he was a member of the finance committee and Democratic Caucus Chair.

“Although I’m the incumbent, I’m going to run like I’m a challenger, and I’m going to work hard for very vote like I always have in every election,” Coulter said.

Oakland County is a historically-Republican stronghold but has steadily trended Democratic in recent years, and Democrats now hold a slim 11-10 majority on the Board of Commissioners.

Coulter earned the public endorsement of three Democratic Commissioners at his campaign announcement Thursday, including Board Chair Dave Woodward. Woodward had sought the County Executive position himself, even resigning his Commission seat before eventually backtracking and now throwing his support behind Coulter.

Woodward says Coulter has a “great working partnership” with not just Democrats, but Commissioners as a whole.

“We’re already making incredible progress. Not only the balanced budget [the Commission unanimously approved in September] but the new initiatives that are coming forward…we’ve got an opportunity to continue to build on that success," Woodward said. "And Dave Coulter is someone who shares my values. So it’s actually a very easy decision.”

So far, Coulter has just one opponent in the race—Oakland County Treasurer and fellow Democrat Andy Meisner.

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Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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