Will this November’s election be the year that Democrats finally take control of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners after decades of Republican control?
Or will Republicans reverse the gains by Democrats that led to a narrow 13-12 GOP majority in 2008?
It depends who you talk to.
Republicans say they’ll take a couple of swing seats from Democrats this year, maybe as many as three, widening and preserving their majority on the county board.
Democrats are equally confident they can maintain the seats they have and pick up that one crucial seat to tip the political balance their way.
On both party’s radar are county commission seats in Troy and Farmington Hills currently held by Democrats.
In District 14, representing Farmington and the west half of Farmington Hills, incumbent Democrat Steven Schwartz is challenged by former Farmington Hills Police Chief Bill Dwyer.
In District 19, representing Clawson and part of Troy, incumbent Democrat Tim Burns is in a rematch against Republican Mike Bosnic.
Republicans, at least, are also eyeing the seat held by Commissioner Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, in the 11th district representing Auburn Hills and part of Rochester Hills and Pontiac. Greimel faces a challenge from Auburn Hills’ Bob Kittle.
“I think the Republicans are in a good position to expand the majority on the county commission,” says David Law, chairman of the Oakland County Republican Party.
“I think you may see other seats that people don’t necessarily look at as in play right now actually being in play,” Law said.
Democrats, of course, see a different scenario playing out in their favor.
They see their candidates — Burns, Schwartz and Greimel — holding on to their seats and Democrats possibly picking up between one to three seats from Republicans.
“We definitely have a different outlook,” says county Commissioner David Coulter, D-Ferndale, who is the party’s caucus chairman on the commission.
“I think Greimel has done everything he needs to be OK in his seat,” says Coulter. “Certainly the Tim Burns seat and Steve Schwartz seat are the most competitive for us and the ones we’re spending the most time preserving.”
Assuming they hold on to their seats, Democrats are looking at three others to give them the majority on the county board.
One is in the 16th District representing Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield and part of Bloomfield Township. The seat is currently held by Republican Shelley Goodman Taub, who is challenged by Democrat Kathy Hagopian.
Another is the 5th District seat representing the eastern half of Waterford Township, the northern part of West Bloomfield Township, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake and Lake Angelus. There, Commissioner John Scott, R-Waterford, is in a race against Democrat Mike McGuinness.
“That was our seat two years ago,” Coulter says of the Taub seat. “It’s also hard to say what will happen in the Waterford seat that John Scott has. Those two candidates are battling like crazy.
“We haven’t been successful in the past picking that up, but we have a candidate working very hard and it’s a possibility as well.”
A longshot for Democrats is the District 1 seat representing Groveland, Brandon, Oxford and Addison townships plus part of Independence Township.
The seat has long been held by Republicans but is open this year and pits Republican Beth Nuccio against Democrat Ken Quisenberry.
“We have a well known candidate in a tough seat,” Coulter says. “It’s not a seat on paper you’d expect to pick up but elections are unpredictable and anything can happen.
“People are saying this isn’t a Democratic year but we think we have a good message and good candidates and working real hard to get the majority.”
Oakland County’s 25 commissioners serve two-year terms and their main obligation is to pass the county budget proposed by the county executive.
For Republican Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, a swing in control of the county commission to the Democrats means a potential rearranging of county spending priorities in a time of economic uncertainty.
Patterson says such a shift means he’d most likely be blowing the dust off his veto pen over policy and spending differences with a Democrat majority.
“The Democrat party represents the party of deficits and uncontrolled spending and we don’t want to see that in Oakland County,” says Patterson. “I think we’re going to expand our current margin from 13-12 to 15-10.
“This election is going to have some surprises and some upsets,” he says.
Contact Charles Crumm at 248-745-4649, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @crummc.