Charlie Nielsen beat Spaulding Clark in 2004, only to lose to him in this year’s Democratic primary. Nielsen blames an anti-incumbent mood—”Of the five supervisors up for election, all five lost to challengers”—and the fact that he and Doug Fuller split the progressive vote. It didn’t help, he adds, that “Spaulding ran an anti-public-safety-millage campaign.” Clark opposed a 0.9-mill tax to fund the fire department and thereby free up general-fund money to hire more sheriff’s deputies. “People wanted somebody who wouldn’t raise their taxes,” Nielsen says, “even if it’s really in their own best interests to do so.”
That may have been true in August—but November was a different story. Buoyed by a huge turnout for Barack Obama, the millage was approved by 69 percent of the vote. “It’s amazing,” Nielsen laughs. “My proposal wins two to one and I lose the primary. It’s like they like my ideas but they don’t like me!”
Clark returned to his old office just before Thanksgiving—with the millage as an early Christmas gift. “Frankly, I didn’t expect so many people to vote on it,” he admits. “Everybody votes for president, but there’s a steep falloff of interest after that. But almost everybody voted either for or against it. More people than I expected understood the issue.”
Clark believes voters rejected the Democratic incumbents because “the board had become dysfunctional. The members could hardly speak to each other, much less get done what needed to be done.” Nielsen disputes that, but many other township officers and trustees agree with Clark. “We didn’t get along from the start,” says outgoing one-term trustee Jim Dries. “It was personalities more than anything else. Jean King can be a viper, and she was always after Charlie Nielsen.”
“I don’t think I was after Charlie,” King laughs. “Charlie did the best he could, but he wasn’t up to it. He really tried, but you couldn’t try hard enough with that bunch.”
Clark predicts the new board will be more collegial. Though only one member ran on Clark’s slate—four were on Fuller’s and one ran as an independent—Clark doesn’t see that as a problem. “These are people I’ve known a long time, and I know they have the township’s best interests at heart,” he says.