Ferndale mayor candidate Melanie Piana rakes in thousands from developers — and even a Republican fracking profiteer
Melanie Piana, the establishment’s pick for mayor in Ferndale’s upcoming municipal elections, bills herself as a “progressive” who cares deeply about the environment. She even touts the use of eco-friendly “soy ink” on her campaign mailers. But Piana’s pro-developer record on Ferndale City Council — along with recent campaign finance disclosures showing she received thousands from developers and even a Michigan fracking profiteer — tell a different story.
Developers double down on Piana
According to recent campaign finance disclosures, Melanie Piana’s mayoral campaign has raked in $20,607.47 from supporters. Piana’s only competitor in the race, Brian Stawowy — who Piana has implied is being bankrolled by “interests outside of Ferndale” on social media — raised just a fraction of that, $2,965.50.
Of Piana’s massive $20K+ haul, at least $4,000 came from individuals or groups who are developers (or affiliated with pro-development organizations), or who are in the construction, design, and building trades (and therefore profit from endless development).
Apparently, when Piana told voters at a recent Ferndale Candidate Forum, “I don’t take any money from developers,” she wasn’t telling the truth.
The financial support Piana’s campaign is receiving from builders and developers is unsurprising given Piana’s pro-development record. Under Piana’s leadership, the Ferndale City Council approved one needless luxury development project after another, including the FerndaleHAUS “luxury lofts” and The James, a “luxury senior living complex.”
Ferndale taxpayers heavily subsidized these projects, giving some $20 million in tax breaks and other public incentives to luxury developers, despite receiving virtually no affordable housing units or other enforceable community benefits.
None of these luxury projects were LEED certified or otherwise environmentally sustainable, and their construction caused considerable environmental damage (as all traditional construction projects do) by emitting toxins, greenhouse gases, and other pollutants.
To appreciate this though, one needs to understand climate science. Buildings and their construction account for nearly 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Given the carbon impact of this sector, any locality serious about combating the climate apocalypse must create strict rules around new construction. New developments should be (a) absolutely necessary and (b) produce carbon-neutral (or extremely carbon-efficient) buildings.
No amount of chicken coops or native gardens or natural landscaping — some of the local “green” initiatives Piana takes credit for — can undo the carbon footprint or ecological effects of wasteful construction projects.
Rather than pursue a path of modest, green, sustainable growth, Ferndale has been on an out-of-control development spree for nearly a decade, with Melanie Piana at the helm.
Prominent Republican fundraiser — and fracking profiteer— James Nicholson donates to Piana
Piana’s campaign also received $1,000 (the maximum allowable individual donation) from James Nicholson, chairman of PVS Chemicals. PVS is a Detroit-based company that manufactures and distributes chemicals and chemical transportation services for the energy, steel, manufacturing, public water and waste-water treatment and other industries.
This contribution should raise huge red flags for every voter in Ferndale, and for all progressives who live in the Greater-Detroit area.
For decades, the Nicholsons have been prolific Republican Party fundraisers, along with the DeVoses and other wealthy families in Michigan. Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, the Nicholsons contributed some $1.1 million to Republican candidates, committees, and PACs.
The Nicholsons are also some of Michigan’s biggest fracking profiteers. That’s because PVS sells hydrochloric acid, the demand for which has surged in recent years due to its use as a “pre-treatment” for chemical fracking. PVS has been heavily involved in lobbying the state of Michigan to allow fracking and other forms of natural gas extraction. (Members of the Nicholson family also serve on the boards of other natural gas companies, such as DTE.)
Between 2010 and 2017, PVS donated roughly $242,600 to notorious fracking booster and former-Michigan governor Rick Snyder. Snyder, of course, was responsible for taking Flint residents off of Detroit’s water supply and instead directing the emergency manager to build a water pipeline from Lake Huron. Observers of the resulting Flint water crisis believe the move was made, in part, because Snyder and his fellow Michigan Republicans wanted to bring water west from Lake Huron in order to service fracking operations planned along that route.
Piana’s campaign finance disclosures raise many troubling questions. Why on earth would a Republican fracking family be investing in the Ferndale mayoral race? Even more to the point, why would a self-described progressive, who has been endorsed by the Sierra Club no less, be taking their money?
While these and other questions remain unanswered, Piana’s campaign disclosures show just how easy it is for nefarious special interests — like real estate developers and fossil fuel companies — to influence local elections. These contributors do not have the interests of Ferndale residents in mind. They are motivated by their own profit. They hope that Piana will help them score profitable deals, or they are paying her back for deals they’ve already done. This is a clear case of profit over people and the “pay to play” method of functioning in Michigan politics.
If Piana would like to distance herself from this sort of open corruption, she should return all contributions from people and organizations that stand to profit off of development in Ferndale, or who profit off of environmental destruction generally. Given her past coziness with developers, though, one probably shouldn’t hold one’s breath.
Luckily, though, the voters of Ferndale have a choice this year. Instead of being subjected to the developers’ preferred candidates, they can elect Brian Stawowy as Mayor and Nada Daher for Ferndale City Council. Stawowy and Daher, who are running a campaign to build a “Ferndale for All,” are taking no money from corporations or developers. They pledge to put the interests of Ferndale residents first, prioritizing affordable housing and a safe environment — for all.