By Jenn Goeddeke
STATE REPRESENTATIVE ROBER WITTENBERG has an outstanding passion for helping others and is an effective advocate and resource for approximately 95,000 people. In his words, “I like to be socially-conscious and fiscally-responsible at the same time.”
I recently met with Rep. Wittenberg at a local coffee shop to discuss his past and present political activities, along with his future plans. He is currently serving his third and final term as representative for Michigan’s 27th House District. This broad area includes Berkley, Oak Park, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge and Royal Oak Township.
Wittenberg certainly has a high regard for Oak Park. His grandparents moved here in 1967 and stayed until 2008. Since then, the home remained in Wittenberg’s family up until 2017 when it was sold. Wittenberg also attended Oak Park Middle School and is good friends with both the Mayor and City Manager. He mentioned with pride his “active and engaged” neighborhood block club, which is totally structured and holds monthly meetings, plus it hosts an annual Summer BBQ. He describes it as a “wonderful community.” And, even though it is the largest city in the District, it is more like a small town in terms of its residents. “I would love to keep serving this community!” he added with a smile.
WITTENBERG GREW UP IN MICHIGAN’S 27TH DISTRICT and was drawn to politics from an early age. While attending Berkley High School, then later at Indiana University, Wittenberg was continuously involved in various student councils and associations. He also volunteered his time for the campaigns of Mayor McClellan (Oak Park), Mayor Coulter (Ferndale) and also several city council races. By the time he got to the point of going into politics as his full- time career, many of his friends and family were saying, “What took you so long?”
The issues of greatest focus in his political agenda include environmental issues (clean water and reducing chemical and other pollutants), equal wages for all, greater gun control and higher educational standards and funding. A further motivation behind his efforts is what he calls: ‘Universal Fairness.’ As he explained, “I see that people often get treated differently based on how they look or who they love, and so on. That’s just so wrong!”
He added, “People might have an issue, for example with their utility company, but then they get lost in the shuffle of trying to solve the problem. Typically, we can make one call and take care of it for them. I wish individuals could always get their concerns taken care of right away, but it often doesn’t happen like that. So my job is to advocate and point them in the best direction.”
REGARDING HIS THIRD TERM, WITTENBERG IS ENTHUSIASTIC. “I am loving it! I have good experience and I know how the system works. I have come to know my colleagues pretty well. With Gretchen Whitmer as the new governor, there is a big improvement overall. The Republican representatives come to us Democrats now, and we have to work closer together.”
By all accounts, Wittenberg has been a popular state representative. What has been the secret to his success (aside from his obvious desire to serve the people)?
“As a Democrat from a progressive area, I try to find the common ground ‘across the aisle,” meaning with the more right-leaning members. Maybe in part due to this, I had more bills passed into law than any other Democrat in my class.” Additionally, Wittenberg is a very ‘approachable’ elected official, with a large part of his time spent out in the community. For example, he particularly enjoys reading to students, and so far this term he has read to over 1800 students from four different school districts. “I want to continue on that path!” he added.
HAVING SERVED SIX YEARS, WITTENBERG IS TERM-LIMITED and will no longer be able to serve in his current position after the upcoming 2020 election. Therefore, he is making the most of his time now, while considering future opportunities to serve in Oakland County. Wittenberg mentioned that the terms of office for State Representatives are the most restrictive in the country. Wittenberg pointed out, “This is such a relationship-building business. You have to get to know your fellow legislators! I consider [term limits] a failed experiment.”
I asked Wittenberg about his future plans. He replied that some changeover will be taking place soon, with L. Brooks Patterson not running for another term as Oakland County Executive. This will inevitably cause a shuffle. Wittenberg says he will not be running for county executive, but he is interested in the county treasurer position. (County positions are four- year terms with no term limits).
Conversations regarding those possible positions have already started whereas campaigning will begin towards the end of this year. Wittenberg explained that Andy Meisner has been County Treasurer but will most likely be running for the county executive position. Wittenberg admires Meisner and wants to follow in his footsteps, “This would be a big jump in my constituency, from about 95,000 people to around 1.3 million. But I want whatever position that will allow me to stay involved.”
Robert Wittenberg can be reached by mail: PO Box 33014, Lansing, MI. 48909; by phone: 517.373.0478, or by email: email@example.com. Check out his website: www.wittenberg.housedems.com.