Goodbye, Norma Jean; Longtime mayor recalls joy, work of political career

Norma Wurmlinger

Norma Wurmlinger

Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — It’s been a bittersweet week for the woman whose name is emblazoned on City Hall, but outgoing Mayor Norma Wurmlinger is comfortable with her decision earlier this year not to seek re-election.

“I knew it was time to leave, time for me to retire,” she said Thursday.

Wurmlinger looks back on a career spent working to help bring businesses of all sizes to the city, helping to make Southgate the “dining capital of Downriver,” and says that a Wal-Mart being planned for the northwest corner of Dix and Eureka roads will help by bringing 200 to 300 new jobs to town.

She spent part of last week saying her goodbyes before handing over the reins to Joseph Kuspa, the former Southgate Community School District Board of Education member and lifelong city resident who takes over Tuesday with a swearing-in ceremony scheduled for 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers at City Hall.

“I’ve been inviting people in for coffee and cake and thanking all the employees for working so hard,” she said, noting that despite having to cut back staff, the city still has been able to deliver services without residents noticing too much.

“The employees have been great,” said Wurmlinger, 78, “and the council has been very good to work with.”

She served on that council herself for 13 years after first being elected in 1977, including nine as its president. From 1991 to 1999 she was mayor before being term limited, then sought and won the job again four years ago.

Her city service began with a 1975 appointment to the Cultural Commission. The following year she was part of the committee that planned the first Heritage Days event.

Now, Wurmlinger says, she’ll take some time to weigh her options on what to do next, and part of that time may include a couple of weeks in Florida. She also looks forward to catching up with some people she hasn’t seen in a while.

“I’m sure I’ll be able to find something to fill my time,” Wurmlinger said, adding that she’s done a lot of volunteer work in the past and would consider serving on a city commission if asked by Kuspa, whose candidacy she supported in the election earlier this month.

“He’s a quality person,” she said of her successor. “He has integrity and is very professional. I know he’ll do a good job.”

Wurmlinger said she backed Kuspa because he “wouldn’t have any axes to grind” and wishes him well as he takes over a city facing uncertain economic times.

She’s seen Southgate come out of difficult circumstances in the late 1970s and early ’80s, when the city had to borrow to meet payroll obligations, and is optimistic that it will prevail once again.

We’re going to survive,” Wurmlinger said. “Southgate is a good community. Good people live here, and we’ll be OK, but it’s going to take a lot of planning.”

In the meantime, she’s planning to gather up the cards and letters many residents have been sending thanking for her service before moving on.

“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been a labor of love,” Wurmlinger said.