Despite ringing phones, a relentless Instant Messenger alarm and colleagues appearing at his door, Craig Covey remains smiling and unnerved. His understated Livernois office is a hodgepodge of awards, racy safe sex posters, photos alongside politicos like Senator Debbie Stabenow, and an assortment of plastic and ceramic pigs. The intriguing array of miscellany hints at Covey’s multi-persona. He is free-spirited yet industrious. He is a politician without being self-aggrandizing, an advocate without seeming overbearing.
As founder and CEO of the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project (MAPP), he spends his days working to prevent the spread of HIV through AIDS education and dissemination of safer sex information. Covey started his career in Columbus, focusing on gay and lesbian rights. When the AIDS epidemic started to hit home, he shifted gears. “Men were dropping quickly, and I lost friends…Around 1987, I began to devote all my time to AIDS prevention work thinking it would last a few years. Now 18 years later, we’re still fighting AIDS,” he says.
Covey focused behavior-based educational messages on a number of targeted groups including teens, college students, gays and lesbians, women, people of color, health care workers, church groups, HIV outreach workers and others. Although progress has been made against the epidemic, Covey notes the reality of AIDS in today’s communities. “People aren’t dying of AIDS as quickly, but it is still an unpleasant and dangerous disease that causes pain, suffering, heartache and still, death.”
Although the rigors of being a non-profiteer rarely relent, Covey finds the key to a happy career in combining his professional mission with his personal aspirations. A Ferndale resident since 1989, he felt the city’s potential for change and quite unabashedly wanted a more interesting and exciting place to live. “Ferndale 15 years ago was a sleepy little community barely holding its own. Property values were stagnant, people were moving out, and downtown was empty,” he says.
Inspired, Covey ran for a seat on Ferndale’s City Council in 1995 only to come in last place in the vote. In true underdog fashion, he worked tirelessly to come back with a landslide win in 1999. His work as a Ferndale Councilmember involves many of the issues he holds dear – civil and human rights, drug and alcohol education and city beautification through parks and recreation and economic development.
Covey’s love of home fuels his dedication and civic enthusiasm. “Ferndale is fun without being arrogant. You don’t have the attitude of other suburbs that might be trendy. We’ve kept it fun and neighborly while also making it hip and entertaining and interesting. It’s become a progressive city with a much more diverse population,” he says proudly.
Keeping the fabulous in Ferndale also keeps Covey in tune with his constituency. As Ferndale Pub Crawl committee chair, he and FANS of Ferndale have created a Ferndale tradition and successful charity event – not to mention a decent excuse to pound beers in Ferndale’s finer establishments. The event has grown from 35 attendees touring 8 bars at its inception in 1996 to 500 participants and 14 featured venues for the 2003 crawl, which lasted seven hours and raised $3600 for FANS of Ferndale and the Ferndale Education Foundation.
Covey explains his approach to politics simply. “Whenever something new comes along, you are filling a need that is unfulfilled. You look to see what is missing, and you fill that void,” he says. Being a bit of a blues hound, Covey’s new pet project is to remedy the great blues implosion afflicting Metro Detroit. “Blues Fest is my most favorite new thing,” Covey says, bubbling. The January festival features an array of performers throughout Ferndale’s clubs, bars, coffee houses and churches. The city pipes blues over the downtown P.A. for the stragglers, and all festival proceeds benefit Ferndale Youth Assistance.
But although Covey has become quite good at hosting the party, he remains grounded in his dedication to fighting the good fight in both his professional and political work. “There’s just a lot I want to do, and I think you can fight an issue on many fronts. Whether it’s through health education at high schools, advocacy in Lansing with the Legislature, or whether it’s political work in Ferndale, I like to think all of my efforts are still headed in one direction – to make life better for the people who live in this region,” says Covey.