The First Woman of Warren

Lori Stone, the city’s first female mayor discusses her background, political career, and future plans.
Stone was elected mayor last year. Here, she attends the City Council and treasurer swearing-in ceremony on Nov. 11, 2023. // Photograph courtesy of the City of Warren.

During the 2023 election, residents of Warren had a mayoral ballot they hadn’t seen in a while. It was one without the name James R. Fouts. Three years earlier, in 2020, voters had approved a charter amendment that established a 12-year mayoral tenure limit, effectively making Mayor Fouts, who had served in the position since 2007, ineligible to run again. Fouts went to court to get around the term limits, but he was unsuccessful.

The names on the 2023 ballot were state Rep. Lori Stone and George Dimas, the city’s human resources director. It was a close race, but Stone would win with 53% of the vote, becoming the city’s first new mayor in 15 years and the first woman to serve in the position ever.

Stone, a lifelong Warren resident, attended Fitzgerald Public Schools and would return to the district as a teacher after earning a bachelor’s degree in political theory and constitutional democracy as well as a master’s degree in science education, both from Michigan State University.

“When I was in college, I thought I was going to be young and ambitious — graduate from college and jump right into public service,” says Stone, who wanted to champion education, adding that her mom, aunt, and grandmother were all teachers.

Her older brother advised her to get experience in the area where she wanted to shape policy, and so she joined the Michigan Education Association and taught for 14 1⁄2 years before making the jump into politics when a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives opened in 2016.

She lost that Democratic primary to Patrick Green, but it inspired her to participate in some candidate development opportunities through MSU’s Michigan Political Leadership Program and Emerge America’s candidate training programs for Democratic women.

Stone welcomes Mr. and Mrs. Claus to the Warren Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 2, 2023. // Photograph courtesy of the City of Warren.

Just two years later, during the 2018 primaries, she defeated Green for the same seat and went on to win the general election, securing her seat in the House, which she held for five years before deciding to make her mayoral run, with a little encouragement from her fellow Warren residents.

“I had community members reach out to me and say, ‘The mayoral position is coming available, and we don’t see candidates that reflect our values. We appreciate the hard work and integrity that you’ve shown as an elected leader, and we really hope you consider running for mayor,’” Stone says.

At first, she felt that local government wouldn’t be the right fit for her, but after careful consideration, she decided to run.

“As I looked around my community, I felt like my community deserved better leadership and deserved someone who was going to work hard and be ethical and fight for them,” she explains. “In the end, I said, ‘If you don’t put your name on the ballot, then you have to be prepared for whatever direction it goes,’ and so I put myself forward as a candidate, and I’m truly honored my community supported me.”

In addition to electing its first female mayor — an honor, but also something that Stone quickly points out comes secondary to her qualifications — Warren has also elected in recent years several other women to a variety of government positions. In fact, when Stone took office, she joined City Council President Angela Rogensues, City Treasurer Lorie Barnwell, and City Clerk Sonja Djurovic Buffa, among others. Mai Xiong, the first Hmong woman to be elected county commissioner in Macomb, took Stone’s place as District 13’s state House rep after winning the special election in April.

Stone says that this points to a shift in what the city is looking for out of its leaders. “I think it says that Warren is looking for new ideas; it’s looking for new perspectives. Women are a voice that have been missing in the conversation,” she says.

From left: Jonathan Lafferty, Henry Newnan, Dave Dwyer, Mindy Moore, Steven M. Bieda, Lori Stone, Teri Lynn Dennings, Paul Wojno, Lorie Barnwell, Angela Rogensues, Melody Magee, and Gary Boike at the Nov. 11 ceremony. // Photograph courtesy of the City of Warren.

As a state representative, Stone fought for equity in education and served three terms on the state’s House Education Committee. She’s proud of her advocacy for a 2023 bill (now law) that repealed the requirement for Michigan schools to hold back third graders who fail a reading proficiency test. She also helped to support those experiencing unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, quickly becoming the intermediary between her constituents and the overwhelmed state departments.

As mayor, she plans to continue to bridge the gap between the community and its representatives, as well as build upon the legacy of responsiveness set by her predecessor.

And while education and unemployment are still of utmost importance to Stone, she also plans to add environmental issues to the list by investing more into the city’s parks and recreation department and getting community input on what they’d like to see from the city’s 28 parks, many of which she says have been neglected. In addition, she plans to invest in city infrastructure, including roads and sewers, and lean into the city’s automotive and manufacturing industries by investing in electric vehicles and alternative energy sources such as solar power.

“I say ‘Warren is the biggest small town in Michigan,’ but we have to push forward, and we want to compete for population,” she says. “We want to make people who grew up here want to stay here and raise families here and work here, and we also want to attract talent.

“I want to make Warren a better place to live, work, grow, and play,” she adds. “I think that speaks to what people want, which is a safe place, a clean place, a place where their basic needs are easily met, and so, if I can leave my community a better place than when I showed up here Nov. 20, then I’ve been successful.”

This story originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on June 6.