Council’s ‘new guy’

Published 10:36 pm Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Volunteering: Councilman and car dealership owner Mike Duman helps American Red Cross volunteers set up a display at his dealership last week. Duman is the newest member of Suffolk City Council.

Mike Duman runs his Suffolk dealership from a raised platform, where a desk filled with paperwork overlooks a showroom full of cars, motorcycles and customers. Clownfish swim in a giant tank that sits in front of the raised office.

Duman has been in the car business for 40 years, 30 of them in Suffolk. As of Monday, though, when he was sworn in as the city’s newest council member, when he looks out the windows of that Suffolk dealership, he sees the city he is now sworn to represent.

“It seemed like something I could get some satisfaction from,” Duman said of being on City Council. “I would be able to give back to the community in another way.”

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Duman’s parents moved him to the Hampton Roads area during his junior year of high school. He and his wife, Fran, graduated from Churchland High School.

Though his father was in the car business, Duman never intended to be. He sold cars while in college to make money, scheduling his classes in the morning and working during the afternoons and evenings.

While pursuing his business management degree at Old Dominion University, Duman joined the ROTC and later took a commission in the Army Reserves, where he served for 10 years.

In 1981, Duman opened Mike Duman Auto Sales in Suffolk. The dealership has grown by leaps and bounds and now employs about 90 people at locations in Suffolk, Franklin and Carrollton.

He was first approached by a group of people who were interested in seeing him run for City Council about eight years ago.

“I started thinking about it,” he said. However, farmer Joe Barlow represented the Chuckatuck borough at the time. In the meantime, Duman took an appointment to serve on the city’s Economic Development Authority.

His time on the Authority has earned him some supporters.

“I know that Mike is going to make a positive contribution to the council,” said J. Harold Faulk, the chairman of the EDA.

When Barlow announced he would sit out the last election in order to retire, Duman filed his papers.

“If he had run, I don’t think I would be out of line in saying he would probably be reelected,” Duman said.

As it was, Duman stood against retired health care administrator Caroline Martin in the election. He defeated her by a mere 312 votes in November.

“Both candidates were well-qualified,” Barlow said this week.

Barlow said he believes Duman will do a good job for Chuckatuck and the city as a whole.

“He does have the borough in mind, but he also has the city of Suffolk in mind,” Barlow said.

Duman said the relationships he has built through his dealership and other community activities probably helped him get elected.

“Because of the business that I’m in and the fact that I’m an active owner, I personally interact with the majority of my customers,” he said. “I don’t think I would have been elected if I didn’t have these relationships.”

Throughout the years, Duman has coached youth sports and served on the boards of the Suffolk Humane Society and American Red Cross. There’s no doubt, he says, those activities also helped his election.

“I’m selling third-generation cars,” he said. “I’m selling cars to kids I coached in T-ball. If they’re old enough to buy a car, they’re old enough to vote.”

Duman believes his fresh perspective will be a valuable contribution to the council.

“I’m the new guy on the block,” he said, noting that the fact the other three council members running at the same time as he were all reelected.

“I think that speaks well of the council itself,” he said. “While they don’t always agree, they work well together.”

Since his election, Duman has attended work sessions, both open and closed council meetings and Planning Commission meetings. He’s met with nearly every department head and also had several meetings with City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn and her staff. This weekend, he’ll attend a Virginia Municipal League workshop for newly elected municipal representatives.

“Another advantage I’m going to have is that I know everyone on council,” he said. “I’ve interacted with a lot of the department heads. I don’t have to go through the rapport-building process to learn who I’m dealing with. I’ve already done that.”

Duman’s first City Council meeting on Jan. 19 will be a long one, including a public hearing on the controversial Four Farms development.

Overall, Duman said he’s up to the challenge of being a Suffolk City Council member.

“I just pray I can make the right decisions,” he said.