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Landscape Architect Elected Michigan Rep.

By Stephen Kelly, regional editor

Michigan Rep. Marie Donigan (D-Royal Oak), a landscape architect, was a city planner for Farmington and a Royal Oak city commissioner before stepping into the political arena.

Marie Donigan, born and raised in Royal Oak, Michigan, earned a bachelors degree from Western Michigan University and a master's in landscape architecture in 1983 from the University of Pennsylvania before returning home to look after her ailing mother.

In a phone interview with Rep. Donigan, LASN learned of her path to state office. The job market for landscape architects at the time, she explained, were on the East Coast, but she was back in Royal Oak and facing a depressed economy. For a time she sold wallpaper, but after the passing of her mother moved to Detroit to take a job with a landscape architectural firm that did urban master planning and had "cornered the minority contractor market."

Ms. Donigan then joined the landscape architectural firm of James C. Scott for three years, working on municipal contracts, playgrounds and high-end residential projects.

In 1989, she went to work for the city of Farmington Hills in the department of planning and community development, and became a "master tree planter." The city was one of the first in the state to have a tree ordinance. It required developers to do tree surveys to include any trees over 6" in diameter, and to replace trees on a one-to-one basis. A city tree fund was also established.

Still a resident of Royal Oak, she began attending meetings of the city commission. Her continuing work as a planner for Farmington gave her a perspective on how well things were run in Farmington, compared with how the city fathers were running Royal Oak, inspiring her to run for election to the Royal Oak Commission. She was elected to the commission in 1997, but kept her job in Farmington.

It was during this time that she became friends with her state representative. Michigan has term limits, and when he was "limited," she decided to vie for the office. "It was a tough campaign," she recalls, from April of 2004 to the August primary, and then the final run to the November election. The Royal Oak district is about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, plus there was a Libertarian and an Independent running.

"So, here I am," Rep. Donigan says, in Lansing, a "freshman once again," she laughs. While she acclimatizes to state politics and being one of 110 state legislators (58 Rep., 52 Dem.), her focus is on her two committees: Local Government and Urban Policy, and Natural Resources, Great Lakes, Land Use, and Environment.

Rep. Donigan can be reached via email at

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December 6, 2019, 1:41 pm PDT

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