[Note: This column grew out of an analysis of the July 6 Ann Arbor city council deliberations on site plan development for the library lot. At the start of those deliberations, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) proposed an amendment that specified some public participation and eliminated the time frame for a Request for Proposals (RFP).]
Chess players in a tournament have to play a series of games against opponents drawn at random. Top players don’t worry much about the draw – their tournament results ultimately depend on skill, not who they have to play against.
Similarly, skilled politicians are able to work for the public good – no matter who happens to sit across the table from them.
Based on a preliminary examination of the additional corpus of emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Chronicle, it appears that Leigh Greden (Ward 3) would prefer to play his political chess when he can choose his own opponents and arrange outcomes in advance. In his own words, he likes to “script” outcomes for the public. And part of that scripting entails being the casting director – trying to control who sits across the table from him.
We’ve seen that pattern reported over the last few months in The Chronicle in connection with the “mutually beneficial” committee of the Downtown Development Authority. That committee will renegotiate the DDA’s parking agreement with the city of Ann Arbor sometime before FY 2011. Greden had objected to the membership of Jennifer Hall and Rene Greff on the DDA’s committee and resisted the appointment of a corresponding city council committee – until Mayor John Hieftje decided not to reappoint Greff to the DDA board and Hall removed herself from the committee.
Assuming Greden wins his primary election in August against Stephen Kunselman and LuAnne Bullington, he will serve on the city council’s committee that negotiates the parking agreement with the DDA. He apparently believes he’ll have an easier time of it without Hall and Greff on the DDA’s committee. He might well believe that Sandi Smith, who serves on both city council and the DDA board – and who replaced Greff on the committee – will just hand over the $2 million from DDA revenues requested by the city without discussion. What he might not have reckoned with is the fact that Smith has – in the nearly one year I have covered DDA and city council – shown an ability to think and speak for herself without being fed her lines.
What does this have to do with Mike Anglin’s proposed amendment on Monday night?
On Monday evening, after rejecting Anglin’s amendment, Greden stated he was willing to hear alternatives from “someone else at the table.” But apparently not from Anglin. Greden also wasn’t willing to come up with any amendments of his own to Anglin’s amendment. Why not?
The FOIA-ed emails reveal that when Greden is in an erudite mood, he thinks Anglin is “mentally unfit” for office. The FOIA-ed emails seem to suggest that Greden would prefer to communicate with Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) about Anglin’s re-election chances than to figure out a way to work constructively for the public good with Anglin, a fellow Democrat.
Possibly as a consequence of his lack of regard for Anglin, Greden was either unwilling or unable to see the obvious commonality he had with Anglin Monday evening on the amendment to the resolution on the library lot site development process: He’d agreed with Anglin that there should be public input, and he agreed that the time frame was too constrained. It’s common practice to undertake amendments to amendments. But Greden missed the opportunity – he doesn’t seem to want to work with Anglin on anything, ever.
Sure, it was an opportunity missed by Anglin as well – he’d waded into the deliberations in a confrontational way, and Greden responded in kind.
But for Anglin, the potential downside was limited – his political goals seem focused on his own spot on city council. For Greden the potential downside was that “someone else” could take the opportunity to perform as a skilled politician.
Someone like Sabra Briere.
Based on the FOIA-ed emails, it’s clear that Greden thinks Briere wants to be mayor of Ann Arbor. If Greden doesn’t want her to be elected mayor someday, he needs to stop handing her opportunities to demonstrate her political skills.
It was Briere who led the council Monday night through the exercise of collaboratively crafting language for an amendment to Anglin’s amendment that achieved a unanimous roll call vote, including a yes from Greden. It was a fairly mundane, garden-variety political maneuver by Briere, devoid of flash, not some brilliant checkmate planned out move by move.
Chess players draw a distinction between their command of “book,” which is to say – encyclopedic knowledge of previous games – and their “over the board” ability, or their ability to analyze the pieces on the board in the moment. Briere’s simple move wasn’t a “book” move – it was just a matter of recognizing a situation “over the board.” That situation is this: Sometimes pushing a pawn one square ahead, without capturing or threatening any of your opponent’s pieces, is just the right move.
Because sometimes pushing a pawn gets you an extra queen.
Obvious good moves are easier to spot by attending to the pieces on the chess board and not the person playing them – “play the board, not the person” is good advice in chess as in politics. You always have control over the board, but not the person playing the opposite pieces.
Maybe Briere does want to be mayor some day. But right now she’s running for re-election in Ward 1 as council representative. And her political skills would serve her and the community equally well, if she’s re-elected to that post. As for Greden, he confuses political skill with the art of avoiding interactions with those who might outwit him. If he can learn the difference, he might be able to serve the public interest better – provided the voters of Ward 3 decide to re-elect him.