Ann Arbor Ward 2: Democratic Primary 2011

Voters will decide on Aug. 2 between Rapundalo and Hull

Contesting the Ward 2 Ann Arbor city council Democratic primary this year are incumbent Stephen Rapundalo and Tim Hull. Both candidates participated in the Ann Arbor Democratic Party forum on Saturday morning, June 11.

The event was a combined forum for all Ann Arbor city council candidates in contested wards for the Aug. 2 primary election. The forum was held in the context of the Democratic Party’s regular monthly meeting at its usual location in the Ann Arbor Community Center on North Main Street.

Ann Arbor Ward 2 Map

Ann Arbor Ward 2 is the highlighted magenta wedge. The image links to the city of Ann Arbor's My Property page. Type in your address for definitive information about which ward and precinct you live in, along with scads of other information.

The winner of the Ward 2 Democratic primary will almost certainly be the winner of the general election on Nov. 8. No Republican filed nominating petitions, and no independent candidate has yet filed. Independent candidates have until Aug. 15, 2011 at 5 p.m. to file petitions to run in November.

Currently, only Democrats serve on Ann Arbor’s city council. Republicans have filed in Ward 3 (David Parker), Ward 4 (Eric Scheie) and Ward 5 (Stuart Berry). For the open Ward 1 seat, currently held by Sabra Briere, no partisan challenger filed.

The last day to register to vote for the Aug. 2, 2011 primary is July 5, 2011.

After the break, we report in paraphrase form what the Ward 2 candidates had to say. Summaries of remarks made by candidates for seats in Ward 3 and Ward 5 are presented in separate articles.

Other Attendees, Logistics

We’ll start with this report with a partial picture of what the June 11 gathering was like. By way of brief background, the Ann Arbor city council consists of the mayor plus two representatives from each of five wards, who serve for two years each. That means each year, one of the two representative seats for each ward is up for election.

Saturday’s Democratic Party forum was attended by five out of 11 current councilmembers: Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) all participated in the candidate forum. Sabra Briere (Ward 1), whose Democratic primary race this year is uncontested, was invited to make remarks at the end of the forum, which she did. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) – who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary, but who faces a Republican challenge in the fall – was extended the same invitation as Briere, but could not attend due to a family commitment.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), who was first elected in November 2008, was re-elected last year. His seat is not up for election again until 2012, but he attended the forum.

Party co-chair Anne Bannister called attendees’ attention to other elected officials in the audience as well. They included county commissioner Yousef Rabhi and state representative for District 53 Jeff Irwin – both Irwin and Rabhi are Ann Arbor residents. As the room was surveyed for other elected officials, attendees got a reminder that the boards of the Ann Arbor District Library and Ann Arbor Public Schools are also elected positions. So Nancy Kaplan (AADL board) and Susan Baskett (AAPS board) were also recognized.

Baskett was recruited to keep time – it was rarely an issue for candidates. Party co-chair Mike Henry moderated.

The Chronicle counted around 50 people in the audience.

Opening Statements

Candidates were given two minutes to make an opening statement. We present candidate responses in the order they were given. First chance to respond rotated down the table of the seven participants in the forum.

Opening Statement: Stephen Rapundalo

Rapundalo opened by noting that he’d represented Ward 2 since 2005. He is seeking his fourth term on the city council for two reasons. First, he said, the ward needs continued strong, pragmatic representation. He offered his service on key council committees in support of his candidacy. [Rapundalo serves on the budget committee, the administration and labor committee, and the liquor license review committee. He is also the city council representative to the board of the local district finance authority (LDFA)]. Rapundalo said, “I am the clear choice of the two of us.” There is also some unfinished business left to do, Rapundalo continued.

Like many other communities, Ann Arbor has tried to grapple with financial challenges. As much as the city has tried to trim away the meat, he said, the fact of the matter is that it hasn’t solved the entire problem. That means the city needs to look for other solutions.

Labor concessions are important, he said, and as chair of the labor committee that’s been a goal of his. Also, the city hasn’t really begun to talk about restructuring revenue. [Presumably Rapundalo was referring to the idea of imposing a city income tax on employees who work in Ann Arbor.] He also said he thought the city is losing its touch on customer service and levels of customer service. Lastly, Rapundalo said, we need to focus on revenue and for that reason the city needs to focus on economic development.

Opening Statement: Tim Hull

Hull thanked the Ann Arbor Democratic Party for hosting the event. Ann Arbor is a great place to live, he began. Since his time here as a student at the University of Michigan, he’s appreciated the unique sense of community he’s had here.

But Hull said that Ann Arbor can’t rest on its laurels if it’s going to remain the great city it currently is. We need to provide the level of services that residents need. In difficult economic circumstances, when difficult decisions must be made, fire and police services should be the last to be cut, he said. If elected, he would make sure that the city is fiscally responsible and sets budget priorities based on community needs. It’s vital to preserve the unique character of Ann Arbor – neighborhoods, parks, natural beauty and a sense of community. As a member of the council, he would work to preserve these parks and neighborhoods, pursuing responsible development that respects the wishes of the community.

It’s important to hear residents’ voices, Hull said. Sometimes it seems like the city council is too caught up in politics to respond to community issues. He promised to be responsive to residents’ concerns, and  said he would make addressing their needs his top priority.

Question: Budget – Public Art

The state and the city face budget challenges and constraints. Many communities are going through a cost-cutting process. How would you prioritize cutting items from the budget? Please speak specifically to the question of whether public art in buildings should be prioritized at times when we are cutting police and firefighters.

Tim Hull: Budget – Public Art

Hull acknowledged that Michigan and Ann Arbor are facing a difficult budget situation. When cuts have to be made, the community’s needs should be the focus, he said. We should ask what do we need and what don’t we need, then go from there. Police and fire services need to be protected. It’s important to protect parks, because they make Ann Arbor an attractive place, he said. He said he understands the importance of public art, but feels like it’s more important to keep sufficient funds in our utilities budgets, instead of reserving a certain percent for public art.

Stephen Rapundalo: Budget – Public Art

Rapundalo said that everything should be on the table, and everything should be on the table at all times – it’s an iterative process. But the biggest cost is personnel and that’s mostly in public safety. He did not want to see public safety numbers diminish, or safety and security compromised, but the fact is that the health care and pension plans for public safety employees are totally out of synch with the rest of the public sector and the private sector, he said. Those costs need to be reined in, and the city is on a path to do that, he said.

Rapundalo also said that “revenue restructuring” had not been looked at, and the community needs to have an open debate about that. With respect to public art and parks, those are quality of life issues, but we certainly need to look at putting everything on the table.

Question: Budget – Areas to Cut

In his response to the first question about the budget, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) identified “administration” as an area that he thought could be reduced. Moderator Mike Henry followed up by asking candidates to name one or two areas that they think are prime for cutting.

Tim Hull: Budget – Areas to Cut

Hull said we need to engage constituents in the process in looking at what we really need and where cuts could be made. Some areas that might be good to look at would be various administrative roles, including the city attorney. It would also be worth looking at how the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority fits into the picture.

Stephen Rapundalo: Budget – Areas to Cut

Rapundalo said it’s easy to pinpoint things, but we need to take a more “macro look” and examine return on investment in functional areas. In the areas that Mike Anglin had highlighted – IT (information technology) and the city attorney’s office – the city is getting a good return on those investments, Rapundalo said. IT also helps move the city as a whole in a direction of efficiency. We have to be careful as we look at everything, he concluded.

Question: Campaign Support, Candidate Comparison

Who is supporting you and why do they have confidence in you? Why do you think you’re a better than those running against you?

Tim Hull: Campaign Support, Candidate Comparison

Hull said he was new to the process, but he is going door-to-door in Ward 2. He’s been talking with people of different orientations – students, young and old. Basically his goal is to talk to as many people in the community as possible, he said. He’s talked to people who are currently in office and wants to build a good constituency around his campaign.

Stephen Rapundalo: Campaign Support, Candidate Comparison

Rapundalo said his support is broad – from elected officials past and present, across multiple jurisdictions. A lot of his support comes from people in the neighborhoods – people he’s helped with their end-of-the-driveway type of issues. As for why he’s a better choice of the two candidates, it boils down to two things, he said: leadership and breadth of experience.

Question: Disagreement

Who would you say you disagree with most often on the city council – please be specific. How would you work to bring yourselves to agreement?

Tim Hull: Disagreement

Hull said it really depends on the issue. He said he could agree with councilmembers on some issues, but disagree on others. It depends on what they’re considering. As an example, for public art he might disagree with some members, but agree with the same people on the DDA parking contract. With respect to the DDA contract, he was concerned about giving too much power to a non-elected body. [The contract recently ratified unanimously by the city council and the DDA board assigns full responsibility for setting public parking rates to the DDA.]

Pressed by the moderator to talk about how he would bring himself closer to agreement – in terms of techniques and strategies – Hull said they could have a discussion and come up with compromise ideas.

Stephen Rapundalo: Disagreement

Rapundalo said there’s not any one person he can pinpoint as someone he disagrees with most. Sometimes you’ll have agreement and sometimes you’ll have differences, he said. At the end of the day, there’s always some measure of compromise. There’s always common interest and common goals. The DDA is one area where he’s taken issue with other councilmembers, he said.

Question: Library Lot

What would you like to see on the Library Lot? [The Ann Arbor DDA is moving forward with a process that would essentially restart a look at alternate uses of several downtown city-owned lots, including the Library Lot on South Fifth Avenue, where a 640-space underground parking structure is being built. See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor DDA Continues Planning Prep." An RFP process for development atop the Library Lot site was terminated this spring, after a conference center/hotel project was initially identified as the preferred alternative among the six proposals submitted.]

Tim Hull: Library Lot

Hull said it’s not what he wants to see there, but rather what the community wants to see there. We need to have a process where the community is engaged in deciding what it wants there, whether that is a park or a conference center, or something else altogether. The previously terminated RFP process was far from ideal, he said. He felt that the public was not as engaged as it should have been. That could be seen from the objections that were voiced up to the time that the council terminated the process, he said.

Stephen Rapundalo: Library Lot

Rapundalo noted that he was intimately involved in that particular issue. [Rapundalo chaired the RFP review committee for the Library Lot proposals.] For at least four years now, the community has been clear that we want to see dense development on that property, he said.

It’s a very valuable piece of property and needs to be developed so that the tax revenues can be realized, Rapundalo stated. What that development should be, he said, he did not know. The RFP put out by the city was completely wide open and did not have preconceived notions. Rapundalo concluded by saying he was quite dissatisfied that the process was prematurely terminated.

Question: Conference Center

Do you think Ann Arbor needs a conference center anywhere? If so, should public dollars be used to support it?

Tim Hull: Conference Center

Hull said the city shouldn’t be picking winners or losers and that whether we need a conference center is up to the private sector. The city shouldn’t be subsidizing it with public money, given that we’re cash-strapped as it is, he said.

Stephen Rapundalo: Conference Center

Rapundalo said the very essence in a public-private partnership is that there’s some contribution from the public sector into it. What that should be depends on the specifics of whatever project is presented. However, the city should always minimize risk going into a project. He said he had some qualification to assess the need, and that there is some unmet need. People want to be able to step outside their meeting door and enjoy the downtown. [In contending he had some qualification to assess conference center need, Rapundalo was alluding to his capacity as executive director of MichBio, a biosciences industry trade association.]

Question: University of Michigan, Washtenaw County

How would you characterize the relationship between the city and the University of Michigan? How would you characterize the relationship between the city and Washtenaw County?

Tim Hull: University of Michigan, Washtenaw County

Hull said collaboration between the city, county and the university is important because they’re all interconnected. Obviously the county and the city coexist with each other, and the university is located in the city, he said. Many Ann Arbor residents have a stake in the university. He himself is a university employee, he said. We should cooperate to reach common goals, but keep in mind our separate interests. We need to open more dialogue. The city should engage the university more in city affairs, in particular students, who feel alienated from the political process. Sometimes the main contact a student has with the city is getting an MIP [minor in possession of alcohol] citation, which shouldn’t be the case, he said.

Stephen Rapundalo: University of Michigan, Washtenaw County

Rapundalo had to depart shortly before the forum concluded in order to attend high school graduation ceremonies for two of his daughters. He was not present for this question.

Question: Economic Development

Describe the Ann Arbor that you would help to create if you’re elected. What are your priorities for economic development?

Tim Hull: Economic Development

Hull said that what makes Ann Arbor really unique is its neighborhoods and its sense of community, its parks and its services. He wondered who would want to invest in a community with potholes all over their roads. It might not be glamourous, but making sure fundamentals are in order is something we should prioritize. We need to make sure that developers know what the community wants, and we need to work together to build something that’s equitable to all parties, he concluded.

Stephen Rapundalo: Economic Development

Rapundalo had to depart shortly before the forum concluded in order to attend high school graduation ceremonies for two of his daughters. He was not present for this question.

Closing Statements

Each candidate was given two minutes for a closing statement. Because Rapundalo had to leave the forum early, he did not give a closing statement.

Tim Hull: Closing Statement

Hull thanked the Ann Arbor Democratic Party again for putting on the forum. He appreciated what all the candidates said.

Times may be tough, given the state of the economy, but we’ll weather the storm together, he said. We might have to make difficult decisions at budget time, but it will be less painful if we prioritize based on what’s best for the community. As a councilmember, he’ll work diligently to represent citizens interests.

He’ll fight to protect those things that make Ann Arbor unique, Hull said. He specifically wants to see Huron Hills golf course protected. He allowed that he might be young, but he has the resolve and dedication to fight for the issues that matter to voters.

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  1. June 16, 2011 at 7:54 pm | permalink

    Didn’t Rapundalo used to be a Republican?

  2. June 16, 2011 at 10:51 pm | permalink

    Yes, ran as a Republican against John Hieftje (Dem) when they were both running for an open seat. (Ingrid Sheldon had decided not to run again.)

  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 17, 2011 at 10:05 am | permalink

    “Used to be”? Right…