Dems Forum Part 3: Connections

Ann Arbor city council candidates discuss their views on public transportation, youth involvement in local government

Editor’s note: A forum hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party on Saturday, June 8, 2013 drew six of seven total city council candidates who’ve qualified for the primary ballot.

From left: Julie Grand (Ward 3 challenger), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3 incumbent), Jack Eaton (Ward 3 challenger), Mike Anglin (Ward 5 incumbent), Kirk Westphal (Ward 2 challenger), Sabra Briere (Ward 1 incumbent).

From left: Julie Grand (Ward 3 challenger), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3 incumbent), Jack Eaton (Ward 4 challenger), Mike Anglin (Ward 5 incumbent), Kirk Westphal (Ward 2 candidate), Sabra Briere (Ward 1 incumbent).

In the Aug. 6 Democratic primary, only two wards offer contested races. In Ward 3, Democratic voters will choose between incumbent Stephen Kunselman and Julie Grand. Ward 4 voters will have a choice between incumbent Marcia Higgins and Jack Eaton. Higgins was reported to have been sick and was unable to attend.

The format of the event eventually allowed other candidates who are unopposed in the Democratic primary to participate: Mike Anglin (Ward 5 incumbent), Sabra Briere (Ward 1 incumbent), and Kirk Westphal, who’s challenging incumbent Jane Lumm in Ward 2. Lumm, who was elected to the council as an independent, was in the audience at the forum but didn’t participate. The event was held at the Ann Arbor Community Center on North Main Street. The Chronicle’s coverage is presented in a multiple-part series, based on common threads that formed directly in response to questions posed to the candidates, or that cut across multiple responses.

One question posed to candidates explicitly involved transportation: What do we do to implement an effective transportation plan for Ann Arbor that would decrease congestion and encourage alternative modes of travel? But transportation fit into a broader set of themes at the forum that could be collected under the notion of “connection” – connectedness of citizens not just to physical locations, but to their local government.

Candidates had clearly prepared to talk about the topic of transportation generally. Jack Eaton criticized last year’s demised countywide planning effort, based on the fact that other communities were not asked to defray the costs of that planning. At the same time he called for better maintenance of roads, partly out of concern for bicyclist safety. He also called for more frequent bus service during extended hours – but cautioned that he was focused on spending Ann Arbor’s local transit millage money on transit in Ann Arbor.

As far as millages go, Mike Anglin was clear that he would vote for a possible new millage resulting from the admission of Ypsilanti to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. However, Anglin was emphatic that he did not support trains, but rather only buses – with a focus on moving people around inside the city.

Julie Grand said she was glad that the possibility of adding rail service was being studied, and that by council resolution, the question of possibly using the Fuller Road site for a new train station would go to the voters. She pointed out that the park advisory commission, on which she serves, focuses on the potential for non-motorized connections when it considers parcels to acquire as parkland. She called transit a regional issue, but said that ultimately we need to focus on transit within the community.

Stephen Kunselman was specific with a suggestion of how to return a focus to the city’s own transportation needs: Remove the city’s transportation program manager, Eli Cooper, from the AATA board – so that Cooper could focus on issues like sidewalk gaps and bicycle lanes. Kunselman also stated that he would be proposing that the city council rescind its memorandum of understanding with the University of Michigan to build a parking structure as part of the Fuller Road Station project.

Although UM has withdrawn from participation in that project under the MOU, Kunselman said he wanted to “kill it.” That way, he said, the conversation could turn away from using the designated parkland at the Fuller Road Station site as a new train station, and could instead be focused on the site across the tracks from the existing Amtrak station.

Sabra Briere ventured that the community did not have a consensus about the basic question of what kind of transportation system is best for Ann Arbor – one that was geared primarily to commuters or one that was designed mainly for city residents as a replacement for personal automobiles.

Kirk Westphal told the audience that he’d chosen a house to buy in Ann Arbor based on its proximity to a bus line. He ventured that the transportation system needs to be robust enough to attract people out of their cars, and that to be financial viable, a certain amount of density is required. It’s important to support development near transit lines to provide that density, he said.

In addition to the question about connecting people to physical locations (i.e., transportation), candidates at the forum responded to a question about connecting people to local government. The question was specific to involving youth in local government. But candidates also delivered a range of comments throughout the forum related to the theme of connecting residents to government.

Among the specific suggestions was one from Westphal, who floated the idea of a “citizens academy” for general government along the lines of Ann Arbor’s citizens police, courts and fire academy.

Part 1 of this series focused on the candidates’ concept of and connection to Ann Arbor, while Part 2 looked at their personal styles of engagement and views of how the council interacts. Other themes from the forum will be presented in subsequent reports. Chronicle election coverage is tagged with “2013 primary election.”

Transportation: Non-Motorized, Safety

Non-motorized connections were part of the forum conversation, even when the topic was not explicitly about transportation. Sabra Briere told the audience that when she was first elected to the council, she’d asked why voters hadn’t been asked to approve a millage to fund sidewalk repair. [The city previously took the approach of requiring owners of property adjacent to a sidewalk to pay for repairs, when the city's inspection determined that a slab needed replacement or repair.] The answer she got was: Nobody would vote for a millage for this. So she was pleased that the request of the voters had been made and that the city was now fixing the sidewalks, and the cost is not being assessed to individuals.

Briere also said she was really pleased that the city is finally beginning to tackle sidewalk gaps. That’s a “weird issue to care about,” she allowed. But Briere reported that in her part of the city, there are lots of places where there’s no safe way to walk anywhere except in the middle of the street.

Jack Eaton also addressed non-motorized transportation. The infrastructure needs to be improved so that the pavement is good enough to ride a bicycle on, Eaton said. Potholes and the horrible surfaces that drivers complain about are even worse for bicyclists and pedestrians, he noted. Eaton also suggested improving the markings on roads and bicycle lanes so that they are clearly maintained – so that bicyclists feel secure in their bike lane.

Julie Grand told the audience that one of her interests during her service on the park advisory commission and in work on the PROS (parks and recreation open space) plan has been in connections for non-motorized use. When PAC prioritizes which parcels of land to acquire or when the city is planning for a new park, the potential for creating non-motorized connections is an important consideration. The North Main Huron River task force, on which she serves, had focused on the city-owned 721 N. Main property for its potential to make non-motorized connections. She ventured that if the city wants people to use bicycles for transportation on roads, then the city needs to encourage people to use their bikes in a recreational setting. It becomes more feasible for that person to think about using a bicycle to get to work, if they’re accustomed to riding a bicycle for fun, she said.

Not in the context of the question about transportation, but nevertheless related to that theme, were remarks from Mike Anglin about a stretch of road in Ward 5 along Seventh Street, between Pauline and Liberty. The downhill stretch results in excessive speeds, he said. So he was looking forward to supporting the efforts of a resident who recently began documenting the issue and who has set up a Facebook page: SOS (Safety on Seventh St.) Ann Arbor.

Anglin was critical of “traffic calming” as a policy that could address safety needs. “For me, it’s really hard to let [traffic calming] policy dictate safety in our community,” he said. Anglin characterized traffic calming as making the road narrower so that the driver gets nervous and says, “I’m going to have to slow down, because I may have an accident and ruin my car here.” Personally, Anglin said, he thinks a stop sign does a really good job at slowing down traffic.

We have control of the streets, Anglin said, and it’s important that we look at the things we have control of – and that we work to do things for the people who live here.

Transportation: Regional versus Local

Jack Eaton observed that transportation is really a regional question. About Ann Arbor’s local millage, he felt recently too much of it had been spent planning transit for communities outside of the city – who are not interested in participating in transit. One of the ways that you plan for regional transit is you make those other communities pay their share of the planning costs, Eaton said – because it shows that they are interested in participating when the plan is done. Rather than spending millions of dollars on a countywide system that dissipates due to lack of interest, he wanted to focus on improving the service that we have. We need to increase the frequency of buses, he said, and the buses need to run later in the evening.

As far as regional transportation is concerned, Ann Arbor needs to seek financial participation at the planning stage, he said, before service is expanded to Chelsea or Canton or Saline. Eaton said he’d be careful with the money that is collected for Ann Arbor’s local transit system. He would focus on improving what Ann Arbor has – showing how well it works for Ann Arbor – to make it an attraction to live inside the city of Ann Arbor.

Kirk Westphal noted that transportation is part-and-parcel of any kind of urban planning theory – in the functioning of the city and region as well. It is said that nobody buys or builds next to a bus line, he allowed, but he and his wife bought their house because it was on a bus line. Westphal said he uses public transit or bicycles every day.

Westphal called transit an equity issue that ties into issues of congestion. Coming from New York, he allowed that his view of congestion is a little different from that of people here. He quipped that a lot of cities in Michigan would like to have a problem with congestion. But transit has to develop along with density – and transit doesn’t work sustainably without density, he stressed. So density has to be part of that conversation. He indicated that roads also need attention and that road repair and transportation need to be discussed as a whole. Transportation service has to be robust enough to attract people out of their cars, he said. And it’s important to support development near transit lines, in order to make it a sustainable financial endeavor.

Julie Grand described transit as ultimately “for a region,” but as a city there’s only so much control that Ann Arbor has. The only regional transit decisions that the Ann Arbor city council can make involve reaching out to other communities, she said. Ultimately, the city should focus on transit needs within its community. Grand called for diversification of transit options. The park-and-ride system has been very successful for a lot of people, she said, and she would like to see more of that. At the point she delivered her remarks, Grand noted that no one had yet brought up the potential for trains – which Grand knew is a hot button issue – but she said she was really glad that the issue is being studied, and that it’s going to go to the voters.

Grand called for diversity in transportation but allowed that we need to recognize the limitations in the priorities of the communities around us – even though the approach should ideally be regional.

Sabra Briere ventured that we have a difference of opinion as a community about how transportation should work. Some people think public transportation should be our substitute for owning a car – that we should be able to go to the doctor, go to the grocery, go to the library, without having to own a car. And that means a lot of neighborhood service, Briere concluded.

Other people think that the transportation system should be the means for people who are driving their cars into town to go to work, Briere continued. People coming to work should actually be able to take the bus or the train or some other form of mass transit. She felt there was not a consensus about those two viewpoints – not in the community, not on the AATA board, and not in the public meetings she had attended on the topic.

There is a real tension back and forth about whether it’s this or that kind of transportation system, Briere said. In order to provide services for commuters, you might not be able to afford to provide neighborhood service. To provide neighborhood services, should you ignore the commuters?

Briere pointed out that Ann Arbor’s population has grown for the first time in over 20 years. She observed that a lot more cars are clogging up Ann Arbor’s streets and parking spaces. Briere reported hearing a complaint just recently that somebody couldn’t get to an event because there was no parking available downtown. She hears all the time that people don’t want to go downtown because the parking is so difficult. But she also hears people say it had not been necessary to build more parking downtown. The fact that the community has these very different, polarized opinions about transportation shows that this is not a simple problem, Briere concluded. She ventured that it’s not within our control to decide if the trains will come, or if there will be regional transportation all around Ann Arbor all the way to Detroit.

What is in our control is the possibility that Ann Arbor residents could be asked to vote for another millage, Briere pointed out – in order to provide decent transportation within the urban core. [That additional millage would be requested in the context of Ypsilanti's admission into the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The millage would be requested by the AATA itself.]

Transportation: Rail Service

Mike Anglin’s remarks were focused in large part on criticism of possible rail service. He blamed the fact that land designated as parkland along Fuller Road actually had the zoning classification of PL (public land) as allowing for the possibility that a train station could be proposed for that site.

The most economical way “to push people around the city” is on buses, Anglin contended. Buses are flexible and are much less expensive than trains. “If you think you can afford a train, you’re going to be really surprised how much that costs,” Anglin cautioned. While the majority of the cost of a bus system goes toward bus driver salaries, Anglin said, most of those salaries remain in the community, because the bus drivers work in the community and then spend their money in the community. “I’m a big supporter of the buses; I am not a supporter of the trains,” Anglin said. Amtrak should run the trains, Anglin said, and the city shouldn’t start getting into a business it knows nothing about.

Commenting on the AATA’s AirRide service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro airport, Anglin allowed that it’s starting to gain popularity. But there are people who still take their cars to the airport, he said.

Anglin stressed that the city should focus on the essentials – fixing roads, and providing police and fire protection. He ventured that it was more important to plant trees and fix roads – once the basics are covered, only then is it appropriate to look beyond that. He wasn’t saying: Don’t have a vision. So he supported buses. He noted that the council had just approved a change to the articles of incorporation to include Ypsilanti in the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. But he cautioned that “It’s going to cost you money, though.” Voters would be asked to approve a millage, Anglin said, “and I will vote for the millage for the buses.” He would not, however, vote for a train, saying that the area doesn’t have the population density necessary to support a train.

Following Anglin was Stephen Kunselman, who echoed Anglin’s sentiments, noting that Anglin had said everything Kunselman had wanted to say. The discussion of Fuller Road Station had taken up too much of the transportation discussion, Kunselman said: “And we need to actually kill it.” If he wins the Democratic primary in August, he plans to bring forward a resolution to rescind the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that made Fuller Road Station a possibility. The MOU doesn’t have an expiration date, Kunselman said.

Kunselman called the idea of a 99-year lease to the University of Michigan in connection with the Fuller Road Station concept “a clear effort to evade the city charter requirement on the sale of parkland,” which requires a popular vote. Eliminating Fuller Road Station from the conversation would allow focus to be returned to the transportation needs of the community – transportation to get people to their jobs, to their homes, and to their recreational activities. As a planner, Kunselman continued, he understands the importance of a plan – as a document and as a vision. In that plan, he said, the city should be talking about park-and-ride, van pool, border-to-border trails, airport service, University Michigan, Amtrak, and a train station.

Kunselman then expressed support for locating any new train station directly across from the existing Amtrak station. He contended it would be out of the flood plain, based on looking at the huge drop-off down to the Huron River. But he wanted Fuller Road Station to be pushed aside so that the dialogue about a new train station can be more open and transparent.

Kunselman ventured that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is going to be more robust, now that Ypsilanti will have board representation.

Sidewalks and bike lanes are all things the city council is supporting, Kunselman said. And the city has a staff person who’s assigned to plan for those things. [Kunselman didn't name the person, but Eli Cooper is the city's transportation program manager, who also serves on the board of the AATA. Kunselman voted against confirmation of Cooper's appointment to the board.]

But Cooper couldn’t do his job as the city transportation program manager, because he was appointed to the AATA, Kunselman contended. That had led to the countywide transit effort that “flopped,” Kunselman said. “That failed – because it didn’t have the people behind it.” He called the countywide planning effort a classic example of “poker politics.” So Kunselman called for removing Cooper from the AATA – noting that Cooper doesn’t live in the city, and doesn’t “have an egg in the nest.” That would get Cooper focused on the city’s transportation planning, Kunselman concluded.

Connection: People to Services

Julie Grand said when she’s out in the community, she hears people talking about safety, about water problems and things that she can’t address – like their schools. She felt that one issue related to providing core services to the neighborhoods is that people are feeling very disconnected from their government.

She didn’t know that every road could be paved, or that all the other problems could be fixed. But one thing she felt she could do was to provide responsive communication. She described herself as “a problem solver,” saying that a resident could come to her and that she could immediately connect them to the person in the city who can address the concern. She told the audience that she’s trying to reach those people who are feeling disconnected, so that their voices are heard, and so that there’s a good sense of what those needs are and of how to meet those needs.

Connection: Youth Involvement

The specific question posed to candidates about connecting residents to local government was this: How do you plan within your ward to stimulate an increase in youth interest and participation in local government?

Grand suggested that one way you get young people involved in the community is “you take them very seriously,” and you understand their strengths. One of the things that made her want to stay in this community was an admission interview she’d done with a young woman years ago, who served on the board of a not-for-profit. And that experience made her think: This is where I want to raise my kids; this is a place where we involve youth on our boards and we involve them in politics. She felt that more of that should be done.

Grand thought that encouraging youth to volunteer, getting them to take leadership positions, taking their voices seriously – that is the way that you get them involved in the community. You don’t just give them some envelopes to stuff. Rather, you really allow them to be a part of policy decisions and allow their voices to be heard. The youth of the community are just as capable of making decisions and they know what is effective, she concluded.

Jack Eaton allowed he didn’t have an easy answer to the question of youth involvement. He pointed out there are “gradients of youth.” If you look at the college students who live here just for a few years, it’s particularly difficult to get them interested in local issues, Eaton said. He attends meetings of the College Democrats in hopes of figuring out what matters to them, but he’s not sure that they have burning local issues. He said he would continue to do outreach and participate in their organization to see what they’re concerned about and try to incorporate it into what he’s doing as a councilmember.

For younger people who actually live in the community, Eaton said, in his neighborhood there’s an organization that takes care of a local natural area preserve [Dicken Woods]. The organization gets youth volunteers to come to the woods and help chip the trails or pick up trash or to clean up. It’s good to involve students in a civic task that has a schedule, because a structured environment like that helps them feel like they have actually accomplished something, Eaton said, and they come back year after year. So he’d encourage various neighborhood organizations to be seen as a mechanism to reach out to schools to encourage youth involvement.

Stephen Kunselman said the No. 1 way to try to encourage youth involvement is to lead by example. In his campaigns, his kids have been involved, and their friends have been involved, and the kids of his friends have been involved. He cited Yousef Rabhi as an example – and pointed out Rabhi’s mother in the audience. Rabhi had helped him in his campaigns in years past, Kunselman said. Rabhi had learned from that experience and then ran his own campaign, Kunselman noted. And now Rabhi is chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. That is how to engage the youth, Kunselman said. [When Kunselman concluded his speaking turn, moderator Mike Henry  quipped: "We call that the 'Yousef card' because we all love Yousef!"]

Kunselman also mentioned that recently he’d attended the Portfolio Day at Scarlett Middle School, where he’d sat down with kids and asked about their aspirations, and told them a little bit about himself. He tried to encourage them to remember every vote counts, every person’s voice is important, that you make the difference and that you should participate. [The "every vote counts" point could have been made specifically with respect to Yousef Rabhi's first campaign – as he prevailed by a single vote.]

At that Scarlett Middle School event, Kunselman had heard from two girls that they wanted to work in the foreign service. That means that youth have aspirations, Kunselman said, and we need to listen to those aspirations and encourage them. But we also have to recognize that out of a community of 116,000 people, there are 11 elected officials on the city council and it’s very difficult to get there, Kunselman said.

Connection: General Participation

The specific question about youth involvement wasn’t posed to the candidates who don’t have contested races in the primary. But some of them commented on the general issue of participation and involvement.

Kirk Westphal observed that he currently chairs the city planning commission – and he’s served on the commission since 2006. It’s been an extremely rewarding volunteer opportunity. He tries to say that as many times as he can, to try to get more people participating on boards and commissions.

Westphal felt that creating stronger links between local government and neighborhood associations could result in encouraging more people to serve on boards and commissions. He observed that for many boards and commissions, the application files aren’t filled with a lot of resumes. He ventured that it was important to get more people running for the city council.

A lot of cities have citizens academies, he noted. And the city of Ann Arbor’s safety services area provides such an academy, focused on police and fire services. Westphal suggested that a citizens academy of some kind could introduce people to how local government works. That could bear fruit in the long run, he thought.

On the general topic of participation in local government, Mike Anglin observed: “Our turnout in a primary election is devastatingly low. It’s embarrassingly low. And our community cannot be proud of that at all.”

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  1. By Curious
    June 12, 2013 at 8:33 am | permalink

    Thanks for the great coverage. Kudos to Kunselman and Anglin. They are the knights of common sense and responsibility. CORE SERVICES. Is it odd that Lumm would attend but not participate? Seems weird to me.

  2. By Leslie Morris
    June 12, 2013 at 9:24 am | permalink

    Jane Lumm was not asked to participate in this event because it was a Democratic Party event, and Jane is not a Democrat. She is an Independent. If Kunselman and Anglin are knights of common sense and responsibility, she is a lady of common sense and responsibility. Her focus is on CORE SERVICES. Her council priorities and votes almost always find her on the same side as Kunselman and Anglin.

  3. By Eric Boyd
    June 12, 2013 at 1:41 pm | permalink

    Ann Arbor’s local democracy is being hurt by being a one-party town. I say this as a committed Democrat. We clearly have two contrasting visions for the city going forward that have nothing to do with the state and national divide between Republicans and Democrats. Regardless of which side you support, we need a public debate, an informed populace, and a well-attended vote. Having it buried in the primary election is a real shame.

    I would love to come up with two non-pejorative terms to reflect that divide. (“Council Party” doesn’t do it for me.) From my admittedly biased perspective, one side is essentially the “Knitting Party” (as in “stick to your knitting” on core services like police, fire, and road, as that’s probably all we can afford, and keep the city about it’s current size) while the other side essentially the “Magnet Party” (as in balance support for core services with investment in transportation and art, and spurring economic development to grow the city’s population and economic activity to make Ann Arbor a magnet for the creative class).

    Then the question is how to get that choice before the voters in November, not August.

  4. June 12, 2013 at 1:59 pm | permalink

    Oh, dear, Eric. What about those of us who do more than knit – but we knit, too? I’m not ready to become a member of the ‘crochetty party’. Although I do have some stainless steel wool, for the magnets.

  5. By Leslie Morris
    June 12, 2013 at 2:19 pm | permalink

    As far as I am able to discern, all the current council members and all the declared candidates support improving our local bus transportation system. Art: not so much. (That varies widely. Source of funding is the main issue. The recent council committee studying the issue has provided helpful suggestions.)

  6. By Libby Hunter
    June 12, 2013 at 3:54 pm | permalink

    Eric, I’m guessing you have the candidates views in mind when forming your two visions…right? I ask because I’ve gone door-to-door a lot for various causes over the years, and can recall that residents I’ve spoken with have quite a variety of views, some (many?) of which fall outside of your visions.

    At this point in time, my personal belief is that basic services are what we pay for with taxes. Care of trees, parks, water, sewer, solid waste, recycling, composting, library, street repair, infrastructure, safety, buses, etc. Only when these are managed well should city government dabble in other areas.

    Also, by becoming a fully functioning city government (I can dream!), some of the things you mention in your 2nd vision begin to be taken care of.

  7. June 12, 2013 at 4:28 pm | permalink

    I thought we had eight Democrats and two Republicans on Council.

  8. By Mark Koroi
    June 12, 2013 at 4:52 pm | permalink

    @Eric Boyd:

    The August partisan primary is unusual in local Michigan politics, but in A2 is designed to disenfranchise the student vote.

    The students used to have the Human Rights Party in the 1970s and got several elected to City Council in both Ypsi and A2.

    The Mixed Use Party is expected to field candidates this fall as independents. Jaclyn Vresics is planning to oppose Sabra Briere in the First Ward. This party holds meetings on the last Sunday of each month.

    Sadly, the GOP and Huron Valley Greens do not usually field City Council candidates in Ann Arbor as they did in the past.

  9. June 12, 2013 at 6:10 pm | permalink

    Re (8): “The August partisan primary is unusual in local Michigan politics, but in A2 is designed to disenfranchise the student vote.”

    My first and final reaction: Oh, piffle!

    First of all, the reason an August partisan primary is unusual is that very few Michigan municipalities have partisan city councils.

    Second, the importance of the Democratic primary only surfaced after the national (and state) Republican party moved so far to the right that it stranded most of Ann Arbor’s moderate Republicans. Until the mid-2000s, the November general election was where the action was. Some very credible Republicans went down to defeat beginning in 2004 when Ann Arbor became overwhelmingly Democratic. Then, after a couple of years in which Council (Democratic) incumbents seemed to be elected for life, some competition in the August Democratic primary began, notably with challenges against incumbents in the 5th by Sonia Schmerl and Mike Anglin.

    So while August primaries may be inconvenient to students, they were never “designed” to frustrate them.

    The idea that student candidates could do better if only the major contest was in November was thoroughly tested by Hatim Elhady in 2009. I’ve told this story in detail [link). Hatim (though a Democrat] chose to run as an Independent and ran an explicitly student-oriented campaign (though his campaign also contacted other residents). He was well liked on campus. But though given a chance to rise up in a November election, the turnout in student precincts still resulted in relatively few votes.

  10. By Mark Koroi
    June 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm | permalink

    @Vivienne Armentrout:

    The partisan primaries effectively prevented students from running for City Council since few would consider running as Republicans and filing as a Democrat might force them to have to campaign during the summer when they most likely would not be in Ann Arbor and the student electorate was likewise away.

    Hatim Elhady ran as an independent against Marcia Higgins in 2009 based upon his perception that he would draw significant student votes in the November election. A Fourth Ward Democratic Party co-chair advised me that any chance he had at beating Higgins was dashed by his not filing for the Democratic August primary ballot.

    Higgins also benefitted from this in 2003 when two U-M students and a recent alumnus filed to run against her under the Green Party and Libertarian tickets and as an independent. The three combined to garner an impressive 47% of the November vote but Higgins retained her seat.

    On the other hand in 2008, over 10,000 students filed in Ann Arbor just before the deadline to vote in the November election during that presidential cycle. A campaign organization I was affiliated with was aware of this so we targeted student precincts and it paid off on Election Day.

    The ward system also is disavantage to students contrasted to at-large voting as a student running for office would only need to finish in the top ten in the November election to win a seat on City Council and likely could have a good shot at doing so with a city-wide student electorate backing him. The ward system dilutes the student vote to the ward the student resides in.

    These are clever electoral mechanisms employed by the powers that be to prevent students from enjoying their full voting rights and to see fellow students elected to local office.

    Marcia Higgins only faced one Democratic Party primary challenge during her long tenure on City Council – in 2005 when Rosewood Avenue’s Eric Lipson was defeated in a race that was not a blowout but not very close either. Higgins went on to a razor-thin victory over Jim Hood, Jr., chair of the Ann Arbor Republican Club, in November – Marcia received only 50.7% of the vote.

    To me its all to clear that students are effectively frozen out of local political office by both the August primaries and the ward system.

  11. By Eric Boyd
    June 13, 2013 at 7:02 am | permalink

    @4: I love the idea of a “Crochetty Party”, but you might get a lot of grumps. :-)

    @5: I don’t think the disagreement is on whether to have a bus system, but whether we should be spending AA dollars on how to extend into Ypsi and beyond, whether we should be helping to fund a connector between Briarwood and North Campus, whether we should be pursuing WALLY, whether we should be pursuing a new train station (and where), etc. In other words, an expansive transit focus (“Magnet Party”) or a “keep the buses running” focus (“Knitting Party”).

    @6: I agree that many voters hold visions other than the two I outlined, but it does seem that you can break down the current council between two camps: Those who are inclined to say “yeah sure, that’s a nice to have, but we have to concentrate on the basics first” and those who are inclined to say “we have concentrated on the basics and it’s important to do some of that other stuff now”. Deciding whether we’ve done enough on the core stuff really seems like the dividing line on council. But, as I said in my previous comment, I’m sure my own biases are showing and there are other breakdowns and other names that would be more appropriate.

    Here’s a test of any such hypothesis: Read a Chronicle article about any council meeting and try to guess the vote breakdown on each major topic before the end of the section. I think its’ pretty easy to do with the division I posited ((with the exception of Councilmember Briere, and I mean that in a complimentary way), but there could definitely be better models.

  12. June 13, 2013 at 7:10 am | permalink

    #s 8, 9 & 10
    I’m with Vivienne. But Mr. Koroi has highlighted the effect of unintended consequences.
    My version:
    After the redistricting of 1980, which was – to many Democrats – intended to limit all future Democratic victories to the First Ward and make a couple of other wards (3rd and 5th) competitive while guaranteeing Republican wins in the 2nd and 4th, local Democrats became more determined to win. (At this point, the City elections were in April, when nothing else was on the ballot.) Democratic Council candidates began to win the 3rd and 5th Ward seats. By the end of that decade, Democrats had won – and lost – both 5th Ward seats, and had won both 3rd Ward seats, making the Council split 5/5. But that wasn’t good enough for some Democrats.
    They passed a petition and collected enough signatures to put an amendment to the City Charter on a November ballot – a time chosen because students were more likely to turn out. Voters in Ann Arbor approved a change to the Charter, moving the elections from April (with a February primary) to November (with an August primary). The intent, with regard to students, was to increase student turnout. (April is finals month; many students seemed to forget to vote in the academic crush.) The intent, with regard to the City, was to maybe take a majority of seats on Council and the Mayoral seat when possible – because Ann Arbor November voters were – in 1993 – more likely to vote for a Democrat in November.
    The date of the primary is set by Michigan law, not by Ann Arbor law. Michigan law also sets the filing deadline.
    Moving the elections to November didn’t increase student turnout. Running students as candidates didn’t increase student turnout. And those students who had been elected as Democrats (Lowell Peterson is the last one I can remember; he left in 1987) went on to lead fully productive lives – elsewhere, I think.
    Running in a November election is possible for a student, but unless one is in graduate school, I suspect it’s hard to serve. Yusuf Rabhi, current County Commission Chair, ran just after he graduated. Jeff Irwin was fairly young when he ran, too.
    Sometimes, observing from effects can cause someone to invent causes. For background on the switch to November elections, check out the Ann Arbor News archives from 1989-1991. Or ask an old geezer.

  13. June 13, 2013 at 11:08 am | permalink

    Speaking as a geezer, when I moved here in 1986, it was to a ward that had only recently elected its very first Democrat, and Seth Hirshorn lost his re-election bid to Ingrid Shelton (Republican who went on to serve as Mayor for – was it only 4 terms?) I worked the polls at a student precinct, and most students didn’t bother to vote in the council race (they had turned out only to vote for rent control). During my early years here, Republicans were sometimes in the majority, and frequently elected mayors. The Democratic Party was probably as diverse as it is now, but united under the party umbrella because of the partisan divide. Electing Democrats was not a “given” in those days. The November elections helped, but the national Republicans were what killed our local contingent’s ability to compete.