Although he seriously considered running for mayor of Ann Arbor in 2014, Democrat Yousef Rabhi has now announced that he won’t seek the mayoral post at this time. [.pdf of Jan. 9, 2014 letter from Rabhi]
He’ll instead almost certainly seek re-election as one of nine commissioners on the Washtenaw County board. Rabhi represents District 8, an area that lies completely within the city of Ann Arbor – in the south central part of the city, including the Burns Park neighborhood and most of downtown.
The two-year terms for commissioners coincide with the two-year terms for mayor of Ann Arbor, a position that is elected every even-numbered year. So Rabhi could not simultaneously pursue the mayoral post while seeking re-election to the county board.
After his first two years of service on the county board, Rabhi’s colleagues elected him board chair last year, and he was re-elected to that post at the board’s first meeting this year, on Jan. 8, 2014. Rabhi was first elected to the county board of commissioners in 2010, winning a primary election race by one vote on the initial tally, which grew to a two-vote margin when the votes were recounted.
Rabhi spoke to The Chronicle in a phone interview on the morning of Jan. 9. Responding to a question about what he wanted to accomplish on the county board that he would not be able to achieve as mayor, he pointed to some of the collaborative work between the county and the city that’s been done already, which he thinks needs to have a strong advocate at the county. He thought he could continue in that role as a strong advocate to bridge the connection between the county and the city, and to make the delivery of services more efficient for residents countywide and in particular for residents of the city of Ann Arbor. And Rabhi thinks he could be more effective in that role at the county than he could as mayor of Ann Arbor.
Responding to a question about what his best moments on the county board had been so far, Rabhi pointed to his emphasis on process. Another highlight he cited was the county board’s passage of a four-year budget, which is something he thought was unprecedented for any municipality. The board passed the 2014-2017 budget at its Nov. 20, 2013 meeting.
Rabhi said his current plan is to seek re-election to the county board for a third two-year term. But he indicated that if a different opportunity for elective office arose this year, he might consider that.
At least one of those other elective opportunities that could lead Rabhi to alter his plan to seek re-election to the county board would depend on a potential decision by Congressman John Dingell not to seek re-election. Dingell is a Democrat who has represented Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1955 . If Dingell did not run again, one scenario is that state senator Rebekah Warren (D-District 18) would run for the seat currently held by Dingell in Michigan’s 12th District, and that state representative Jeff Irwin (D-District 53) would run for the seat currently held by Warren. That would leave District 53 in the Michigan house of representatives open. Irwin was also a Washtenaw County commissioner before first being elected state representative in 2010.
Rabhi said he was pleased with the amount of support that he’d received, from across the political spectrum, as he talked to people in the community about a possible candidacy for mayor. So he had felt good about his chances if he had run. He indicated that he would not rule out seeking to serve the city of Ann Arbor as mayor at some time in the future. Rabhi confirmed that he’d also spoken with other potential mayoral candidates (Conan Smith, Stephen Kunselman, Christopher Taylor, Sally Petersen, and Sabra Briere) about his prospective candidacy.
In addition to his work on the county board of commissioners, Rabhi has worked most recently as a community outreach assistant with the city of Ann Arbor’s natural area preservation program. It’s a seasonal position.
The field of mayoral candidates in Ann Arbor is somewhat wide open this year, because mayor John Hieftje announced on Oct. 11, 2013 that he would not be seeking re-election to an eighth two-year term in 2014. Rabhi indicated in his Jan. 9 phone interview that he had decided from the beginning that he would be all in or completely out of the mayor’s race, and would not be supporting any one of the candidates.
Declared candidates for mayor include Democrats Stephen Kunselman and Christopher Taylor, both of whom currently represent Ward 3 on the city council. Kunselman holds a masters of urban planning from the University of Michigan and works for the university as an energy conservation liaison. Taylor, a graduate of the University of Michigan law school, is an attorney with Hooper Hathaway.
Each of the city’s five wards is represented by two members on the 11-member council, which includes the mayor. Council terms are two years, so every year one of the two council seats in each ward is up for election.
Kunselman was the first to announce a candidacy for mayor and took out petitions on Sept. 27, 2013 – even before winning re-election to his Ward 3 council seat on Nov. 5, 2013. Taylor followed three months later by taking out petitions on Dec. 20, 2013.
Taylor’s 2008 Democratic primary win came over then-incumbent Kunselman. Kunselman was subsequently returned to the council representing Ward 3 the following year, in 2009, when he received more votes than incumbent Leigh Greden.
Taylor’s two-year term ends in November 2014, so Taylor’s decision to run for mayor is also a choice not to seek re-election to a fourth term on the council. In contrast, Kunselman will retain his seat on the council, even if he is not elected mayor. The seat Taylor is leaving open in Ward 3 will be contested by Julie Grand, who lost the August 2013 Democratic primary to Kunselman. In a telephone interview with The Chronicle on Jan. 9, Grand said she was planning in 2014 to run for election to Ward 3 seat that’s being left open by Taylor – because her reasons for wanting to serve on the council had not changed. If Kunselman prevailed as mayor, the council would need to appoint someone to fill the seat left vacant by Kunselman.
Ward 2 could also see an open seat due to a mayoral candidacy – if Democrat Sally Petersen decides to run for mayor. Petersen wrote in a Jan. 8, 2014 email to The Chronicle that she had not yet made a decision on that. She was first elected to the council in November 2012. Like Taylor’s situation, a choice by Petersen to run for mayor would be a simultaneous choice not to seek re-election to her current council seat. That seat could be contested by Democrat Kirk Westphal, who lost the November 2013 Ward 2 general election to independent Jane Lumm. A potentially open Ward 2 seat could also be contested by Stew Nelson, who lost the 2008 Democratic primary in Ward 2 to Tony Derezinski.
Ward 1 would not have an open seat due to a possible mayoral candidacy by Sabra Briere – because she was, like Kunselman, re-elected in November 2013 to a two-year term. So she would retain her seat on the council, even if she did not prevail. Briere replied to an emailed inquiry indicating she anticipated a statement on Friday about her intentions. If Briere were elected mayor, then the council would need to appoint someone to fill the Ward 1 seat she currently holds.
Petitions for the mayoral partisan primary in August 2014 must be turned in by April 22
May 13. The requirement is for 50 signatures from each of the city’s five wards, for a total of 250 signatures.
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