Six Questions: Stephen Kunselman

Exiting Ward 3 council member says he might run again
Stephen Kunselman

Stephen Kunselman

Editor’s note: We asked the four members of Ann Arbor city council whose terms are ending – Chris Easthope, Stephen Kunselman, Joan Lowenstein, Ron Suarez – to share their thoughts about their experiences in that elected position. Yesterday, we published the observations of Joan Lowenstein.

Today, Stephen Kunselman, a Democrat elected in 2006 to represent Ward 3, reflects on his accomplishments and gives some insights into what it’s like to serve on council. He works for the University of Michigan’s Energy Management Office.

1. What was the best advice you received (or the worst) before starting service on council? What advice do you have for incoming councilmembers?

I didn’t really get any significant advice in terms of how to be a politician. But here’s the advice I’d give: Don’t get emotionally wrapped up in issues and think it’s personal, because that’s certainly not true. I’ve had a lot of involvement in the public sector and I understand that political drama is not to be taken personally.

2. What are you most proud of accomplishing during your council tenure?

One of the proudest moments is definitely associated with the skatepark effort. That’s in part because of my personal connection to it as a retired skateboarder – although I still skate sometimes – and knowing the history of skateboarding and the skateboard community in Ann Arbor. There wasn’t anyone else in the political establishment to assist with that effort, so that’s one of my prouder moments, bringing a voice to the skateboard community. One of my disappointments is that I won’t be there to see it to fruition, though I’ll still be involved in some way.

I’m proud of serving on the Park Advisory Commission with Bob Johnson and Mike Anglin, voices that represent the common people. One of the things that pushed me to serve on council is that a lot of people feel intimidated by it, so not many try. It’s not easy putting yourself out there.

I’m also proud of being instrumental in making ordinance changes, as a sponsor of both the chicken ordinance and sidewalk vendor ordinance – those are two significant changes in our city’s code of ordinances that hadn’t been addressed and where there were failings. To be a one-termer and having accomplished that, it’s certainly something I’m proud of. The chicken ordinance was fun and it’s flocking around the country – just recently I was reading that communities around Dallas are supporting backyard chickens. The sidewalk vendor ordinance deals with public safety issues. It also levels the economic playing field among vendors and protects property owners’ rights. I spent a lot of time working with various groups like the merchants associations and the University of Michigan to promote interest and support – that was a lot of work. And I took a lot of heat for coming down on sidewalk vendors who were pushing the envelope by leaving their carts parked for many months unattended on our city sidewalks, but the issues weren’t being addressed.

3. What was your most/least favorite aspect of serving on council? What do you think might surprise people about the job?

My least favorite part, and also a bit of a surprise to me, is the burden of having the responsibility be so pervasive every waking moment. There’s hardly a time during the day when you’re not thinking of city business, about what can be done to inform the people and improve the city. That time-consuming mental occupation caught me a little by surprise. It might not be that way for others, but it is for me since I’m passionate about the community I grew up in.

The ability to be engaged in public service is special. I look around and there are thousands of people in the city – why aren’t they running for office? It takes an energy and passion to put yourself out there. Regardless of longevity, I rose from humble beginnings on the west side of town and was able to serve in elected office. I know people who I grew up with who are proud of that, too – who’d have thought that a skater from the west side would grow up to be an elected official and advocate for a skatepark?

A councilperson plays a lot of different roles, from advocating for the community to serving as a dignitary. One of the things I enjoy but that’s time consuming is going to various events. One of my best experiences was being keynote speaker at the 150th anniversary of Hutzel Plumbing and Heating. I had a lot of fun with it. I gave a rousing speech with commentary like “You guys are out there bringing potable water to the community!” They really enjoyed it – one of the guys gave me a standing ovation.

5. Where will we see you next – do you anticipate being involved in other public forums/community activities?

It’s difficult to think that far ahead, because who knows? Every month something comes up that I could get involved in. I’ll definitely be involved in what’s happening with the skatepark. But I’ve served my community for four years – two years on the planning commission, and two years on council – while having kids in school and trying to keep afloat in tough economic times. Part of it gets back to where I am in life, with a beautiful home and family. I feel this responsibility to advocate on behalf of the common person and the working families I grew up with. So I’d always consider running again for council. I’m only 45, so I have many years in which I could do so. If you look at the majority of council, people are either retired, well-off or don’t have children in school. It’s difficult for someone who doesn’t fit into those categories to do the job, so it’s important to have someone who can represent that voice. If I see that we’re not getting the attention of city services, then I might feel I’d have to run.

6. Any other thoughts or wisdom you’d like to share?

Even though it was difficult to leave the family at the dinner table to get to council meetings, I did enjoy the debates and the responsibility of conducting city business. I always felt a sense of honor, duty, and ethic to the public and am proud to say that I never compromised my values in order to achieve some political objective – that is, don’t succumb to the “any means to an end” mantra that can consume a politician.

Section: Govt., Opinion

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  1. By Stewart Nelson
    November 11, 2008 at 10:52 am | permalink


    All the AA Hills “dissidents” thank you for your service and dedication to making AA great. We appreciate the fact that you would listen to us when almost no one else would even though you were not our elected representative.

    Good luck to you on whatever you decide to do with your “free time” and please count on me to help with the skate park. It will be a great addition to the City and help increase our “cool factor” geometrically.


  2. By Jeff Irwin
    November 11, 2008 at 1:19 pm | permalink

    Councilman Kunselman had a certain poetic ring to it.

    In any event, for somebody who spent a relatively short time on council, Steve Kunselman left a mark that I will certainly remember. Really, who would want to forget about the chicken ordinance? I loved it!

    Throughout the chickens, the skate park and more, Kunselman was an independent and forceful voice for making Ann Arbor a better place. When council opens up the rules for citizens to enjoy their lives more fully – without infringing on the same rights of others – we end up with a cooler, freer city that reflects what’s best about America. Thank you Councilman Kunselman!

  3. November 11, 2008 at 1:53 pm | permalink

    Several mornings each week we have Steve Kunselman to thank for allowing us the freedom of a carbon-free breakfast. This morning we had the thrill of getting our first BLUE egg from one of our Araucana chickens. We love to brag that our pets make us breakfast (the neighbor’s pets poop on our lawn). It’s exciting when children from the neighborhood visit to see what color eggs our chickens will lay today (brown, green, blue?) and to hold their first chicken. Thank you Steve for bringing real progressive values into action in Ann Arbor. We need more like you.