Chronicle to Host Ward 5 Candidate Forum

Oct. 21 event at Wines Elementary features interactive tasks

The Ann Arbor Chronicle is hosting a forum for Ward 5 Ann Arbor City Council candidates on Thursday evening that will allow voters to see how candidates might do the public’s work in public, if elected.

The Oct. 21 event will present candidates with a set of scenarios on local issues. They’ll be challenged to work together to accomplish specific tasks related to those scenarios. On other occasions there have been, and will be, plenty of opportunities to hear the candidates’ talking points and opinions on specific issues. What makes our forum different is our goal of giving voters a sense of how these individuals work with others to solve problems and work through challenges. The program, moderated by Chronicle editor Dave Askins, runs from 7-8:30 p.m. at Wines Elementary School, 1701 Newport Road. The event is free and open to the public.

Three candidates are running for the Ward 5 seat: Independent Newcombe Clark, Republican John Floyd and Democrat incumbent Carsten Hohnke. The impetus for the event stemmed from Floyd and Clark, and all three candidates were given early opportunity to offer input into the forum’s planning. Flexibility of time and dates, location and moderator were offered. Hohnke chose not to involve himself in the planning of the event, and is not participating.

The exact description of the tasks won’t be revealed until the night of the forum, but candidates have been provided with the following topic areas and scenarios.

1. City Services: The recently established Main Street Business Improvement Zone entails voluntary extra taxation by property owners to self-fund enhanced services – primarily sidewalk cleaning, and snow clearing. Concerning such zones, The Chronicle has reported Ed Shaffran’s thoughts this way: “Shaffran went on to speculate that this could be a precursor of ‘a la carte government’ as revenues to municipalities dwindled. He suggested that the concept of a BIZ could be extended to residential neighborhoods as well. The strategy for providing services, he said, could evolve to be a system where a minimum baseline level would be provided by government, with BIZ-like affiliations electing to augment (or not) that baseline level.”

2. Development of Downtown Surface Parking Lots: Currently the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city of Ann Arbor are in the middle of discussions about the future of these surface parking lots and the role the DDA should have in developing them. Newcombe Clark, a DDA board member, has suggested that the city should consider selling some of the lots to the DDA.

3. Funding of Public Art: The city currently has a formula for funding public art through capital improvement projects – 1% of the cost of such projects is earmarked for public art, capped at $250,000 per project. Newcombe Clark has called for “more not less” public art, even while acknowledging there are problems with the program. John Floyd has characterized art as nice, but suggested the economic times require different priorities.

4. Transportation: Back when he was chair of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board, David Nacht appeared before the city council and gave the council an update on AATA’s current programs and future plans.

5. Economic Development: There are myriad different organizations and people that could, broadly construed, be involved in the “economic development” of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.

6. Management Oversight: The city council is charged with evaluating the performance of two key posts in the city administration – the city administrator and the city attorney.

7. Washtenaw Avenue Corridor Study: The idea has been floated to establish a tax increment financing (TIF) district for the Washtenaw Avenue corridor to spur development there. It would include cooperation from the city of Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti Township and the city of Ypsilanti.

8. Board and Commission Appointments: For most board and commission appointments, it is the mayor who makes nominations, with confirmation by the city council. It is rare that councilmembers deliberate on nominations or vote against them, with one notable recent exception being Sabra’s Briere vote cast against Anya Dale’s appointment to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

9. Burden of City Council Work: Based on documents from the early 2000s, city council compensation was increased to its current levels based partly on estimates that councilmembers spent 30 to 60 hours each week working on council-related matters and that service on the city council has become a full-time job.

10. Quality of Life: Imagine that a department at the University of Michigan is trying to recruit an academic superstar, Professor X, to come to UM on a senior appointment – that is, a tenured job is being offered.

Additional Chronicle coverage of the Ward 5 race: “Ann Arbor council candidates meet with downtown merchants” and “Ann Arbor City Council Elections: Ward 5


  1. By Jack F.
    October 19, 2010 at 2:25 pm | permalink

    “Hohnke chose not to involve himself in the planning of the event, and is not participating.”

    Don’t you love it when candidates think they can dodge and coast their way to reelection and that no one really is paying attention?

  2. By Rod Johnson
    October 19, 2010 at 5:48 pm | permalink

    Is Hohnke participating in *anything*? What a complete waste of votes he is.

  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 19, 2010 at 7:11 pm | permalink

    I prefer the term ‘political coward’ myself.

  4. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 19, 2010 at 7:12 pm | permalink

    You know, the ‘democrat’ who is afraid to put DEMOCRAT on his campaign signs. Gutless.

  5. By Dave Askins
    October 19, 2010 at 7:40 pm | permalink

    Re: [4] “… afraid to put DEMOCRAT on his campaign signs”

    With all due respect, Alan, this was asked and answered back in June — recall that to settle the issue, I went out with a Vernier caliper and measured to verify the existence and the size of the D in Democrat on Hohnke’s signs. The word is there, it’s just that it’s small. I’d just as soon not read through another comment thread based on points and picas, but for all I know some additional insight into typefaces on campaign signs may have been achieved since June.

    Re: [2] “… is Hohnke participating in *anything*?”

    The question is allusion to the fact that in addition to declining to participate in The Chronicle’s event, Hohnke also decided not to participate in the event hosted by, which already took place. He did participate in the League of Women Voters event and the Main Street Area Association event — both of which The Chronicle covered. In fact, there are links to those Chronicle pieces at the conclusion of the list of 10 topic areas above. He also participated in a westside business owners event held at Belmark Lanes, and is scheduled to appear at an Old West Side forum at Bach School.

  6. By Rod Johnson
    October 19, 2010 at 7:52 pm | permalink

    I plead guilty to hyperbole, and an obsession with points and picas* (on which I was schooled by cosmonican on the last go-round, so I won’t go there this time).

    *well, not picas, really.

  7. October 19, 2010 at 9:01 pm | permalink

    Is the Old West Side forum open to the public? I heard about it verbally but it was apparently only advertised in the newsletter. Since I live on the Old Northwest Side I don’t get that.

  8. October 19, 2010 at 11:34 pm | permalink

    Thanks Dave for putting so much time and thought into this…

    Whoever shows up…this is going to be a first. Imagine…people who don’t see eye-to-eye will actually have to come up with a solution and decision in front of the cameras and public, and in a matter of minutes no less. Wow…if only every form of government could work like this….I for one would get a lot more sleep on Mondays nights.

  9. October 19, 2010 at 11:36 pm | permalink

    Also Vivienne,

    It’s my understanding that the OWS forum is open to the public and is scheduled for the following Thursday at Bach, also starting at 7pm.

    Hope to see you at both and hope you bring us some tough questions..

  10. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 20, 2010 at 6:48 am | permalink

    “The word is there, it’s just that it’s small.”

    Much like his commitment to Democratic Party ideals? And Hohnke’s fear of debates seems to be the media sponsored ones. How many of the others were the questions released to the candidates in advance?

    Dave, the point of whether Hohnke is a barely visible Democrat or invisible Democrat with the size of his “D”, was resolved, true, by your above and beyond the call of duty reporting back in June. I was revisiting the issue to draw attention to Mr. H’s political courage, which seems to tie together by his fear of being seen as a Dem with his fear of facing media outlet sponsored debates. And debates for the Democratic Primary are not the same as debates with his two non-Democrat challengers for the November election. It might be a good campaign strategy but hiding from media sponsored debates is sending a very clear signal.

  11. By Mark Koroi
    October 21, 2010 at 12:42 am | permalink

    Carsten Hohnke apparently has taken a cue from last year’s election of Marcia Higgins and feels that once you are a Democratic Party nominee for City Council you basically have won your seat.

    No need to campaign for the November election.

    Only thing he needs to do is prepare his Election Night victory party.

  12. October 21, 2010 at 7:38 am | permalink

    What a great idea Mary and Dave. I hope many AA voters attend from all Wards and not just Ward 5 as these are issues that affect the entire city. AA Chronicle clearly “thinks outside of the box!”


  13. By John Floyd
    October 21, 2010 at 10:59 pm | permalink

    This was a really great event. Newcombe and I agreed on several points, and had civil disagreements on others. Audience members later told us that these discussions illuminated issues for the public. Ann Arbor needs more discussions like the one we had tonight. Some of them ought to be held at the corner of 5th and Huron, first and third Mondays of the month.

    Thanks for Newcombe for suggesting our various debates, and to Dave and Mary for staging this one.

    And good night Mr. Hohnke, wherever you are.

    John Floyd
    Republican for Council
    5th Ward

  14. By Tizzo McFizzo
    October 22, 2010 at 9:56 am | permalink

    I appreciated the candidates participation in this event. I just wish there would have been more opportunity for interaction with the audience.
    Wouldn’t it be great to boot out Hohnke and be able to install both a Republican and Independent in the 5th? Time for City Council to have some diversity. I’m tired of the *silly games*, tired of all the fish swimming in the same direction and especially tired of the rent being too damn high.
    Time for some petite bourgeoisie up in here.

  15. October 22, 2010 at 11:42 am | permalink

    @14, questions from/discussion with the audience would be a good addition. Maybe a few randomly selected volunteers could round out the table?

    @13, John, what did you learn from Newcombe? Newcombe, from John?

    I enjoyed the event and would welcome the opportunity to participate in something similar with the mayor.

  16. By cosmonıcan
    October 22, 2010 at 1:40 pm | permalink

    Re #’s 14 & 15: Including the audience would remove any semblance to council activities; they ignore the public as it is, no need to fool us with a charade.

    Mr. Hohnke should have been there, with a third wheel there may have been more sparks.

  17. October 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm | permalink

    The format was unusual and at first (IMHO) yielded little information. They were asked to write questions on a whiteboard and often ended up agreeing more than anything else. But it engendered real conversation between the two candidates present on the last question, which was to ask where you would take a guest (see point #10 in text above) to show him Ann Arbor’s true character and what we are all about. That ended up being a fascinating display of different perspectives between two members of different generations and was quite revealing.

    Two different members of the audience came prepared to make their own points, with display boards. I guess that they were frustrated. But by separating the two candidates from the necessity of interacting with the audience (or, really, with the moderator), they were liberated to speak as human beings rather than as politicians.

  18. October 22, 2010 at 3:57 pm | permalink

    I agree with Vivianne, the last question in particular was great.

    Steve, in response to your question, what I learned about/from John is a lot more about who he is. The opportunity allowed us to talk as humans, discuss our area of disagreement, but ultimately find ways to compromise and get something accomplished. In front of cameras and an audience no less. It’s how government should work.

    It’s been a pleasure to have at least one curious opponent who has been willing to engage the issues in creative ways. I would be honored to serve with him and the city would be lucky to have his service…but I’m still not voting for him.

    Thank you John, and thank you Mary and Dave. What you pulled off was truely of value to the voters and our documentation of our city’s story.

  19. By John Floyd
    October 25, 2010 at 2:11 am | permalink

    I may now know more about Mr. Clark’s after-dark recreations than I had previously intended. I also found him engaging, easy to work with, and creative, even as we differed on all the most important issues.

    The first-time format was experimental, and designed to show off the candidate’s working skills, not their issue stances per se. Perhaps this process can evolve in the next election cycle.

    Given that this format was explicitly, intentionally, NOT about issues or the electorate’s questions, the hunger that people displayed for “authentic” interactions between and with their representatives seemed all the more raw. The disconnect between our current council majority and the public goes deep.

    I am more and more aware that many in Ann Arbor’s civc arena are contemptuous of the very idea of representing people; rather, it is the idea of ruling over them seems in vogue. In some cases, that impulse to rule people is prettied up as “Leadership”. My own revulsion at the Ruling Class’s various smug expressions of the perceived “dim bulb”-ness of the citizenry, the arrogance of presumed superior vision and insight, the weird and brittle desperation to keep this “superior” vision and insight secret from Ann Arbor’s Great Unwashed, and my curiosity about how we got to this place, were important elements in the thought process that led to me run, both in 2008 and 2010.

    What is supposed to make America better than prior civilizations, and current rising nations such as China, is that we are a self-governing people. This is the basis for the rule of law, of civil society, of our economics. Besides being more aligned with the inalienable rights with which people are allegedly endowed by Their Creator, self-government was to better call forth, over time, the very creative and entrepreneurial energies Ann Arbor’s ruling class claim to seek.

    The Chinese political class seems at present not to worry much about what “the little people” think, or about what conditions will call forth and maximize their creativity over time. “Thinking”, in the current Chinese system, is the job of the self-annointed political class. Much current discourse from our local political class mimics this mind-set: “we know best what is needed, your job is to either A) go off and die so that we may make room for people way cooler than you, or B) shut up and pay your taxes so that, like the Chinese, we can fund marginally productive capital projects”. Hard to see how this environment – no un-orthodox or differing opinions needed – would appeal to anyone who actually was creative. Hard to see how the impulse to burn cash on marginal capital projects would appeal to anyone who actually knew how to make money.

    Ms. Armentrout,

    FWIW, the issues I raise are the ones I would have raised under similar circumstances at an earlier age. The Tear-It-All-Down crowd includes a wide range of ages, many (most?) of its public faces are older than mine, and its zeitgeist* seems inspired by Sinclair Lewis. We all have our own perspectives; to me, the idea that this election is about a generation gap is not supported by the evidence. I get more the feel that the cry of “generation gap” is a device merely intended to further the Tear-It-All-Down agenda, much as our “lack of diversity” is apparently to be used.

    Footnote to the end-of-event discussion: If we are about increasing density to attract new people, but are not about proportionately increasing Ann Arbor’s population, what portion of the city are we to abandon?

    *per Mr. Hohnke’s Teeter, that means “Spirit of the Age”

  20. October 25, 2010 at 8:27 am | permalink

    Re #19, my comment was not meant to indicate that the election is “all about” a generation gap, but Mr. Clark certainly presents much of his argument from the viewpoint of a spokesman for the Millennials.

    Regarding the rest of your statement, a friend of mine refers to it as “The Hegemony”.

  21. By John Floyd
    October 25, 2010 at 12:30 pm | permalink

    Gracious and Neighborly Ms. Armentrout, let us agree to disagree. I see, not the spokesman of the millennial, but the spokesman of George Babbit.

    Its only a hegemony as long as we tolerate it.

    John Floyd
    Republican for Council
    5th Ward

  22. October 25, 2010 at 9:33 pm | permalink

    OK, I’ll bite. Where is the Chronicle’s coverage of the event it sponsored? Did I miss it somehow?

  23. By Dave Askins
    October 25, 2010 at 10:04 pm | permalink

    Re: [22]: “Where is the Chronicle’s coverage of the event it sponsored?”

    My goal is to have a report published by week’s end.

  24. By John Floyd
    October 27, 2010 at 1:04 am | permalink

    I have been informed that some people take my salutation to Ms. Armentrout (“Gracious and neighborly”) to be sarcasm. This is mistaken. I am sincere. Ms. Armentrout is, in fact, both gracious and neighborly (we live about three blocks apart).

    John Floyd
    Republican for Council
    5th Ward