Dems Forum Finale: The Campaign, The Party

Ann Arbor Democratic city council candidates: Taglines, priorities, accomplishments and campaigning ... "It's not that much fun."

Editor’s note: A forum hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party on 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), and 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.

This final installment of coverage from the June 8 city council candidate forum focuses on the remarks candidates made that were overtly about the campaign – to the extent that those remarks weren’t included in one of the previous reports on this forum.

The fact that the forum was hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party meant that party politics was an obvious potential topic. State representative Jeff Irwin set that tone early as he addressed the audience with a legislative update. And Ward 2 candidate Kirk Westphal, who’ll face independent Jane Lumm in the general election, stressed that he is a Democrat.

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. Part 3 reported on the theme of connections, including physical connections like transportation, as well as how people are connected to local government. And Part 4 covered the theme of downtown and its role in the life of the city. Chronicle election coverage is tagged with “2013 primary election.”

The League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area will be holding its candidate forums for Ward 3 and Ward 4 primaries on July 10 at the studios of Community Television Network. Those forums will be broadcast on CTN’s Channel 19 and will be available online.

The Campaign

Julie Grand led things off by saying she had truly enjoyed the opportunity so far of “getting out in the community, listening to your concerns, listening to your solutions.”

During her closing comments, Grand added that if people at the forum had other questions about her campaign, they could look at the literature that had been placed on tables in the back of the room. Her website would be live shortly, she said. [Grand's website] She offered to talk after the forum or when people saw her out in the community – as she was not taking any vacation over the next couple of months.

Grand felt she has a strong record of public service to the community – one that she said has been characterized by hard work, transparency and strong public engagement. That’s what she’d continue to do, she said. [Grand is chair of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission, on which she's served since 2007. She has served on several task forces during that time, including one that's currently focused on the North Main/Huron River corridor.] Grand said she is looking forward to the opportunity to continue listening to people’s ideas and working hard for them.

Stephen Kunselman said he’s seeking re-election. Back in 2011, he noted, he’d campaigned on the tagline of a “strong voice, bold vision, an honest ethic and a new direction.” This year, his tagline is “experienced, effective, ethical leadership you can trust.” [Kunselman's website]

Kunselman thanked Grand for throwing her hat in the ring. Campaigning is not easy, he said. He allowed that it’s a good time because you meet a lot of people – but it’s not that much fun. He thanked other candidates who stepped forward, because it really does give the city a broad representation of interest in the dialogue that’s going to be taking place in the next couple of months, he said. He repeated his tagline for this year: “Experienced, effective, ethical leadership you can trust.” He’d be going door-to-door over the next couple of months, he said.

He’s accomplished a lot during his service on the city council that he’s very proud of, Kunselman said, working with councilmembers Sabra Briere and Mike Anglin. As an example, he gave the public art ordinance that was given a major revision at a recent council meeting. The revision to the public art ordinance meant that the city would no longer be transferring restricted monies into pooled funds for public art.

As another example, he gave his service as the council appointee to the taxicab board. When there were complaints about limo drivers assaulting University of Michigan female students, he had stood up to make sure that the police department was addressing that issue, he said. When there was a proposal to close fire stations in the last year, he’d opposed that with others on the council, and added FTEs during the last fiscal year. About the former YMCA site – a city-owned property at Fifth and William – he noted that he’d campaigned in 2011 on the idea of selling it. A broker is now being selected by the city administrator, so that the city can be put back on the tax rolls again.

Kunselman commented on the houses along Main Street – across from the Ann Arbor Community Center, where the forum was held. He noted that the dilapidated houses, which had been part of the demised Near North affordable housing development, had now been demolished. [Demolition had been delayed, in part because the city expected that federal funds could be used to cover the cost, but that proved not to be the case.] Where did that money for demolition come from? Kunselman asked. When he’d been returned to the council by voters, he said, he’d used his experience working in local government. And because of that experience, he said, he’d pushed not for using the city attorney’s office to deal with blight in the community. Instead, he’d said: Let’s use the building department. He’d previously run a dangerous buildings program in a prior position, and he knew that the building department could be effective.

There’s a tremendous difference between playing poker politics and putting the cards on the table for all the public to see, Kunselman said. He gave forum attendees information on his campaign kickoff event.

Jack Eaton said it’s time now to turn attention “from stopping the bad ideas to a positive agenda.” He said it’s important to revisit the idea of protecting the city’s parkland from misuse. “We need to address our infrastructure needs. We need to address our unfunded liabilities. I want to help rebuild our police and fire departments,” he said. He’s running because he wants to be responsive to Ward 4 voters. But he also wants to represent the interests of the entire city. [Eaton's website]

Eaton reported that when he goes door-to-door talking to voters, he hears repeatedly that people really like it when he talks about commonsense priorities. It’s not that difficult to understand that public safety is more important than some of the other things the city spends money on, he said. It’s not that difficult to understand that when roads are in horrible condition, the city needs to address those problems. It’s not that hard to understand that neighborhood flooding should have been addressed a long time ago and we have just ignored the symptoms, Eaton said.

Sabra Briere ventured that she’d been “annoying my spouse lately” because every time she goes through a neighborhood and sees the sidewalks being repaired, she says, “If I have accomplished nothing else, I’ve done that.” She described how the first thing she did after she was elected to the council was to object to the method of paying for sidewalks. At that time, it was an individual’s responsibility as a property owner to pay for the sidewalk adjacent to your property. She was really happy that the community was asked to approve a millage for that, and had agreed to pass a millage to pay for sidewalk maintenance.

“Infrastructure is my big deal,” Briere stated. Her other big deal, she said, was a focus on affordable housing and human services. She’d been working on that “more quietly perhaps than some people might like, but it is making a real change in the budget.” She pointed out that this year the council was able to allocate $100,000 to the city’s affordable housing trust fund, when that had not been done in the last several years. That’s important because it’s a community value, she said.

Briere said she’s really tried over the last few years to be open and available to the public – to benefit from other people’s viewpoints as much as possible. Sometimes she’ll play devil’s advocate, she said – countering somebody’s view with someone else’s view to see how well they can defend it. Yes, she has a website, Briere said, and yes, you can e-mail her. But she pointed out that you can also talk with her – every Monday morning at the Northside Grill at 7:30 a.m. She stays until at least 9 a.m., she said. Some of the candidates and councilmembers at the forum had come to visit her there. She’s there to hear what anybody has to say. If nobody shows up, she has other stuff to do while she’s sitting there – adding that Northside Grill makes “a decent cup of coffee.”

Democratic Party

As a gathering of members of the city Democratic Party, it was not unusual to hear partisan talk at the June 8 candidate forum.

Democratic Party: State Politics

Jeff Irwin – representative for Michigan’s 53rd House District, which includes most of Ann Arbor – led off the morning by filling some time until moderator Mike Henry was able to arrive.

Irwin described how progress had been made on the possibility of Michigan adding LGBT individuals [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] as a protected class under its civil rights law. Based on an NPR news story he’d heard, Irwin indicated that Republican Rep. Frank Foster would be willing to introduce the necessary changes to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen civil rights act. “This is something we have been working on in Lansing as Democrats for at least a decade,” Irwin said.

Michigan is one of only a few states that does not have that language in its civil rights act, Irwin continued, so Democrats have been working on this issue for years and years, trying to get LGBT protection inserted into Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen act. Explaining why it’s a Republican who’s bringing the proposal forward, Irwin explained: “When those of us like myself get to Lansing and see the Republicans control everything, we realize very quickly that, you know, the best way [to move the issue forward] is to get a Republican to lift up the banner and carry it across the finish line.”

So a number of Democrats had been working behind the scenes with Republicans to try to encourage them, particularly younger Republicans, Irwin said. “… [I]f they want to have a political career in Michigan, that if they want to survive in politics, they need to understand that the politics of this issue is moving so fast that they are going to get run over and flattened if they don’t get on the right side of it.” If the Republican Party wants to maintain its “bigoted position” on marriage, he said, then the Elliott-Larsen change would be a way to mollify that and “save themselves.” Irwin thought a number of Republicans had been convinced that a change to Elliott-Larsen is a good move for the Republican Party in the next couple of years.

And in response to a question from local attorney David Cahill about Democratic Party prospects statewide in 2014, Irwin took the opportunity to heap criticism on the most recent Republican U.S. president. Michigan Democrats are looking at 2006 as a model for how to achieve success, but one part of the 2006 success had been the fact that George W. Bush was in office – something that couldn’t be repeated, Irwin noted, describing Bush as a “buffoon.”

Democratic Party: Candidate Forum

The candidate forum also touched on partisan themes. In particular Kirk Westphal asserted his Democratic Party credentials. Although he’s unopposed in the Ward 2 primary, he’ll face incumbent Jane Lumm in the general election. Lumm is running as an independent, though she ran for mayor in 2004 as a Republican and served in the mid-1990s on the city council as a Republican. Lumm attended the June 8 forum and sat in the audience. She told The Chronicle she had no expectation of participating in the candidate forum, and that she was there just to listen.

In his remarks, Westphal noted that he’s unopposed in the August primary by saying, “I’m the only Democrat running for the seat in the Second Ward – so I’ll keep my remarks brief and mostly focused on personal background.”

Later, Westphal stated, “I’m a strong Democrat,” and went on to list out where he stood on basic issues. He believes in a strong government role in the environment, the arts, transit, affordable housing and in successful cities overall. He wanted to bring those values to the Ward 2 council seat.

Westphal characterized the local government as the face of the community. Some folks think that a local government should play a very small role, he allowed, He felt, however, that the local government captures the personality of the community. He added, “And I’m frankly running because a lot of my wardmates and I have not seen progressive Democratic values reflected in this council seat. And we believe that these values are important to the future, both locally and nationally.”

The other explicit mention of the Democratic Party came from Sabra Briere, who told the audience that she’s sorry there’s no Democratic primary in Ward 1 – saying that’s not her doing.

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  1. By Mark Koroi
    June 23, 2013 at 5:31 pm | permalink

    Julie Grand is the wife of United States Magistrate Judge David Grand. David Grand was, prior to his federal judicial appointment, affiliated with the influential Miller Canfield Paddock & Stone law firm as an antitrust law expert.

    Miller Canfield Paddock & Stone is the former law firm of former Ann Arbor City Council member Leigh Greden and has been the firm affiliated with GOP political heavyweights such as Clifford Taylor, Steve Markman, and Spencer Abraham. The Miller Canfield law firm locally has represented the University of Michigan and McKinley Associates.

    Michigan Secretary of State records downloadable at [link] illustrate that David Grand has pumped thousands of dollars of campaign contributions cognizable by that office’s Bureau of Elections. A large percentage of these contributions were made to the Miller Canfield political action committee. That PAC has historically given numerous donations to conservative candidates. It is one of the largest PACs in the in the State of Michigan, based upon the history of contributions collected and redistributed.

  2. By Kerry D
    June 23, 2013 at 10:10 pm | permalink

    Julie Grand’s candidacy is being supported by those who are angry at the proposed reforms by Steve Kunselman as to the Downtown Development Authority.

    Mrs.Grand has nothing important to offer City Council given her limited experience in city government.

    Steve Kunselman has been a bastion of integrity and leadership on City Council and it would be wholly imprudent for the Third Ward to lose this valuable civil servant.

    I am proud to support the re-election bid of Steve Kunselman and his ongoing efforts to reform the inefficiencies and substandard performance of the DDA.

  3. June 23, 2013 at 11:21 pm | permalink

    RE: [1]

    First, for readers who wonder what the exact totals are and what the exact link is for looking up campaign contributions on the Secretary of State’s website, here’s the link: [link]. The search form is super long, but you don’t need to fill in many of the parameters. If you’re interested in how much an individual gave, then use just the fields labeled “Contributor Information.”

    For David Grand, the summary totals I get after dumping the results into a spreadsheet are as follows, with the first donation coming in April 2008.

    GRANHOLM LEADERSHIP FUND  511667-IND            $100
    MILLER CANFIELD PAC  506957-IND                $4427.88
    NED STAEBLER FOR STATE REP  514463-CAN          $260
    RICK SNYDER FOR MICHIGAN  514347-GUB            $200
                                 Grand Total       $5387.88

    But in thinking about my own city council representation (Ward 5), I have to say I don’t care who Kathy Anglin has supported or who Nancy Shore has supported. That’s because I’m reluctant to assume that spouses hold the same policy views or would make the same decisions if they were elected. It would be Julie sitting at the table, not David, if she were to be elected. When Sabra Briere first ran for city council, some of her critics feared that she’d simply be a mouthpiece for her spouse, another David (Cahill), who is fairly well known in the community, and can be outspoken. I’ve not made a formal study of it, but I think it’s fair to say the evidence over the last six years is that Briere and Cahill have separate minds. If David Grand’s campaign contributions are relevant, that would make Letitia Kunselman’s contributions equally relevant – but my sense is that there’s less interest in those.

    In any case, if a Ward 3 voter thinks that the Secretary of State’s contribution database is important, then I’d hope it’s only because they think the actual candidates’ contributions are relevant. Julie Grand shows up in only a single record – a $10 donation to Ned Staebler’s campaign for state representative. For readers who need a reminder, that was a very close 2010 race between Staebler and Jeff Irwin, won by Irwin. The database shows that Irwin received $30 from Steve Kunselman.

    Because Irwin is a Ward 3 resident, and now state representative, it might make sense for both Grand and Kunselman to seek Irwin’s endorsement. For Grand there’s possibly $10 worth of awkwardness to overcome in asking. But I don’t think Jeff Irwin is the kind of representative who’d weigh the $40 net in deciding that question.

  4. June 24, 2013 at 8:26 am | permalink

    I consider (3) to be a rather oblivious assessment of the influence of spouses in campaigns and politics.

    However, I’ll just note that there is no Kathy Anglin (unless Mike has a sister or sister-in-law by that name). His wife is Kathy Clark.

  5. By John Q.
    June 24, 2013 at 12:46 pm | permalink

    I disagree. Some spouses are politically active and influential, others are not. I’ve seen both and Dave is correct that one shouldn’t assume one way or another.

  6. By Lou Glorie
    June 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm | permalink

    “Westphal characterized the local government as the face of the community….’and I have not seen progressive Democratic values reflected in this council seat’.” Progressive Democratic values? the Democratic Party since Clinton has rejected “progressive” values” unless one thinks of Clinton’s welfare reform, Obama’s domestic spying as progressive.

    Locally, I wonder how Westphal judges the attempts of the former “democratic” holder of that Ward 2 seat. His attempts to sell off parklands (while calling both attempts leases)were not what I would call progressive. Too many pols who wear the moniker “progressive” exhibit the arrogance of people who know what is best for the rest of us and don’t want the rest of us slowing down the progressive policy assembly line.

    But Lumm has been one of the best things that has happened to this city in ages. She is thoughtful and fair. I don’t always agree with her, but her honest attempts to faithfully represent her constituents put her in a league of her own. Westphall, is the Mayor’s man. Nobody is fooled. Either the voters will want a sock puppet or they’ll chose heroic defense of democratic principles represented in Lumm’s independence.

    Regarding the spouse’s political contributions. I think it is an unusual, if not a rare, couple that is greatly misaligned politically. The fact that no two human beings–spouses included– always agree, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned by evidence that one half of the couple seems aligned politically with radical conservatives. Though much was made of the seemingly incongruous marriage of political operatives James Carville and Mary Matalin–he worked for Clinton, she for Bush pere, they weren’t really so different. They just worked for different ad agencies, did what they did for the sake of their careers and benefited as a couple.

    Frankly, I found Mr. Grand’s contrib to Cliff Taylor–one of the worst justices ever selected (Engler)in this state–troubling. Taylor was known as an activist judge–actively rewriting by overturning environmental, health and safety and labor laws. In a 2007 poll of lawyers who had argued before him, he scored lowest in judicial attributes such as being prepared, and knowledge of the law. But Mr. Grand put a bit-o cash on the line for him. The fact that Ms. Grand doesn’t have her own political contrib rap sheet, is perhaps telling. Where was she when Taylor and Snyder were running? Was this not a subject of discussion in their household? If she differed from her hubby, why not make her own contributions in her own name. Maybe what this shows is a lack of political Independence–acquiescence to power rather than devotion to principles. Is this what the Third Ward wants?

  7. June 24, 2013 at 4:28 pm | permalink

    Actually, I’m delighted that Sabra’s sidewalk repair reform has been such a success! I also love to see the repairs in progress.

  8. By Mark Koroi
    June 24, 2013 at 9:53 pm | permalink

    “But Lumm has been one of the best things that happened to this city in ages…..”

    One thing that I have noticed in my discussions with city residents is that Mrs. Lumm has a broad cross-section of support over several political parties – Republican, Greens, Democrats etc. even though she is an independent and, historically, identified with the GOP in her earlier runs for office.

    Some have believed she could defeat Mayor Hieftje in a mayoral election. While I concede her popularity, both Mrs. Lumm and Hizzoner both enjoy broad name recognition and political connectedness in Ann Arbor and it would be a very close race if she decided to run. 413 E. Huron was a P.R. disaster for the Mayor and could cause him to lose a political ally, Marcia Higgins, on City Council this August.

    What had to be a stinging embarrassment to the Mayor was when he went door-to-door to support the re-election bid of Steve Rapundalo, and Rapundalo, a longtime incumbent Democrat could not get 40% of the vote against Mrs. Lumm. Will he do the same for Marcia Higgins this election cycle?

    Marcia Higgins, as the Chronicle series of articles indicates, did not appear at this important candidate forum, she has not placed a campaign website up yet, ad I have not heard that she has gone door-to-door this election cycle as Jack Eaton has. Neverthess, she has won every electon since 1999.

    Her only Democratic primary victory was over Eric Lipson in 2005. Lipson and Eaton have remarkably similar backgrounds – both are U-M-educated attorneys who have backgrounds as progressive liberal Democrats and have been active in local homeowner association issues. Lipson, a Planning Commissioner at the time, called Higgins “invisible and ineffective” during neighborhood issues relating to traffic calming on Rosewood Avenue that year. Eaton’s staus as a progressive liberal may not endear him to the GOP residents within the Fourth Ward. The “Landsdownians” remain largely conservative from the days when Bechtel engineers inhabited that area.

    If Jack Eaton can defeat Higgins, the political prestige of the Mayor will be substantially lessened.

  9. By John Heed
    June 30, 2013 at 12:03 am | permalink

    Regarding Stephen Kunselman’s comments at the recent Dems Forum: his claim that his chairing of the Cab Board is an example of the positive contributions he makes in public service is both laughable and infuriating. According to the Chronicle, Kunselman said that “when there were complaints about limo drivers assaulting University of Michigan female students, he had stood up to make sure that the police department was addressing that issue, he said.” This is an example of his continued alternative reality on this topic: there never were complaints specifically about State-licensed limo drivers: the complaints were about unidentified drivers. In the only case where a driver was identified, it was a City-licensed driver. Kunselman has conflated the regulation of State-licensed vehicles with these assaults since they happened, despite having no evidence that they were in any way linked.

    Further, in widely reported quotes, he also falsely implied that specific companies were likely involved because they were licensed by the State instead of the City. Despite receiving evidence to the contrary, and the fact that we now know that no one associated with those companies was involved, he has repeatedly refused to retract those remarks or apologize. He has essentially accused these local businesses and their workers of being responsible for these horrible acts and, when it became obvious that he was wrong, he “stood by his comments.”

    In attempting to address these and other issues, we were further subjected to the spectacle of Kunselman spearheading a drive to have the AAPD write tickets to State-licensed vehicles, and continuing to do so even though every one of these tickets that was contested was thrown out of Court, and Kunselman’s own expert witness told him at a public meeting that it was illegal.

    He has done nothing to make things better in this area, neither for customers nor the transportation providers, and has done much to make it worse. If this is what he means by “experienced, effective, ethical leadership you can trust,” neither the voters of the 3rd Ward nor the City as a whole need or deserve any part of it.