Petersen Also Running for Mayor

Ward 2 city council representative Sally Petersen has announced that she’s running for mayor of Ann Arbor. She made the announcement in a press release Wednesday morning, Jan. 15, 2014. The city clerk’s office confirmed that she pulled petitions that morning to contest the August Democratic primary. [.pdf of Petersen's press release]

Ward 2 council member Sally Petersen at the city council's Jan. 13 work session on economic health.

Ward 2 councilmember Sally Petersen at the city council’s Jan. 13 work session on economic health.

Petersen’s press release cites her previous employment experience with CFI Group, ABN AMRO Mortgage Group, and HealthMedia, as well as her service on nonprofit boards. Petersen holds an MBA from Harvard University.

If Petersen is elected mayor, it will be with two years of experience on the city council. She was first elected to the council in 2012, prevailing in the August 2012 Democratic primary against incumbent Tony Derezinski with 55% of the 2,102 votes cast. Among the four declared candidates from the council so far, two years would be the shortest period of service.

By November this year, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) will have logged six years of council service, having been first elected in 2008. By election time, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) will have served seven years on council. And Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) will also have seven years of Ann Arbor city council experience – which began with his election in 2006, but was interrupted for a year when he lost the 2008 Democratic primary to Taylor. Kunselman was returned to the council in 2009, prevailing in the Democratic primary over Leigh Greden.

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. Briere announced on Jan. 10, 2014 that she’d be running for mayor. Taylor announced his candidacy last year, on Dec. 20, 2013. Kunselman was the first to announce a candidacy for mayor, taking out petitions on Sept. 27, 2013 – even before winning re-election to his Ward 3 council seat on Nov. 5, 2013.

Ann Arbor’s city council includes two representatives from each of five wards, one of which is up for re-election every year for a two-year term. Ann Arbor’s mayor is also a member of the 11-member city council, and serves a two-year term. So only if Petersen or Taylor were elected mayor would either of them remain on the council. They can’t run for mayor at the same time they run for re-election to represent Wards 2 and 3, respectively.

The seat that Petersen is leaving open in Ward 2 could be contested by Kirk Westphal, who lost the November general election to represent Ward 2. In an email sent in response to a Chronicle query on Jan. 10, Westphal said he would definitely consider running for an open Ward 2 seat. He currently serves as chair of the city’s planning commission. Updated 11:40 a.m. Jan. 15: Westphal has now indicated via email that he has pulled petitions and the city clerk’s office has confirmed that.

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 is planning to run for election to the Ward 3 seat that’s being left open by Taylor – because her reasons for wanting to serve on the council had not changed. She pulled petitions on Jan. 14, 2014.

If Briere or Kunselman were to be elected mayor, the council would need to appoint someone to fill the vacant seat to serve out the remaining year on their terms. That kind of scenario unfolded in 2000, when Hieftje was first elected mayor. At that point he’d served just a year on the city council, representing Ward 1. Bob Johnson was then appointed by the council to serve out Hieftje’s term for Ward 1.

Petersen’s announcement means that of the 11 current members of council, four of them are running for mayor.

This year’s mayoral race could lead to record-setting campaign contributions. That’s because limits on the amount that an individual can contribute to a candidate’s campaign were lifted through Public Act 252 of 2013. For this year’s local elections, the limit that any individual can contribute to a city council candidate is $1,000. The limit for mayoral candidates is $2,000. Those amounts for councilmembers and mayor were previously $500 and $1,000 respectively.

Petitions for the partisan primary in August 2014 must be turned in by April 22. For mayor, the requirement is for 50 signatures from each of the city’s five wards, for a total of 250 signatures. For councilmembers, 100 signatures are required from their ward.


  1. By John Floyd
    January 15, 2014 at 11:51 pm | permalink

    Anyone hear any rumblings of possible opponents to Grand or Westphal? Hate to see un-contested elections.

  2. By John Dory
    January 18, 2014 at 1:37 pm | permalink


    Don’t forget the Fourth Ward as well, with Margie Teall announcing she will not seek re-election – and with ally Maria Higgins’ anemic 35% showing in 2013 Democratic primary against Jack Eaton she has reason to avoid as showdown with a primary opponent – it’s a wide open race.

    A number of prominent political activists in the Fourth Ward who assisted in Jack Eaton’s campaign have already stated they don’t want to run – and they are looking for someone to rally behind.

    The Republican Party’s best shot at retaining a seat on City Council is in the Fourth Ward – Jim Hood received 49% of the vote as a GOP nominee in 2005. Eric Scheie received 40% of the vote against Higgins in 2011.

  3. By John Floyd
    January 18, 2014 at 11:05 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the tips!

  4. By Dan Ezekiel
    January 19, 2014 at 4:59 pm | permalink

    Note that both the elections in which the GOP gained 40% or more in the 4th Ward were in odd-numbered years. In even-numbered years there are many more voters in city elections, and many of them simply pull the straight Democratic lever (to use an anachronism), so the hill is steeper for Republicans in even-numbered years like 2014.

  5. January 19, 2014 at 7:01 pm | permalink

    I remember those old voting machines! In fact I was working as an elections officer in the primary before the 1992 election. They were very complicated to operate from the staff viewpoint. As a voter, if you wanted to vote the “straight ticket”, you grasped an enormous lever (to the left, as I recall) and actually applied some muscle power to bringing it down so that all the registers clanged for the Dems. (At least that was the only straight ticket that I recognized.)

  6. By Dan Ezekiel
    January 20, 2014 at 7:44 am | permalink

    I worked an off-year election long ago at the armory on S. Industrial. Voters straggled in a few at a time. I was so bored during my 13-hour shift that I attempted to estimate which party people were going to vote for and steer them to different voting booths when I could (there were only two booths). As I recall, my estimates were upheld with fair reliability when it was time to get the totals from the two machines.

  7. By John Floyd
    January 23, 2014 at 1:29 am | permalink


    Having run in even-numbered years, I can validate your straight-ticket observation. A non-partisan city election ballot would force people to make at least a token effort to become informed about local candidates, even in even years.

    I’m impressed with your ability to find a way to amuse yourself. Of course, I suppose that hypothesis testing is just what scientists do naturally on their off-hours.

  8. By Dan Ezekiel
    January 23, 2014 at 11:24 am | permalink

    Another game I played whiling away the endless hours on election duty was to estimate the age of the voter as soon as they walked in (in those days, the voter’s entire birthdate was on their registration card). I got a point if I was correct within three years, lost a point if not. I always ended up far in the negative, so I am better at estimating people’s partisan affiliation than their age. Probably why I never got a job at a carnival.

  9. By Jack Eaton
    January 23, 2014 at 12:10 pm | permalink

    Re: #7, John said ” A non-partisan city election ballot would force people to make at least a token effort to become informed about local candidates…”

    I don’t think a non-partisan election would cause anyone to become more informed. People are busy. Looking at other non-partisan offices, the impact is usually just a drop off in votes. Residents vote in the partisan section of the ballot but either guess (based on gender or ethnic last name, etc.) or do not vote in the non-partisan section if they do not already have an interest in the contest.

    I once lived in a town with non-partisan local elections. The first thing one would do when looking at the candidates is try to identify each candidate’s party affiliation. An Ann Arbor candidate running in a non-partisan election will do better if he or she has a strong connection to the Democratic Party. It is a simple fact that there a lot of Democrats in town.

    Now, if there were a way to distinguish between Elizabeth Warren Democrats and the corporate welfare Democrats, that might offer some real assistance to voters.

  10. January 23, 2014 at 12:24 pm | permalink

    I have come to favor non-partisan elections, partly because we have devolved into having the important city elections in August.

    Looking just at this year, if we had a non-partisan system, we’d have four mayoral candidates (and perhaps more to come?) competing for our attention in August, then in November would be a run-off between the two leading candidates, with much more discussion of issues behind them.

    I’d expect candidates to state their partisan connections, and there might be a move to seek endorsements from the local parties. (That worked well for Kirk Westphal.) Maybe the differences between corporatist and populist Dems could even be highlighted.

    But though I’m fond of my moderate Republican friends (and supported Jane Lumm in the last election), the truth is that the national Republican party has left them in the lurch. Between George W. and the Tea Party, there hasn’t been much to love.

  11. January 23, 2014 at 1:31 pm | permalink

    I agree with Jack. People always have the choice of running as nonpartisan candidates, and Jane Lumm has won twice running that way.

    Why take away the choice to run as a partisan candidate? I’m pro-choice.

  12. By John Floyd
    January 24, 2014 at 4:53 pm | permalink

    Vivienne’s point, that a one-party town with elections structured under the premise of two parties results in important decisions being decided in August, by a tiny minority of voters.

    Dave, it’s possible that you have twinkle in your eye when you call your self “pro-choice” in this context, but the non-viability of ANY second party here in Ann Arbor, the central importance of an intra-party election removes choice from lots of people.

    Its possible that someone’s views on foreign policy or military spending, or other national partisan issues is has a link to their position on “Potholes vs. ‘Art’”, snow removal, or openness in local government, but looking at our council, the connection is not obvious to me.

    There is a reason than only three cities in Michigan still have partisan municipal elections.

  13. January 26, 2014 at 1:28 pm | permalink

    Gee. John, I realize that Republicans feel a bit frustrated. 8-)

    But the fortunes of political war sometimes result in the losing side staying on the losing side. Trying to manipulate the electoral system is not going to help turn losers into winners.

  14. January 26, 2014 at 2:11 pm | permalink

    My conversion to the non-partisan system is not tied to any wish for a particular partisan outcome (though I’ll continue to support Democrats in most cases) or to turnout (people have the option to vote if it matters to them) but rather to the process by which we sort out choices. In other words, I’d like to see the best method to enhance voter choice and an outcome that truly matches the wishes of the majority of voters. Game theory indicates that in three-way races (and presumably more candidates confuse things further), the outcome can be the least attractive candidate to the majority of voters. When we have a large field of candidates, as we do this year for mayor, there is a danger that many people may vote for one of two acceptable candidates, only to see a less acceptable candidate win because the vote to support a particular viewpoint has been split.

    Of course, this immediately leads to calls for instant runoff, but that is even worse – see this long article from the New Yorker. [link]

    What I find attractive about the non-partisan idea is not the number of people voting in each election, but the opportunity for a runoff between the two major vote-getters, and the extended discussion of issues that our present do-or-die August primary system does not allow in most cases, especially in even years.

  15. By Craig Harvey
    January 26, 2014 at 9:57 pm | permalink

    I’m curious why Vivienne would say “…calls for instant runoff, but that is even worse…”
    It seems to me that getting rid of a plurality system that has the obvious and likely failing that Vivienne mentions and replacing it with an alternative like IRV that is much more likely to yield a majority winner would be a step in the right direction. And Ann Arbor even has first-hand experience with both sides of that comparison. I’m not saying IRV is perfect, just better.

  16. January 27, 2014 at 4:06 am | permalink

    The article in the New Yorker explains the problems.

    Also, IRV doesn’t work with the rest of the electoral system as it is set up. This has been explained in the past by the county clerk, Larry Kestenbaum. The ballots and vote counting for other races are not compatible. Nonpartisan voting is – the contest simply moves to a different section of the ballot.

  17. By Steve Bean
    January 27, 2014 at 9:40 am | permalink

    Vivienne, how is a runoff between the two major vote-getters better than IRV?

  18. By Libby Hunter
    January 27, 2014 at 12:45 pm | permalink

    Vivienne, I attended a talk by Kestenbaum where he explained how IRV works, and he was definitely in favor of it.

  19. January 27, 2014 at 1:06 pm | permalink

    Yes, I know Larry has been in favor of IRV for a long time, but as the county clerk he has also acknowledged that it isn’t compatible with our ballot system. The way our ballots are structured and scanned does not allow for choices. It would have to be an entirely separate process, with two types of ballots and readers, which would be very expensive and also confusing.

    The New Yorker article explains at length how IRV can lead to “topsy- turvy” elections. “Whether a candidate who gets through the first round of counting will ultimately be elected may depend on which of his rivals he has to face in subsequent rounds, and some votes for a weaker challenger may do a candidate more good than a vote for that candidate himself. In short, a candidate may lose if certain voters back him, and would have won if they hadn’t. ” The article cites a mathematical study that estimates this could happen in one of every five IRV contests with three candidates.

    Burlington, VT had IRV and eliminated it after a mayoral election went topsy-turvy. (The short way of explaining that is that everyone’s last choice got elected.) Of course, Ann Arbor also had IRV for one election. It was eliminated by petition after Al Wheeler won in a three-way race by being the second preference for many. I have reviewed the history and some more of these questions here. [link]

    I should make it clear that I am not campaigning to change our electoral method. I’m just expressing some preferences.

  20. By John Floyd
    January 27, 2014 at 11:35 pm | permalink

    While I can’t help but observe that Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 Republican nomination over a field of much more qualified candidates by being everyone’s second choice, Vivienne’s comments make sense to me. August simply is the wrong time to hold the general election, and an additional two months of public discussion is good for the community.

    @18 Sabra’s Husband :-)

    Nonpartisan elections aren’t a sly partisan workaround, they are an acknowledgment of partisan defeat. They are also an acknowledgment of the idea that with the demise of the party system in our community, it is time to move beyond party-based elections. It’s a bit like keeping the Rotten Burroughs of 19th century England. When the form no longer serves the substance, it may be time to reconsider the form.

    Having become a one-party town, what civic purpose is served by holding the definitive local election in August, as a partisan primary? I have not yet heard an answer to this question that struck me as coherent.

    My best to the Mrs., even though she, too, has not presented me with a coherent argument on this topic.