Ann Arbor Dems Mayoral Candidate Forum

Four Democrats for mayor – Briere, Kunselman, Petersen, Taylor – field questions on affordable housing, UM, commuter rail, the DDA, Ann Arbor SPARK, downtown development and more

For about 90 minutes on Saturday morning, the four Democratic candidates for Ann Arbor mayor answered questions on a wide range of topics at a mayoral forum hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party.

Clockwise from upper left: Sabra Briere, Christopher Taylor, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman.

Clockwise from upper left: Sabra Briere, Christopher Taylor, Stephen Kunselman and Sally Petersen.

The candidates all currently serve on city council: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

Questions touched on affordable housing, downtown development, factions on city council, relationships with the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, an assessment of Ann Arbor SPARK, non-motorized transit, commuter rail, and the role of the mayor.

Candidates were also asked to say something nice about each of their opponents – and they did. When Taylor answered the question by describing similar qualities that both Briere and Petersen shared, Briere responded by saying: “I’ve been lumped together!” Distinguishing themselves from the other candidates was a challenge they all faced. The sharpest contrast came when Kunselman said if elected mayor, he would ask Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, to step down from the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board, calling the two roles a “conflict of commitment.” The other three candidates disagreed with Kunselman’s view on that.

Briere stressed her listening skills, problem-solving approach and independence, pointing to specific examples of her work on council. “It doesn’t bother me at all that we have factions, but I’m really resistant to joining one,” she said.

Petersen highlighted her experience in the private, nonprofit and public sectors, saying that this gives her a fresh perspective and skills as the city is on the cusp of growth. She pointed to her work toward developing an economic strategy for the city, and said she’d prioritize improving relations with the University of Michigan.

Kunselman told the audience he’d represent the working class, and stressed that he’s the only candidate with policies and politics that differ from the current mayor, John Hieftje, and from Hieftje’s supporters. “I’m offering you a choice of someone that is not in that camp,” he said.

Taylor, in contrast, thinks that the city is on the right track, though he’d work to improve basic services. He also repeatedly pointed to priorities for affordable housing, parks, and efforts to reduce the impact of climate change.

This report includes written summaries of the candidates’ responses, as well as audio clips from The Chronicle’s live broadcast of the event, which was held at the Ann Arbor Community Center. Several other forums are planned in the coming weeks, leading up to the Aug. 5 primary. There are no Republicans running for mayor this year. So far one independent candidate, Bryan Kelly, has taken out petitions.

The June 14 forum was moderated by Mike Henry, chair of the Ann Arbor Dems, and Jim Simpson, an Ann Arbor public art commissioner who works for Duo Security, a local tech firm. Candidates were given 90 seconds for opening and closing statements, and 60 seconds to respond to each question, with the possibility of a 30-second follow-up. Susan Baskett, a board member of the Ann Arbor Public Schools and Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, served as timekeeper.

Questions were devised by the moderators, and collected from the audience. Henry asked audience members not to ask questions that attacked any individual candidate, but to focus on questions that every candidate could answer.

Henry also encouraged candidates not to engage each other, but to speak to the audience or the moderators. He requested that candidates not filibuster. “We hope for a cordial, fair and informative candidate forum,” Henry said.

Opening Statements

The candidates drew numbers to determine their speaking order. Each candidate got 90 seconds for their opening statement.

[Audio: Opening statements]

Opening Statements: Christopher Taylor

Taylor introduced himself as a three-term councilmember from Ward 3 and a lifelong Democrat. He got his start in electoral politics in 1987 working on the “short but beautiful” campaign for Paul Simon in Chicago. He thinks the city is going in the right direction, though it’s far from perfect. The city is doing the right things. If he’s mayor, he’ll work on two broad issues. First, he’d focus on all the basic services that the city provides – public safety, streets, snow removal, water and all the underground infrastructure. These are things the city simply has to improve. “But we could spend every last nickel we have on these things, and they still wouldn’t be perfect, and the city would be kind of a boring place.”

So if he’s elected mayor, he’ll also work on other areas, including affordable housing. He’s been on the parks advisory commission for six years, and parks should be beautiful and well-maintained. The city can’t stop climate change, but it can do its part and should help residents and businesses do theirs. He supports public transit and non-motorized transit, and an attractive, vibrant downtown. The downtown is Ann Arbor’s core and its jewel, and the city needs to find a way to balance the downtown’s character with its growth. “In 20 years if we don’t recognize the place, that’s going to be a problem.”

Opening Statements: Sally Hart Petersen

Petersen is running in order to bring new leadership and a new plan to Ann Arbor, that will transform economic growth into much-needed revenue to pay for priorities. Those priorities include better roads, more beat cops downtown, and safer mobility for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and runners. She has two main components that reflect her priorities in this campaign. One is developing an economic strategy to grow jobs in Ann Arbor. She doesn’t know how the city can expect to fill potholes without an economic strategy. An economic outlook report for Washtenaw County states that 12,500 jobs are coming to the county in the next three years. “I want those jobs to come to Ann Arbor – but where are we going to put them?” Her economic strategy will include a plan to redevelop the downtown and business corridors in ways that preserve the community’s character and heritage.

The second component is working more strategically with the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor will always be a fine place to live, work and play because of the jobs and cultural diversity that UM provides. But they don’t fill potholes, and UM’s police can’t enforce local ordinances, she said. UM will have a new president, and Ann Arbor will have a new mayor. “It’s time for a new attitude to really balance the town/gown relationships.”

Opening Statements: Sabra Briere

Briere noted that most of the attendees know her because she’s been coming to nearly every Democratic Party meeting since long before she first ran for city council. It’s difficult to describe in a sound byte why she wants to run for mayor. She wants all Ann Arbor residents not just to live here, but also to thrive here. She’ll be committed to working full-time to meet the demands of the future and the needs of today. Her leadership style begins by respectfully engaging members of the community. She’s used this commitment to listening as the starting point for all the decisions she’s made, and she’s made each decision thoughtfully and carefully and independently.

Real leadership comes from recognizing problems, finding solutions, and never being afraid to admit that maybe your decision was wrong and it should be reconsidered. “I’ve never been even slightly hesitant to see the flaws in the decisions, which is why I proposed revising the downtown zoning.” She was grateful that other councilmembers agreed with her on that. Her ability to rethink, consider and evaluate is a value to this community “because you are all my advisors, and I appreciate that.” As mayor, she’ll continue to listen – not just to her friends, but to everybody.

Opening Statements: Stephen Kunselman

Kunselman thanked the other candidates, saying it inspires everyone to get out and vote when there’s competition – and this is probably the most competitive mayoral race in decades. He thanked his wife, Letitia Kunselman, calling her “the dynamo behind my politics here in Ann Arbor. Without her, I would not have the courage to stand before all of you.” He’s a three-term councilmember, and a strong and effective voice for all Ann Arbor residents. He believes common sense and fiscal responsibility are the basis for governing. He believes in fairness and equity in distributing the city’s limited financial and staff resources, and has been a consistent advocate for investing in the city’s infrastructure, funding the parks, and rebuilding the public safety department.

If elected mayor, he’ll continue to work cooperatively and graciously with other councilmembers, with an emphasis on open and vigorous debate on all issues facing the city. He’s proud to have the trust, support and endorsement of the following Ann Arbor councilmembers: Sumi Kailasapathy of Ward 1, Mike Anglin of Ward 5, Jane Lumm of Ward 2, and Jack Eaton of Ward 4. “I’m confident that as mayor, I will prioritize public health, safety and welfare as you all expect, and as I’ve always done.”

Comments about Other Candidates

Question: Say something nice about the other mayoral candidates.

[Audio: Comments About Other Candidates]

Sally Hart Petersen’s Comments about Other Candidates

Regarding Taylor, Petersen said that when she ran for city council two years ago, she ran against a very popular Democratic incumbent [Tony Derezinski] – she thought of it as running for a seat at the table, not running against anyone. After the election, Taylor and mayor John Hieftje were two of the first people to welcome her to city council. So she felt very welcomed, despite the race. [Taylor and Hieftje both supported Derezinski.]

Petersen said she’s like Briere because they both truly listen to constituents. Briere is genuine in her ability and meaningfulness in terms of really valuing input. Kunselman also has been kind to Petersen on council. She appreciates Kunselman’s sense of humor, candor, integrity and courage.

Sabra Briere’s Comments about Other Candidates

Briere enjoys Kunselman’s humor and integrity, but mostly she enjoys that he challenges people’s pre-conceived notions. It’s extraordinarily valuable to her to hear him bring forward issues that she might otherwise miss. Taylor speaks Latin. For those who enjoy a good turn of phrase and grammatically constructed sentences, “there’s no one better than Chris.” Petersen brings her interests and intellect to the table, but also a genuine sense of personal responsibility. It’s sometimes challenging to remain polite and genuine and interested at two in the morning.

Stephen Kunselman’s Comments about Other Candidates

Kunselman appreciates the stamina, courage and ability to work with others on council and the public. He and Briere go back to 2007, when the two of them and Ron Suarez [former Ward 1 councilmember] were the minority who changed the direction of council. He appreciated Briere standing up for that effort. Regarding Taylor, Kunselman was honored and humbled when Taylor beat him, because it showed that Taylor was reaching out to the voters. [Taylor defeated Kunselman in the 2008 Democratic primary for Ward 3. Kunselman ran against incumbent Leigh Greden the following year and won.] Taylor is very polite, “and when the game is done at the table, we still know that it’s not personal. It’s politics – there’s nothing personal going on.”

Petersen has been a fresh voice, and strives hard to change the tenor of politics in Ann Arbor and the political culture, and he appreciates that.

Christopher Taylor’s Comments about Other Candidates

Taylor said he and Kunselman probably agree on 10% of things that come before council, but “I enjoy sitting next to him a lot.” They have a good personal relationship in that regard, and it’s nice to know that he’s a pal who appreciates the absurdities of the process “and perhaps an occasional colleague or two.”

Taylor described Petersen and Briere as having similar characteristics – both are thoughtful and engaged, and work with constituents. He thought he shared that characteristic as well, but they exemplify it. It’s an important part of politics and the representative process, and they both do it really well.

Responding to Taylor, Briere quipped: “I’ve been lumped together!”

Balancing Services

Question: Candidates have talked about balancing basic services, downtown and other concerns. What does that actually mean for you?

[Audio: Balancing Services]

Balancing Services: Taylor

Broadly speaking, Taylor said, it means there are limited resources “and we can’t overemphasize one set of priorities over the other.” Basic services deserve the lion’s share because they are basic. The city has an obligation to provide essential services to residents and it should do that in a consistent and efficient manner. “At the same time, we’re not a basic place.” So the city needs to do what it can to engage other priorities – improve affordable housing, make sure parks are beautiful, encourage renewable energy to address climate change. Also, the city should expand transit and do what it can for non-motorized and pedestrian safety. Finding a balance is just a matter of allocating resources, staff time and political attention.

Balancing Services: Petersen

This question is really about priorities for services downtown and services for the neighborhoods, Petersen said. That’s how some factions on city council have aligned – pro-neighborhood versus pro-downtown. Ann Arbor needs a vibrant downtown that belongs to every person of every generation: Millennials, retirees, visitors. The city also needs very strong neighborhoods and good infrastructure in the neighborhoods. There’s a philosophy that a strong downtown means strong neighborhoods. “I don’t think we feel that today, when we look at the condition of our infrastructure and our roads.” The city needs a mayor to bridge that divide. If the city has an economic strategy and economic development plan, there can be prudent redevelopment downtown and along the city’s business corridors in a way that raises the level of revenue to take care of the neighborhoods.

Balancing Services: Briere

The only way to balance basic services and change downtown and throughout the city is through good planning, Briere said. One of the difficulties is to see 40 years ahead. Most people do well just to look six months ahead or even two weeks ahead, she noted, but the city has to make decisions that are long term. In some cases, it means rethinking the way that the city has handled infrastructure in the past, to adapt to a changing world. In some cases, it means thinking about the impact of a new development. “I don’t believe there is a difference between making a healthy downtown and making a healthy community.” If it’s not possible for people to live in the community, to walk the streets, to feel secure, to not have water in their basements – “then we have failed to do our job.” It’s important to find a balance.

Balancing Services: Kunselman

When he served as township administrator in Sumpter Township, Kunselman said, he supervised employees there. He still holds his certified water distribution system operator license from the state of Michigan. He’s glad to hear the other candidates talk about the need to focus on basic infrastructure, because for too long, the city hasn’t done that.

He then read a quote from his campaign literature: “Our roads are crumbling, our water mains are breaking, our street trees are neglected – all the while our public works director attends public art commission meetings. Let’s prioritize our infrastructure first.” That’s been the problem – it hasn’t been a priority for so many years, he said. Council votes have steered resources downtown. Staff has been focusing on downtown. He’s been advocating for neighborhoods, and his advocacy is working, he contended. This summer, his street is getting new roads, new water mains and new storm sewer after that infrastructure has been failing for years. It’s time to take that direction to the rest of the city.

Factions on Council

Question: In one of her answers, Sally Petersen mentioned factions on council. If you were mayor, how would you manage that environment?

[Audio: Factions on Council]

Factions on Council: Petersen

It’s about building bridges, Petersen said. Based on her experience in the business world and nonprofit sector, it’s incumbent on any leader to know how to build those bridges to achieve consensus and find common ground when there is disagreement. That makes business leaders successful, and in the nonprofit world as well – especially when funding priorities are constrained. “I personally have not been aligned with either faction” on the council, she said. She researches issues, looks at both sides and sometimes meets with the opposition in order to understand all perspectives and find common ground. “I’m not in the pro-downtown or pro-neighborhood factions – I vote for what I think is best for all of Ann Arbor, and I think my voting record suggests that.”

Later in the forum, Petersen clarified her statement, stressing that she’s very much pro-downtown and pro-neighborhood. She meant to say she wasn’t part of either faction. She’s “not anti-anything.”

Factions on Council: Taylor

To improve relations on council, you need to extend an open hand to everyone without regard to perceived faction, Taylor said. He gets questions from constituents in other wards, and he’ll help them take care of their problem. He’ll work with staff to identify the issue, but he also cc’s the councilmembers who represent the constituent – without regard to perceived alliance – so that the councilmembers can build a relationship with that constituent and help work on the problem. They’re all in this together, working toward common goals. It’s also his practice when drafting a resolution to open up that resolution for co-sponsorship without regard to perceived faction, he said. With an open hand moving forward, perceived differences can be diminished.

Factions on Council: Briere

In her experience, Democrats always break up into factions, Briere said. “It doesn’t bother me at all that we have factions, but I’m really resistant to joining one.” It’s important to look at each other’s strengths and build on those strengths, rather than attack each other’s weaknesses. It’s easy in politics to see other elected officials as your potential rivals, but that’s a very bad move when it comes to making policy. As mayor, she’d continue to work with every member of council and listen to the community as a whole – then make her own decisions.

Factions on Council: Kunselman

As he mentioned in his opening statement, Kunselman noted that he has the support of four other councilmembers. That’s not because they vote as a faction. It’s because they trust him, he said. Trust is the most important thing as a politician – you need the trust of voters, but also of your colleagues on council. “We’re not a social group. We don’t meet outside of council to develop our relationships.” They show up at meetings to vote on agenda items. As part of that, they need to trust each other, to know that they’re working together. None of his emails that have been published based on Freedom of Information Act requests have contained any disparaging remarks about other councilmembers, he said. He’s worked to make sure he’s very open and transparent. He doesn’t work on something then plop it on the table – after the city attorney’s office has been told not to communicate it to other councilmembers. As mayor, he’d lead the effort to be open and transparent, as he’s done as councilmember.

Follow-up question to Kunselman: Is there a trust issue between the folks who are supporting you, and those who aren’t?

“There is a trust issue between me and my opponents here at the table – I think that is very clear.” He’s the only one who’s not striving to have the support of John Hieftje’s supporters, Kunselman said. That’s a big difference in this election. There’s a huge issue of political culture that needs to change, and build back that trust. The current political culture is about isolating those who oppose Hieftje, he said. Kunselman said he’s the most experienced politician because he’s always been challenged in the primaries by opponents who are backed by Hieftje’s supporters. “I think that’s the big difference that we have going into this mayoral campaign.”

From the audience came a quip: “John who?” which earned a laugh from the audience. The quip came from former U.S. Congressman Ray Clevenger who represented Michigan’s 11th District from 1965-67, and is now a Ward 3 resident.

Mayor vs. Councilmember

Question: What are the two most important differences between serving as a city councilmember and serving as mayor?

[Audio: Mayor vs. Councilmember]

Mayor vs. Councilmember: Briere

The mayor sets the tone for the council, Briere said. If the mayor is more cooperative, inclusive and collegial, the chances are better that the council will behave that way, too. The other difference is that councilmembers are very responsive to their constituents – and they should be. But the mayor needs to be responsive to the entire city. She said she has experience working with people all over the city, and solving problems all over the city. “I’m not parochial. I’m not interested in only my peeps, my friends, my neighbors.” She’s interested in the entire community and how to work together for the future.

Mayor vs. Councilmember: Kunselman

The biggest difference is that the mayor runs the meetings, Kunselman said. The mayor is the parliamentarian, and other councilmembers have to trust that the mayor is running the meeting fairly, openly and transparently. That doesn’t happen always with the current mayor, and Kunselman said he’s called Hieftje out for that. He agreed with Briere that the mayor sets the tone, and said he’d be able to set the tone for the council meetings and the community. There are two council meetings each month, and the mayor needs to be efficient, fair, and give everyone the opportunity to share their opinion – and then hold the vote.

Mayor vs. Councilmember: Taylor

The mayor represents the city in a way that the councilmember does not, Taylor said. The councilmember represents one ward, but the mayor has a higher obligation to view a broader set of interests and incorporate that into their decision-making. Also, the mayor serves as head of state, as a secretary of state for the city. The mayor works with other entities, like the state, the county, and the university. It’s important for the mayor to have fluidity, facility and ability to represent the city properly, and advocate for the city properly in these contexts, Taylor said.

Mayor vs. Councilmember: Petersen

Petersen agreed with what the other candidates said on this question. She added that one distinction they hadn’t mentioned is the amount of time spent in city hall. As mayor, her life would be much easier because she’d have an office in city hall and some administrative support. So the amount of time spent in city hall, being a leader day-in-and-day-out, is one of the most important visible distinctions between being mayor and being a councilmember

Affordable Housing

Question: Numerous reports have documented the inadequate stock of affordable housing in Ann Arbor. A lot of people would argue that Ypsilanti and Pittsfield Township provide Ann Arbor’s affordable housing. How would you address the lack of affordable housing within the city limits?

[Audio: Affordable Housing]

Affordable Housing: Kunselman

The affordable housing issue has never been solved in Ann Arbor, and people have talked about it for decades, Kunselman said. The effort to build 100 units of affordable housing next to a luxury hotel at the former Y lot failed. Previously, Washtenaw County bought the single-room occupancy building [on North Fourth Avenue] from the Y, which is now the county annex. At that time, advocates argued that affordable housing needed to be protected.

Kunselman grew up in Ann Arbor. He lived with this mother next to Liberty Plaza, when she was a single mother and he was about four years old. “We’re never going to have that opportunity again, I believe, when a single mother and her child can live in downtown Ann Arbor.” Rents are up to $1,000 a bed in some luxury student buildings. But the city can refocus on the Ann Arbor housing commission, which is what he’s been striving to do for several years. The city has been too focused on trying to do big projects somewhere else, or downtown on the most expensive land. They have to be aware of realities – expensive land won’t be used for affordable housing, Kunselman concluded.

Follow-up question for Kunselman: Why is that a reality? Why can’t the land be used for affordable housing, if it’s a city-owned property?

The reality is the economics of using the most expensive land to build the most affordable housing. It would have to come from subsidies, and subsidies are being cut back – from HUD and the state. This issue has been going on for decades. The city has neglected the Ann Arbor housing commission, which is the largest provider of affordable housing in this community. Now, at least the city is making sure there’s proper financing to rebuild the AAHC buildings and at least provide affordable housing that’s in decent shape.

Affordable Housing: Briere

Briere said she’d continue to do what she’s done since she was elected to the council. The first issue with affordable housing is maintenance. The second is the creation of new housing stock. It’s not just public housing. There are other mechanisms for affordable housing, owned by other entities – whether it’s by Dawn Farm or Avalon Housing. It might be supportive housing or workforce housing. She’s worked pretty much alone, in her view, on improving funding for emergency shelter and the housing commission, which handles public housing. She’s advocated strongly to increase the affordable housing fund with profits from the sale of development rights. That’s one-time money that doesn’t take away from other things like roads, parks or police. It takes money from prospective developers and puts it aside for the city to build and maintain its housing stock.

Affordable Housing: Taylor

Public housing in Ann Arbor has not lived up to expectations, Taylor said, but he is delighted that it’s moving forward with mechanisms to put millions more dollars of capital into the Ann Arbor housing commission to build and refurbish its units. There are additional opportunities on the public and private sides.

On the public side, the former juvenile center on Platt Road is an excellent opportunity for expanded affordable housing, working with the county. [The site is owned by Washtenaw County.] It’s next to County Farm Park, near public transportation, next to employment. There’s a material amount of neighborhood engagement in the process, to figure out how to build meaningful and successful family affordable housing. Generally, “the market is the market, and it’s very difficult to fight it.” The city needs to use FAR premiums to incentivize workforce housing downtown not student housing, Taylor said.

Affordable Housing: Petersen

Petersen is strongly in favor of increasing the stock of affordable housing within the city. It’s clearly a budget priority, and one that the city council has been honoring by directing the proceeds from sales of city-owned property to affordable housing. The city should continue to look for these kinds of opportunities. She reported that she received two emails this week from constituents about what might happen at the Platt Road site. “There is fear of who might live there. Would those people be felons? Who are the people who’d be living there?”

The city needs to demystify affordable housing and bring these issues out in the open so that people can feel comfortable. Petersen has talked to Mary Jo Callan, director of the office of community & economic development. Callan helped her understand that there’s going to be a robust community engagement process for the Platt Road site. That kind of conversation needs to happen more often, to make affordable housing more acceptable in this community.

Follow-up question for Petersen: What was your response to people who are worried about the Platt Road site?

Petersen told them very clearly that the city needs to increase the affordable housing stock. It’s the solution to the problem, not the creation of a problem. Some people thought that if affordable housing is built, they wouldn’t be able to walk their baby in a stroller down to County Farm Park. The new model for affordable housing is to co-locate support services and staff, so that it’s a solution to the problem. She also suggested that the constituents contact Andy LaBarre, a county commissioner who’s taking the lead on this project, so that they can become part of the community engagement process to design the affordable housing, if the county decides to do that.

Business Growth Downtown

Question: A lot of companies choose to locate themselves in downtown Ann Arbor because of the amenities it offers and the talent it attracts. But when those companies grow past a certain point, there are fewer options to stay within the city. There’s been a lot of residential development downtown. What role does the city have to play in terms of encouraging commercial development?

[Audio: Business Growth Downtown]

Business Growth Downtown: Petersen

Petersen has been thinking a lot about the scarcity of large floor-plate office space downtown. What can the city do to allow growing companies to stay in Ann Arbor? She looks at the city’s business corridors, like North Main Street. The North Main Huron River task force did a very comprehensive assessment about river use along that corridor, and it talked about the opportunity to rezone. She thinks the city does need to rezone property along North Main. “It is ripe for redevelopment.”

Petersen recently attended the Huron River Watershed Council’s State of the Huron conference, and heard about other communities in Michigan that build along their rivers. Those communities can expect a 3-to-1 to 6-to-1 return on investments. The North Main corridor and the South State corridors are ripe to redevelop and create more large floor-plate offices, she said.

Business Growth Downtown: Taylor

Taylor thinks it’s terrific that there are so many vibrant and active businesses downtown. They’ve come to use the existing office space, because downtown is wonderful and there’s parking that’s available through the city’s investment. The parking system is an economic development tool that’s been well-utilized. As these companies grow, they need more space. If the market made it practical or profitable for buildings to be constructed that would serve this need, then people who own property downtown would choose to do it, Taylor said. They have not yet done so.

There’s a limited amount of large floor-plate office space in the proposed development by Dennis Dahlmann, at the former Y lot, and Taylor is looking forward to that. If property owners have plans on what they need to build more large floor-plate office space downtown, he’d be eager to listen. “But broadly speaking, I view this as a market problem that the city is ill-equipped to solve just like that, on its own.”

Business Growth Downtown: Briere

The city’s downtown zoning incentivizes residential development, Briere said. It makes building residential properties very easy, but it doesn’t make it easy to build large floor-plate office space or other commercial development. That’s because the community said it wanted amenities downtown. “We were told that in order to have those amenities downtown – which we can consider questionable – we needed lots more people living downtown.” That was the reality the city faced a decade ago, and now it’s time to look at whether “we’re getting what we want.”

Briere’s made sure the city is taking a hard look at the incentive program for downtown development. But when people talk about building along the city’s major corridors, it’s important to look at the impact that additional traffic in those corridors will bring, and whether those corridors are even accessible. One challenge with building along the river is that North Main is a state-owned road and it’s difficult and dangerous to get on to it from any of the adjacent properties.

Follow-up question for Briere: What downtown amenities did she consider questionable?

There are some interesting limits on zoning, Briere replied. Everyone gets a 400% floor-area ratio (FAR), which can be built in any configuration. [FAR, a measure of density, is the ratio of the square footage of a building divided by the size of the lot. A one-story structure built lot-line-to-lot-line with no setbacks corresponds to a FAR of 100%. A similar structure built two-stories tall would result in a FAR of 200%.] But additional FAR can be added by using one of the city’s incentive programs, called premiums. You can get an additional 300% FAR just for building residential. So if you do that, you can get 700% FAR. There’s no incentive to build offices or other commercial development.

Business Growth Downtown: Kunselman

Kunselman said one way to inspire commercial development is to make sure zoning is up to date, which he thought it was. Responding to Taylor’s description of the city’s parking system as an economic development tool, Kunselman said the city’s parking system is subsidized with millions of taxpayer dollars. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has to transfer TIF (tax increment finance) dollars to the parking system because of the debt on the Library Lane underground parking structure, he said. Because of the way that bond deal was packaged, the city borrowed $50 million to get 500 additional parking spaces and four blocks of streetscape.

There’s plenty of land for commercial development, Kunselman said. He said he led the effort to sell the Y lot, which the city sold to Dennis Dahlmann. The development rights for the Library Lane site are listed for sale. He mentioned other undeveloped sites, including the Brown Block [a surface parking lot owned by First Martin and leased to the DDA], and the First Martin lot across from city hall, which is also a surface parking lot. There is property downtown that could be used for commercial development. “It has nothing to do with city council.” The only reason there’s interest in residential development is because the University of Michigan has increased enrollment by 5,000 students in the last decade. That’s driving the market – not anything the council can do, Kunselman said.

Relationship with UM

Question: Is there a relationship that the city can have with the University of Michigan to influence it, or are we just powerless as residents? Is there anything that the mayor or city council can do to engage them?

[Audio: Relationship with UM]

Relationship with UM: Kunselman

Ann Arbor is a company town, Kunselman began. There have been more private businesses leave Ann Arbor in the past decade than have moved here, he contended. Bechtel moved out. Pfizer left and sold its property to the University of Michigan. The university is its own entity, constitutionally created by the state of Michigan. “We have to have a good relationship with them, but they are going to do what they need to do best – and that is to provide education to the masses. We’re dealing with the global economy, in that regard.” The university needs a board of regents that’s aware that if UM keeps buying property in Ann Arbor, it’s “going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.” The downtown will become nothing more than a student food court – and that won’t be enough for the rest of the residents.

Relationship with UM: Petersen

Petersen said the relationship between the city and the University of Michigan is one of her core priorities for mayor. The university will have a new president and Ann Arbor will have a new mayor, so it’s time for a new attitude on town/gown relationships, she said. When Petersen ran for council two years ago, she noticed there was a lot of resentment from the city toward the university because UM doesn’t pay taxes.

The reason there’s no productive dialogue is because the city always starts the dialogue by asking for payment in lieu of taxes, Petersen said. “We need to get over that. We need to stop being angry at the U for not paying taxes – that’s not their job.” But the city does need to work with them on areas of mutual interest, like job creation, transportation, infrastructure and quality of life. City officials need to come to the table with an open mind and to not start every dialogue with a request for payment in lieu of taxes.

Relationship with UM: Taylor

This gets to the “head-of-state” answer that he’d given before, Taylor said – it’s a new day, and the city needs to work with the university on areas of mutual interest. The university is going to do what the university is going to do. They have a separate mission, constituents and stakeholders. “Their interest in helping the city is limited.” So city officials need to work with them and educate them about the impacts on the city.

Last year, UM athletic director Dave Brandon met with councilmembers to talk about the hockey game that was coming to Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day, Taylor said. Brandon described how great it would be for the city, bringing thousands of people to restaurants, stores and hotels during the winter. In one respect, it was great. But on the other hand, from the city’s side it was all cost. The city wasn’t getting any help from the university for the additional services that the city had to provide. Brandon had no understanding about that, so the city needs to communicate to the university about the impact their actions have. “They’re not evil. They just don’t understand,” Taylor concluded.

Relationship with UM: Briere

Briere thought all the candidates at some point have been affiliated with the university, including herself. She told a story to illustrate what the university thinks about the city. She and Jim Kosteva, the university’s community relations director, attended the same event once, where he referred to the relationship like this: The university is the husband, and the city is the wife. He said that sometimes the husband does something that really irritates the wife – and then he handed Briere a bouquet of flowers and candy “to play make-up.” This is an attitude at the university, she said.

She doesn’t want to educate the university – they are highly educated people. It’s an attitude of the past. It’s true that it will be a new era, with a new university president and new mayor. “But you have to come in knowing what you want. I have no needs from the university. They have needs from the city.” She doesn’t want the university’s money, infrastructure, or property. She wants their brains to focus on the city, and that’s the kind of collaboration she’s looking for.

Ann Arbor DDA

Question: If elected mayor, what would your relationship be with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority?

[Audio: Ann Arbor DDA]

Ann Arbor DDA: Kunselman

Kunselman said he has a great relationship with the DDA, because they respect each other. He believes the DDA needs to be accountable to the law. The DDA board needs to understand that they are subservient to the city council, which confirms the board appointments.

The DDA is an important institution, and no one on council or running for mayor has advocated for the dissolution of the DDA, Kunselman said. But the DDA has been giving excuses for things he doesn’t believe are true. For example, the DDA is subsidizing the public parking monopoly with public tax dollars. They’re also cash-strapped and deeply in debt. They talk about projects, but those projects don’t get done. The only thing they’re doing is studies.

The DDA also needs to be accountable to the law, Kunselman said. He mentioned a media report that showed how the DDA in the early 1980s returned money to the taxing authorities from which it captures taxes. But just last year, they argued that they didn’t have to give rebates because they had debt – even though the DDA also had debt in the 1980s. The relationship needs to begin with trust, he said.

Ann Arbor DDA: Briere

Briere said she attends as many DDA meetings as she can because it’s important to know what people are saying. The DDA makes budget decisions involving a lot of money. Her relationship with the DDA is cordial, but she doesn’t see anyone as subservient to her. Responding to Kunselman’s remarks, she said: “Sorry, Steve – I’m just not big on hierarchy and I think that whole attitude of ‘I’m the boss’ is offensive to lots of people, including especially me.”

The DDA is a tool for the city, Briere said. It’s not a separate entity. It’s a way to invest in the downtown. She wanted the DDA to understand that investment is planning, but it’s also pouring that money into making downtown walkable, desirable and functional. It’s not easy, because the DDA thinks it’s responding to council demands when it’s actually responding to just one councilmember or another. “The DDA doesn’t have the mission it should have, and it doesn’t have the goals it should have, because it gets distracted by whatever shiny object is thrown in front of it – the same way we do.” The DDA wants to feel meaningful and vital to the city, so they’re trying to do “stuff that I never expected them to do.” Cordial relationships are important, but that’s not the same as having them do what the council wants, or vice versa.

Ann Arbor DDA: Taylor

Taylor anticipated his relationship to the DDA would be collaborative. The board is a set of business operators and residents who are working in good faith with the resources they have available to support the downtown. The downtown is an important part of the city, and he’d be excited to work with them to achieve their mutual goals, Taylor said.

The DDA has done a tremendous job in helping support the downtown change from a shuttered place to a place that’s vital and active, Taylor said. They’re not perfect, and the council isn’t perfect. But they’re doing their best to support downtown. When the city’s alleys are falling apart, the DDA is there to help. The DDA is a resource that the city should recognize, embrace and work with. “I would expect that when treated with respect and openness, that they would reciprocate accordingly.”

Ann Arbor DDA: Petersen

Even before she was on city council, Petersen started to get to know the DDA’s executive director, Susan Pollay, Petersen said. They have a very collaborative, collegial relationship. The relationship between the city and the DDA needs to be de-politicized. She strongly believes the DDA is an economic development tool for the downtown. The city doesn’t really have similar economic development tools outside of the downtown.

The public needs to be educated about the role of the DDA and what they do. The previous night, Petersen attended the opening of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. A retired UM business professor came up and asked her to explain what the DDA does. He’d been here for 30 years, but didn’t know. The council understands what the DDA does, but they need to de-politicize the relationship and educate the public on the DDA’s value. The council also needs to hold the DDA accountable. They are an agency, so they need to publish their numbers and be held accountable. The DDA also needs to take care of more than just Main Street. They need to provide equitable services to all parts of downtown.

Change in Ann Arbor

Question: Should Ann Arbor change, in terms of population growth and density? If so, what will that look like in 10 years?

[Audio: Change in Ann Arbor]

Change in Ann Arbor: Briere

It’s not possible to decide whether Ann Arbor will change – because it’s going to change, Briere said. The challenge is how to control that change. For a city, you have to decide how much change you can handle, where it will occur, what it looks like, and its impact on the community.

For every tall building, we should be thinking about green, open space, Briere said. For every subdivision, we should be thinking about how walkable it is. We should talk about whether it’s possible to reinstitute neighborhood grocery stores, because people want to walk to a shop without having to take a car.

The city needs to move away from the image of suburbia, of giant parking lots surrounding a building, Briere said. We need to talk about how mass transit and bike lanes and pedestrian access will improve the city. Ann Arbor will change, so the question is how to make it livable and enhance the quality of life. That should be in every planning decision – to plan for the future.

Change in Ann Arbor: Petersen

More jobs and density are coming, Petersen said. Ann Arbor will always be a fine place to live, work and play, because the university provides stable employment and a large number of jobs. But the university doesn’t take care of the city’s infrastructure – because that’s not their job.

In anticipation of growth, the city needs to figure out how to upgrade its infrastructure, to repair the sewer system, Petersen said. “Imagine what it’s going to be like to flush your toilet 10 years from now, if we don’t repair the Orangeburg pipe and the water and sewer systems underneath the ground.” The city needs an economic plan to do this, and it doesn’t have one now. The status quo thinking is that the university is the economic engine, so the city doesn’t need an economic plan. But the city’s resources and infrastructure are constrained. The city’s leaders need to drive the economic development in order to support that growth to come.

Change in Ann Arbor: Kunselman

Kunselman said he grew up in Ann Arbor, attending Pittsfield Elementary. His grandparents were founding members of St. Francis Catholic Church. He’s seen a lot of change.

But most disturbing to Kunselman is how Ann Arbor is become more elitist. People are always talking about affordable housing, but what’s getting built is luxury housing. The city focuses on downtown instead of the neighborhoods. And although people talk about how the city is growing, in the last decade it actually lost population, he said. The only growth was 5,000 new students. The only things he can control as mayor are things that happen while he’s in office. “I cannot control 10 years out. I cannot control 15 years out.”

His role as mayor, Kunselman said, would be to leave Ann Arbor as a better place from the time that he’s there. The city develops a lot of plans. There was a North Main plan from the 1980s, which called for a boulevard. As mayor, he intends to focus on today.

Change in Ann Arbor: Taylor

Broadly speaking, density is a good thing, Taylor said. It’s environmentally, economically and socially sound. In 10 years, he envisions a city that is still recognizable. At its core, Ann Arbor is going in the right direction. It’s not broken. He’d like to see things more efficient, with services provided better, with neighborhoods more engaged internally and with the city. He’d like more young people to choose Ann Arbor as a place to live. But generally, the city is going in the right direction and in 10 years it will be OK, he said.

Non-Motorized Travel

Question: What’s your plan to promote and fund non-motorized travel throughout the city?

[Audio: Non-Motorized Travel]

Non-Motorized Travel: Petersen

One of Petersen’s key priorities is safe mobility for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and runners – because she’s a runner. The plan needs to be very prudent. She’s in favor of bike lanes in major corridors in and out of town. But a bike lane shouldn’t be merely painting a stripe on the road. In New York City, they have bike lanes that are protected by a barrier between the cyclists and vehicles. Protected bike lanes also result in increased revenues for downtown businesses. So if the city wants bike lanes, they need to do it right, Petersen said. It will take time and money, and they’ll need a plan to do that. But it should be more than paint on a road.

Non-Motorized Travel: Taylor

During the Great Recession, the city reduced funding for non-motorized transit, Taylor said. That has recently turned around, and he’s delighted about it. The city is using more state money to support bike lanes, crosswalk design, identification and signs. Every street that’s reconstructed needs to be a Complete Street, safe and designed for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. Buffered bike lanes are an important part of that. He called the bike share program an exciting development. The bike share program is great for a sense of place and for getting around, Taylor said.

Non-Motorized Travel: Briere

Briere said that at the council meeting when the city’s budget was approved, the council approved one of her amendments that increased the funding for non-motorized transit. Long before that, the council passed the Complete Streets policy and toolbox. It addresses the need for streets that serve all modes of transit, as well as appropriate speed. One challenge is increased traffic from all the jobs that have been created. The city needs to talk about how to deal with that. You have to anticipate where changes are needed. You have to be flexible and intelligent about it, Briere concluded.

Non-Motorized Travel: Kunselman

The number one thing is to make sure the city has staff who are focused on non-motorized transit, Kunselman said. “That’s why, if I am elected mayor, I’m going to ask Eli Cooper to step down from the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority [board] and focus on his job as non-motorized transportation in the city. He can’t do both.” Kunselman voted against Cooper’s appointment to the AAATA board, noting that he’s not a resident of Ann Arbor. Cooper lives in Livonia.

Secondly, as a walker, biker and skateboarder, Kunselman wants to make sure that roads and sidewalks are safe. You can’t ride a bike down the road if there are potholes. His stepson blew out his bike tire twice within a week hitting potholes. In terms of fairness, Kunselman wants to make sure all sidewalk gaps that are being funded through special assessments have 80% public funding. Currently, some do and some don’t. “How is that fair to our residents?” Kunselman asked.

Follow-up for Briere, Taylor and Petersen: Do you also believe that Eli Cooper should step down from the AAATA board?

[Audio: Eli Cooper]

Non-Motorized Travel Follow-Up: Petersen

Petersen didn’t agree that Cooper should step down. At first, she thought his board service was a conflict of interest with his job. But in studying these issues, she said it turns out that he doesn’t have a conflict of interest in holding both jobs. So that’s not a reason for him to step down. Performance might be another reason for him to step down, but she didn’t see a reason to remove him from his seat on the board.

Non-Motorized Travel Follow-Up: Taylor

Taylor also disagreed. He said the mayor doesn’t have the authority to do that, because the mayor doesn’t control staff – the city administrator does. Cooper is also “duly appointed, therefore, there’s no authority even for staff to take him down.” [Kunselman had suggested asking Cooper to resign from the AAATA board. Taylor appears to have been responding to the possibility of removing Cooper from his job with the city, or removing him from the AAATA board.]

Taylor thinks integration and communication are good. Cooper’s cross-fertilization as a city staff member and AAATA board member augments both institutions. It’s good for transportation in the city, and good for the AAATA. Cooper’s service in both institutions is a benefit, not a detriment, Taylor concluded.

Non-Motorized Transit Follow-Up: Briere

Briere agreed with Petersen and Taylor, saying she had slightly nuanced reasons. She said Cooper is not the non-motorized transit staff member, he’s the alternative transit staff member. [His job title is transportation program manager.] His job is to look at alternatives to using individual private cars. His expertise is national, and she has no problem with his work, though Ann Arbor is struggling with non-motorized transportation, as are other communities.

Briere didn’t think the council could remove anyone who was appointed to a board or commission unless they have cause – and there is no cause, she said. “For any of us as mayor to consider that cause is ‘I want you doing something else,’ that’s an interesting challenge that I don’t think meets the smell test.” Briere said she advocated for cross-fertilization on the AAATA. She wanted Susan Baskett on the AAATA board because she wanted the school board represented. She wanted people there from the university bus system to represent those needs. She wants city staff there for the same reason. This will help reduce the number of buses on the road, and make the system work for Ann Arbor and its partners, Briere concluded.

Non-Motorized Travel Follow-Up: Kunselman

Kunselman stressed that he didn’t say he would remove Cooper for cause – he’d request that Cooper step down. “I think my colleagues missed that point.” Kunselman also pointed out that his council colleagues voted to appoint Cooper, but he had voted against that appointment. “I think it is highly inappropriate for a city staff person who works under the direction of a city administrator to then become a policy person under the mayor’s office. It’s a conflict of commitment. He can’t serve two masters.” That’s one reason why Cooper isn’t giving enough attention to his job, Kunselman said – because he’s also focusing on the mayor’s policy initiatives.

Commuter & Light Rail

Question: Tell us about your vision for commuter rail and light rail. Also, please touch on the idea of a multi-model station and where it should be located.

[Audio: Commuter & Light Rail]

Commuter & Light Rail: Taylor

Expanded rail service is vitally important to the future of Ann Arbor, Taylor stated. It’s important to reduce congestion, it’s important for the environment and for Ann Arbor’s economy. We need to do everything we can for expanded rail service in Ann Arbor, he said. If that means a new train station, then he’s for a new train station. He’s agnostic as to its location – he wants it to work. If federal rail experts say it’s going to work at a particular location, then he’d support that.

Regarding light rail within the city, Taylor hasn’t yet seen the business case for it. He wants expanded mass transit within the city without using cars – that’s a priority for him. He’s not certain if that will be light rail or another mode.

Commuter & Light Rail: Kunselman

Kunselman loves trains, and he’s traveled with his family on Amtrak to far distant states. However, Amtrak needs a lot of work – and that’s out of the city’s control. Commuter rail is in the hands of the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA). It’s not the city council’s responsibility.

As far as the train station, he was very opposed to using city parkland and a 99-year lease with the university to build Fuller Road Station. “Thank god we got that off the books.” He thinks the train station should go across the tracks from its current location. There will be lots of parking there, and the ability to create a park as DTE decides what to do with that site.

Commuter & Light Rail: Briere

The city doesn’t control where the trains run or when the trains run, Briere said. The only question that the city controls is whether to put in a new train station. She noted that it’s not a council decision – that’s a voter decision. When she and Taylor worked to pull away from the arrangement with the university for the Fuller Road Station, she put into the resolution that if there’s a proposal for a train station, then voters get to decide whether it’s built, she said. Regarding light rail, Briere said most of the city streets are too narrow for light rail, but the city should look at every possible alternative transportation mode.

Commuter & Light Rail: Petersen

Petersen is very much in favor of a new train station. Ideally, she’d like to expand where the current station is located, because she thinks it would be more cost effective. She said she has romantic visions of what a train station by the river could look like, spanning over the rails to the MichCon/DTE property. Consultants are doing a very robust public engagement process now to explore different locations. The city’s residents will vote on it, but there are other stakeholders, Petersen noted. What are UM’s plans for the connector study? The city needs to co-locate with UM’s bus rapid transit. Regarding the RTA, Petersen said it’s not out of the city’s hands. The city is a stakeholder. The mayor, as head of state, will have a voice in the future of the RTA, she said.

Ann Arbor SPARK

Question: SPARK’s annual report claims that they created 13,024 new jobs, $1.5 billion in investment and 547 companies, but another report [required under the Michigan Strategic Fund Act] shows a slightly different story with only 685 jobs, $229 million in investment and 149 companies. You’re all Democrats, but SPARK was co-founded by our current governor Rick Snyder, a Republican. Why do you continue to support it, when the data in these reports don’t match? [The two reports where it's been contended the numbers don't match are these: Ann Arbor SPARK 2013 annual report and 21st Century Jobs Trust Fund 2013 Annual Report]

[Audio: Ann Arbor SPARK]

Ann Arbor SPARK: Petersen

Petersen hasn’t looked at the data from the two reports. The question about whether the data is right or wrong isn’t the relevant question. She trusts that those numbers can and will be reconciled.

Petersen continued by saying that Ann Arbor SPARK is the only economic development corporation in town. She’s on the board of the city’s LDFA (local development finance authority), and supports its contract with SPARK. When some councilmembers questioned whether they should remove a $75,000 contract with SPARK, she was very much against it. The city needs to grow its job base, and SPARK has grown jobs.

“We can nickel and dime on the actual number of jobs, but no doubt SPARK is doing their job,” Petersen said. She said the city got 752 jobs for the $75,000 that was spent last year. SPARK had accounted for those jobs. The larger question is whether the city should be doing an objective audit of these numbers. That’s something to consider. She’s going to raise it with the LDFA board at their meeting on June 17.

Ann Arbor SPARK: Taylor

The numbers that the city receives from any of the entities with which it contracts ought to be held to a rigorous standard, Taylor said. He understands that some people believe the numbers that the city received from SPARK are inaccurate. He would suspect that SPARK has a counter-argument. He’d be interested in hearing a full articulation of both sides.

That said, Taylor sees value in state-supported economic development. He’s not in favor of giant tax breaks or boondoggles, but the city has a role to attract and retain businesses through SPARK, and a role in fostering a culture of entrepreneurship – that also comes through SPARK. Right now, SPARK is the mechanism to achieve these important city goals, and until it’s plainly demonstrated that they’re doing a poor job, he supports them.

Ann Arbor SPARK: Briere

Briere said she didn’t want to pretend that this was her area of expertise. Her problem with SPARK has always been that there isn’t an easy causal relationship between what they do and what they claim to have changed. That doesn’t mean the causal relationship isn’t there, she added – it’s just not easy to see. If the numbers don’t match reality, that’s an issue and the city needs to check on that. The numbers have to be accurate and explainable.

Job creation is a challenge, Briere said. Does a business settle in Ann Arbor and hire more people without SPARK? We don’t know. Does a business grow bigger because of SPARK? SPARK can’t prove it does. That’s what makes this so difficult – because SPARK’s not hiring people. Everything is an incentive or training for new businesses. And those businesses tell the city how much SPARK means to them. “But it’s not a clear box where you can say so many jobs were created, and we’re challenging them to do that.”

Ann Arbor SPARK: Kunselman

Kunselman said the state education fund is being raided to provide state funding for economic development. They say they put the money back, but then why is the public education system in such dire straits? His wife is a public school teacher in Ann Arbor, Kunselman said. The school board just cut millions out of its budget, and is privatizing custodians. Yet the state is taking funds for schools and using it to pay for the LDFA and SPARK. “There’s a relationship there that makes me somewhat bitter.” The state says it puts the money back, “but I don’t know what to believe.” It’s a difficult situation.

The council will have some votes to take regarding this issue, Kunselman said. The LDFA wants to extend its term, and they’ll have to justify that. So that will be a hard vote. He thinks SPARK is somewhat corporate welfare, and gives the impression of capitalist cronyism. The situation needs to be re-examined, and Kunselman said he’d “look to our state legislator out there to help us” – a reference to state Rep. Jeff Irwin, who attended the forum.

Closing Statements

Each candidate got 90 seconds for a closing statement.

[Audio: Closing Statements]

Closing Statements: Kunselman

Kunselman thanked everyone for coming. He noted that one of the four candidates will be the next mayor, and they’d all have to work together. They’ve been working together, regardless of their differences – that’s the best thing for the city. He’s running to give voters a choice. If you’ve been a supporter of the past policies and politics, you have good choices. You have choices that have been praised by county commissioner Conan Smith, and by DDA board member Joan Lowenstein, and by mayor John Hieftje. “I’m offering you a choice of someone that is not in that camp.”

He’s someone who didn’t vote for countywide transit, where there would have been buses going past cornfields. He didn’t vote a “chandelier” for the Justice Center using general fund money. He didn’t vote to borrow $50 million for an underground parking structure that resulted in 500 additional parking spaces and four blocks of streetscape.

Kunselman is running as a common-sense, fiscally responsible Democrat. He lives in a low- to moderate-income neighborhood, not an upscale neighborhood. He works full-time. He’s the only councilmember who lives in a precinct where there’s a mobile home park. “So if you want to talk about affordable housing, if you want to talk about the working class, then vote for Stephen Kunselman.”

Closing Statements: Briere

Briere said she wouldn’t talk about her economic status, but anyone who’s been to her house knows she’s not living in a posh neighborhood. “The idea that we play against each other that way strikes me as absurd, because we’re not here to work for ourselves and we’re not here for any other reason except to represent you.”

Over the years, Briere said, there have been important votes when she’s agreed with the mayor, and important votes when they’ve disagreed. “I want you to understand – I make my own mind up and I don’t belong to a faction. I don’t even appreciate being told that there’s a faction against John Hieftje stuff, because honestly, John is gone. And we should get over him.”

Now we look at the future. She’s not running against Hieftje, and she’s not running to be him. She’s running because she thinks her ability to listen and to create solutions to problems, working together, will help find a better way for Ann Arbor. She’s running because Ann Arbor shouldn’t just be a place to live, but a place to thrive – a place for future generations to live and thrive as well.

Closing Statements: Taylor

Taylor is running because he thinks it’s important that Ann Arbor’s next mayor has the temperament, experience and judgment to work every day to maintain and improve the quality of life for people here.

The city is doing all right, Taylor said. There are areas to improve, and he’d like to work on two things. One is to maintain and improve all the basic services that the city provides – like public safety, streets, snow removal, water. But if they did just that, the city wouldn’t have the character that people love. They need to live up to their progressive values, so he’s eager to work on affordable housing. He’s been on the park advisory commission for six years, and parks are fundamental to the city’s quality of life. Parks need to be beautiful and well-maintained, and he’ll continue to focus on that. Ann Arbor also is an environmental leader, so he wants to help lead on climate change. “We can’t solve the problem but we can do our part, and we oughta.”

People need to get around – things like public transit, non-motorized transit, and pedestrian safety are important. He’ll focus on that. The downtown needs to be vibrant and active. It’s the core of the city, and makes all of the neighborhoods better. It has a character that needs to be maintained. “Finding that balance between the inevitable change that’s going to come, and between the character that we all know and love – that’s the thing we need to focus on, and that’s what I’d be excited to focus on as your mayor.”

Closing Statements: Petersen

Petersen noted that she’s been on city council for two years, but she wanted people to focus on her full scope of experience. She’s lived in Ann Arbor 18 years, and has held leadership positions in the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and now the public sector. This cross-sector experience provides her with a fresh perspective, new resources, new skills and abilities that this city needs now, while it’s on the cusp of growth, she said.

This is why she was elected to city council as a “supposed outsider” and that’s why it makes her the best candidate for mayor. In her two years on city council, she’s undertaken two initiatives that have the potential to transform Ann Arbor. The first is the creation of an economic development collaborative task force. This is low-hanging fruit, she said. “The need for a prudent economic policy has always been there, just nobody has recognized it until now.”

The second thing, she’s done, is moving the city toward an ethics policy. It had been tried before, but faltered because it wasn’t the appropriate approach, Petersen said. She used an approach that was very careful. Her pragmatic business experience helped her understand the appetite that current city councilmembers had to digest something as big as a city ethics policy.

Finally, Petersen has spent a lot of time speaking with constituents at town hall meetings, going door to door, and here’s what she’s heard: People want a mayor who’s open and inclusive, who stands for the homeless and the housed, regardless of ability, who is open-minded, fair, trustworthy and unencumbered by bias. “I will be that mayor.”

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor city council. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!


  1. By Kai Petainen
    June 15, 2014 at 8:19 pm | permalink

    I would like to make a correction and I apologize for it.
    I had stated 685 jobs. That was an error.
    I had stated 149 companies. That was an error.
    It should have read 630 jobs and 129 companies.
    I am picky with details and I do apologize for the mistake.


  2. By Mark Koroi
    June 16, 2014 at 12:39 am | permalink

    “The second thing (Petersen has) done is moving the city toward an ethics policy.”

    Jack Eaton likewise has been a strong proponent of an ethics policy.

    An ethics policy can be incorporated into an ordinance, as a number of Metro Detroit communities have done.

    The City of Hamtramck in 2008 passed a comprehensive ethics ordinance along with an enforcement provision that gives a citizen a mechanism for bringing alleged infractions to the attention of city officials. It imposes duties of courteousness and fairness toward the public and bars conflict of interest situations.

    City officials should compare the City of Hamtramck’s ordinance with its own objectives in attempting to construct its own ethics framework.

  3. By John Floyd
    June 16, 2014 at 2:03 am | permalink

    Disappointed – but not surprised – by the grandiose statements and the absence of substance or specifics. What, for example. Does “Maintaining the city’s character” mean from a guy who wants to continue to build up? Any thing at all? I’m looking for specifics, not soothing cliches that smell empty.

  4. June 16, 2014 at 6:42 am | permalink

    I am glad that CM Kunselman brought up the issue of diversion of school funds to the LDFA (also known as the SmartZone). Council recently voted to set the stage for extending that into the future. The view has been expressed that since our local schools are not directly affected, it’s ok to send school taxes to an economic development entity. But this is a short-sighted view of the way these tax accounts work.

    I wish we could move from the “buckets” analogy to the water balloon analogy. If you push it in on one side, the other side bulges. Taxes diverted from an intended use will sting us in sometimes unanticipated ways.

  5. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 16, 2014 at 9:35 am | permalink

    “Responding to Kunselman’s remarks, she said: “Sorry, Steve – I’m just not big on hierarchy and I think that whole attitude of ‘I’m the boss’ is offensive to lots of people, including especially me.””

    It would be of value to listen to Ms. Briere’s March interview with Lucy Ann Lance and then reread her FOIA emails with the DDA before you make up your mind for Mayor: [link]

  6. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 16, 2014 at 9:57 am | permalink

    Very disappointed in Sally Petersen. She is spewing all these grand statements and cliches, is happy with SPARK, and other than talking about needing funds from future development to pay for future financial needs for the city, her comments and statements are all safe and sound focused grouped to death. Sabra Briere doesn’t sound ready for prime time–her jabs at CM Kunselman here sounds like she joined the race to be a spoiler and nothing more. In the interview with Lucy Ann Lance, Ms. Lance asked great questions about…making right decisions in the beginning and not playing ‘fix it’ about Plans A and B have failed and Ms. Briere doesn’t come across well. Very telling interview. Christopher Taylor is going to likely be more failed leadership in the style of our current Mayor but at least he’s tempering some of his past comments in respect to accountability of SPARK–a small but important shift. Kunselman is the only candidate who stands out with a platform that embraces the entire City. So, my score, I liked Kunselman before this debate and still do, Petersen–if this is all she has, there is no reason for her to be elected to the office, Taylor–still remember HIS snarky FOIA emails while on Council but came away with a slightly higher opinion of him from this exchange and Briere is obviously the weakest of the four and shouldn’t be allowed within a hundred yards of this office. And Kunselman gets extra points for the giant glass ‘artwork’ safely behind the police protection at the Justice Center, a huge mistake both Taylor and Briere were more than happy to spend tax dollars for.

  7. By Vivian Johnson
    June 16, 2014 at 10:49 am | permalink

    A question many of us have and the answer will influence who we vote for is:
    Where do the candidates stand on the Planning Commission request for the exception allowing 6 Jesuit priests from the St. Mary Student Parish to live together in a 7 bedroom house.
    This will be discussed and voted on tomorrow night (June 17, 2014). Speaking of ethics and exclusionary practices, a small group of neighbors is attempting to keep 6 Jesuit priests from buying and occupying a 7 bedroom house at 1919 Wayne Street. Some of those who oppose the exception have even used neighborhood association fees to hire a lawyer to oppose the exception without notifying the general neighborhood association members that they are doing so. Currently zoning allows 4 unrelated individuals to live in the neighborhood but not more. This would allow 2 more Jesuit priests to live there. Rumors abound that at least one mayoral candidate is supporting this from behind the scenes. We all hope this is not true.
    We need to know where the mayoral candidates stand on this issue.
    Ann Arbor has come too far for this kind of DISCRIMINATORY practice to occur in this day and age.

  8. June 16, 2014 at 11:41 am | permalink

    Re (7) The Chronicle has a very complete discussion of this issue. [link]

    Personally, I am sorry that the religious issue was raised by some. I believe that this is a straightforward zoning issue, and that approval of this use would set dangerous precedents (unrelated to religious affiliation) for similar group housing in single-family neighborhoods across the city. Members of affiliations based on almost any interest or belief could make the same “functional family” claims.

  9. By Tom Whitaker
    June 16, 2014 at 1:23 pm | permalink

    In the context of the City Place debacle, we brought it to the City’s attention that there were several problems with the zoning and housing ordinances in regard to unrelated persons sharing a “housekeeping unit.” Supposedly these and numerous other zoning deficiencies were thrown into the hopper to be dealt with in both the R4C/R2A study and the ZORO project.

    Here we are six years after both of those projects were launched and the inconsistencies still remain between the zoning ordinance and its definitions and the housing ordinance and its definitions. From what I understand, the ZORO project is lost somewhere in the City Attorney’s office which is ironic, since these problems continue to make the City vulnerable to litigation or at least community conflict–especially since planning staff routinely make questionable interpretations when faced with these inconsistencies.

    To me, this is just further evidence of the downtown-centric focus of the current administration and its apparent lack of interest in just about anything outside of the DDA boundary (unless it involves a bike lane)–an attitude that I have no doubt will continue if Christopher Taylor becomes our next mayor.

  10. June 17, 2014 at 4:29 pm | permalink

    Based on the legal materials cited in the comments to the Chronicle article Vivienne linked, the Planning Commission may be legally bound to approve this permit.

    We’ll soon find out!

  11. By Douglas
    June 17, 2014 at 10:04 pm | permalink

    Please excuse a naive question from an interested outsider. Is the winner of the Democratic primary simply the person with the largest number of votes or does the winner have to meet a certain percentage of votes cast?

    What is the date/deadline that anyone who wishes to run as an Independent candidate for AA Mayor need to have petitions submitted in order to have their name appear on the ballot in November?

    Thank you.

  12. June 17, 2014 at 10:13 pm | permalink


    To appear on the Nov. 4, 2014 general election ballot, an independent candidate has until July 17 to collect and submit at least 50 valid signatures from each of the city’s five wards.

    The highest number of votes determines the winner of the primary. From the city charter: “The candidates receiving the highest number of votes of their respective parties at any city primary election shall be declared the nominees for election to the respective offices for which they are candidates.”

  13. June 18, 2014 at 9:47 am | permalink

    Douglas’ question is not at all naive since it highlights a difference in our primary system from those elsewhere, especially in other states, where there must be a runoff if no candidate obtains more than a majority (50% or more) of votes. (There is national attention on such a race in Mississippi just now.)

    With a 4-person mayoral primary, presumably someone could become our mayor with just over 25% of the vote, if votes are evenly distributed. In a 4-person primary for County Commissioner, Yousef Rabhi won by just one vote. There are a number of other examples in recent local history of candidates winning by a plurality rather than a majority of votes, and often by just a few votes.

  14. By Dave Fanslow
    June 18, 2014 at 1:10 pm | permalink

    Petersen said WRT non-motorized travel “But it should be more than paint on a road.” Not to single her out, but I hope the candidates have noticed that there are sections of some of the most heavily traveled roads in town that don’t have any paint on them at all! Division between William and Washington is like going on an exotic third world adventure. So who wants to integrate the issues of UM, infrastructure, revenue, non-motorized plans, staffing levels, etc and put the city income tax back on the table?

  15. June 18, 2014 at 2:55 pm | permalink

    My guess is that in this 4-person primary there will be two strong candidates and two also-rans.