Chamber Forum: Ann Arbor Mayoral Race

Candidates Taylor, Petersen, Kunselman and Briere field questions from A2Y Regional Chamber members on infrastructure, transit, parks, income tax, regionalism and more

On June 26, the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber hosted a forum for the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti mayoral candidates.

Sabra Briere, Amanda Edmonds, Debbie Dingell, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor mayoral candidate Sabra Briere, Ypsilanti mayoral candidate Amanda Edmonds, and Debbie Dingell, who is running for Congress in District 12, a seat currently held by her husband, John Dingell. All three candidates are Democrats and attended the June 26 A2Y Regional Chamber event at the Ann Arbor Regent Hotel on Carpenter Road.

The four Ann Arbor Democratic candidates for mayor attended: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). They all currently serve on the city council. Both the mayor and city councilmembers serve two-year terms.

There are three Ypsilanti mayoral candidates: Tyrone Bridges, Amanda Edmonds, and Peter Murdock. All are Democrats, but only Murdock currently serves on the city council. Bridges did not attend the June 26 event.

No Republicans are running for mayor in either city for the Aug. 5 primary. More candidates than usual have entered the race at least in part because the incumbent mayors – Democrats John Hieftje of Ann Arbor and Paul Schreiber of Ypsilanti – are not seeking re-election.

This report focuses on the Ann Arbor mayoral race. Each candidate was given five minutes to make a statement and spent another five minutes answering questions from the audience. Questions covered a variety of topics, including regionalism, public transportation, road repair, the possibility of a city income tax, downtown parks, and the regulation of drivers for hire. Taylor was asked specifically about his job as an attorney, and whether he’d continue working in that capacity as mayor. He indicated that he would.

This report includes written summaries of the Ann Arbor candidates’ responses, as well as audio clips from The Chronicle’s live broadcast of the event. (Remarks by the two Ypsilanti mayoral candidates will be reported in a separate article.) Several other forums are planned in the coming weeks, leading up to the Aug. 5 primary.

The June 26 event was held at the Ann Arbor Regent Hotel and moderated by chamber president Diane Keller, with audience questions moderated by Andy LaBarre, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs and administration – who also serves in elected office as a Washtenaw County commissioner. It was followed by a mixer for chamber members and other candidates for local, state and federal offices.

Opening Statement: Sally Petersen

Sally Petersen introduced herself as a current city councilmember representing Ward 2. When Mary Sue Coleman took the job as president at the University of Michigan 10 years ago, she said she didn’t come to the university to maintain the status quo, Petersen noted. Coleman wanted the university to continue to find ways to excel. Petersen said this statement epitomizes her own campaign. She’s running for mayor to bring new leadership, skills, knowledge and abilities that the city needs now, in order to find new ways to excel.

Sally Petersen, Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sally Petersen.

As mayor, Petersen hopes to transform three things for the city – the economy, the city’s relationship with UM, and the quality of civic engagement.

Regarding the transformation of Ann Arbor’s economy, Petersen noted that she’s the only candidate with an MBA. Her years of leadership in the private sector – including work in senior-level positions at CFI Group, ABN AMRO Mortgage Group and HealthMedia – have prepared her well to lead an economic strategy that leverages future growth into revenue that will pay for the city’s priorities, she said. Those priorities include better roads, more police, and safer mobility for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and runners. “We cannot expect to restore our infrastructure without an economic strategy.”

When Petersen was elected to city council two years ago, she quickly realized that while economic development is a budget priority, the city has no economic development staff and only a $75,000 contract with Ann Arbor SPARK to support economic development. “I was astounded at the city’s lack of leadership in this regard.” So she proposed an economic development collaborative task force, which included SPARK and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

The task force took inventory of several economic development activities, Petersen said, and realized there were major gaps. While the DDA focuses on downtown Ann Arbor and SPARK’s focus is countywide, no entity is solely focused on economic development throughout the city, outside of the downtown. For example, she noted, the city recognizes the need to encourage redevelopment of areas like the North Main corridor and South State Street, which are major gateways to the downtown.

The task force recommended continuing its work after a new mayor is elected, with additional stakeholders including UM, Washtenaw County, and potentially the chamber of commerce. [.pdf of economic collaborative task force report] This expanded task force would have the power to transform Ann Arbor’s economy as it evaluates the policies and tools available to leverage new revenue to pay for the city’s priorities. New approaches might include public, private and civic partnerships, Petersen said.

As leaders in the business community, Petersen hoped that chamber members would recognize the opportunity to demonstrate corporate responsibility by thinking critically about ways to work with all stakeholders, to improve the local economy for all citizens, customers, employees, the community and the environment.

Regarding UM, the university is an engine for Ann Arbor’s economic success and a natural strategic partner, Petersen said, “but they do not fill our potholes.” Ann Arbor is electing a new mayor at the same time the university is getting a new president, she noted. “It’s time for a new attitude toward town-gown relationships.” A more equitable relationship through collaboration in areas of mutual interest would benefit both campus and the community. Those areas include transportation, job creation and quality of life, she said.

Petersen also stressed the “need to repair relationships and get beyond the polarization that currently saddles our city governance.” The polarization is characterized as those who want a vibrant downtown against those who want better services for neighborhoods. It’s a barrier to achieving both of those desirable goals, she said – a vibrant downtown that belongs to everyone, and better prosperity for the neighborhoods. “I am the mayoral candidate in the best position to unify these goals, because I’m not exclusively associated with either faction.”

She said her voting record shows that she votes for what’s best for Ann Arbor as a whole. Her leadership in the private, public and nonprofit sectors brings new knowledge, new skills and critical thinking, and new resources to bring people together to achieve a common vision, Petersen said. She closed by answering a question that she’s been asked frequently over the last several months: Why does she want to run for mayor? “I want to be mayor because I want to lead the city away from the status quo, and achieve new ways for the city to excel in the long term.” It’s an ambitious agenda, she added, but she’s confident that through better collaboration, Ann Arbor can be transformed in these important ways.

As she’s knocked on doors and spoken to other community leaders, she’s heard that people want a mayor who’s open and inclusive, who stands for the homeless and the housed, regardless of ability or political party. They want a mayor who’s unencumbered by bias, who is fair-minded and trustworthy, she said. “I will be that mayor.”

Q&A with Sally Petersen

Three questions asked of Sally Petersen touched on issues of regionalism and transportation.

Question: What are some better ways that the city can promote collaboration between itself and other municipalities?

Petersen: The notion of regionalization is becoming more popular. Ann Arbor is the center of Washtenaw County, in terms of being the county seat. Finding ways to collaborate beyond our business borders into the next town is obviously something that benefits everyone, she said. Petersen likes the idea of having the economic development task force to include members of the local chamber of commerce – to include representatives from Ypsilanti and hopefully Pittsfield Township. “What benefits outside of Ann Arbor also benefits downtown Ann Arbor,” she said.

Sally Petersen, Paul Krutko, Jane Lumm, Ann Arbor SPARK, Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sally Petersen, left, talks with Ann Arbor SPARK CEO Paul Krutko and fellow Ward 2 councilmember Jane Lumm.

Petersen noted that Ann Arbor SPARK is agnostic about where companies locate, as long as it’s within Washtenaw County. But she’d like companies to be taxpayers in Ann Arbor. Petersen said that Paul Krutko, SPARK’s CEO, tells her that even if companies are located outside of Ann Arbor, the employees still shop, dine and use resources in the city. Petersen recognizes that development outside of the city benefits Ann Arbor as well.

In particular, she’s watching with “cautious optimism” the redevelopment of Detroit. People talk about improved train service from Chicago to Ann Arbor, but she’d like to see more connectivity to Detroit as well. “I think we can benefit along that I-94 corridor – not just within Ann Arbor, but from the outskirts as well.”

Question: Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti voters overwhelmingly said that public transit is important. How should the city council and the next mayor help the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA), especially since it seemed like the city was reluctant to join?

By way of background, on May 6, 2014, voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township passed an 0.7 mill tax to increase public transit service of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. The millage, which was put on the ballot by the AAATA board, passed with 70.6% approval.

Separately, Washtenaw County is part of the RTA. The four-county area of the RTA includes the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland as well as the city of Detroit. It was established by the Michigan legislature in December 2012. That same month – at a Dec. 10, 2012 special meeting – the Ann Arbor city council voted unanimously to ask that the RTA legislation be amended to exclude Washtenaw County. The Washtenaw County board of commissioners had passed a similar resolution, but neither body had any authority over that decision, and the county was included in the RTA. The chair of the county board of commissioners is allowed to appoint each county’s two members to the RTA board. Currently, the RTA board members for Washtenaw County are University of Michigan professor Liz Gerber and former state legislator Alma Wheeler, who is also the mother of county commissioner Conan Smith.

In addition, the AAATA’s CEO, Michael Ford, was recently offered the job as CEO of the RTA. Ford has not yet confirmed whether he has decided to accept that offer, however.

Petersen: The city was initially reluctant to join the RTA, Petersen said. This community will see the benefits of the RTA in five or 10 years, and right now, the city is focused on the recently passed AAATA millage. She said she was grateful that the millage had passed, to focus on improved transit along the urban core, “which is something I was very much in favor of.” Beyond that, a light rail or commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit should be taken one step at a time. The city should encourage good analysis to be done, she said, and certainly shouldn’t be a barrier to its development.

Question: Roads in other states – from the mid-Atlantic up to New Hampshire – are so much better than in Michigan. With no hope from Lansing at this point, how is the city going to address this? It looks like the possibility of a local road millage has been shelved at the county level. What are we going to do about this?

Petersen: Roads are one of the key pieces of infrastructure that the city needs to improve. The city has a revenue problem, and without an economic strategy, “I don’t know how we’re going to solve that revenue problem.” The city can use general fund dollars to fix the roads, but the staff and council need to figure out where those dollars will come from. UM economists are forecasting that 12,500 new jobs will be coming to the county. Property values are going up 6.5% in Ann Arbor. “I’m encouraged that there’s economic prosperity out there, but we need a mayor who’s going to intentionally lead the effort to develop a strategy to transform that growth into more revenue for the city.”

She said she doesn’t have a quick or easy answer as to where those revenues will come from, but the city needs to start thinking about it strategically, and that hasn’t happened yet. “We’ve sort of relied on UM to be our economic engine, but they don’t fill our potholes.” The city needs to work with all of its stakeholders to make the most of this improving economy and turn that into more dollars that the city can then spend on infrastructure, like roads.

[.mp3 of Sally Petersen's remarks and answers]

Opening Statement: Sabra Briere

Since she began serving on city council in 2007, many of the things she’s focused on have been the small, iterative changes that make big differences in people’s lives. Those issues include traffic calming, getting snow plowed, filling sidewalk gaps and getting sidewalks repaired in an equitable and reasonable fashion. “Those are quality of life issues that help move us toward a future that really improves the life of everyone living in Ann Arbor today and the lives of all the people who come visit tomorrow – and for that matter, the lives of the people who will be living there in the future.”

Sabra Briere, Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sabra Briere.

Briere said she plans long-term. It doesn’t make sense to talk just about a two-year plan or a five-year plan, because just doing a street project can take five years of planning. It doesn’t make sense to talk about how much difference one person is going to make in a two-year term, because it can take two years to get an ordinance passed – from the time that you think about it, until it’s approved by city council and implemented. That doesn’t even factor in evaluating it to see if it’s been done correctly, she noted.

Briere believes in long-term goals, with iterative changes to achieve those goals. So as the city works toward safe streets, for her that means not just paving them but also coming up with a plan to repair the potholes before they happen. It means not just improving sidewalks, but also thinking about how people use those sidewalks – where they’re going and why they’re going there, and what are the destinations that the city wants them to reach, or destinations that they want to reach but can’t.

If there’s a park that people can’t reach because there’s no sidewalk, that’s a problem in the city’s planning. If there’s no sidewalk to reach a school, that’s a planning problem. Her goal is to plan properly and make the changes that are needed.

All of this leads to stronger neighborhoods and a more resilient community. A strong neighborhood is one where people talk to each other. For example, someone can borrow a chainsaw from a neighbor to deal with a branch that fell on their sidewalk. Strong neighborhoods are also places where people know who to call to get city services, she said, “and they know that they’re going to get a response from city hall. Neighborhoods and neighborhood leaders are city hall’s partners.” It’s the responsibility of the city’s employees and elected officials to respond to those requests.

As Ann Arbor changes – and Ann Arbor will change, she said – it’s important to talk about retaining things that make Ann Arbor special, “the things that made us stay here.” But it’s also important to become a community that can meet the challenges of the future. Those challenges include changes in technology and changes in the economy, from improving the transit system to dealing with where cars should park. As the city talks about increased jobs, it’s also important to talk about increased traffic and increased wear-and-tear on the city’s infrastructure. All of that requires better long-term planning, Briere said.

“If there’s one thing besides my ability to work with everyone on council and my record of true independent thinking and of not being part of any clique or group, one thing that I bring to this race that is unique to me is my ability to see a future, and to look at the ways and steps it will take for us to get there,” Briere concluded.

Q&A with Briere

The two questions to Sabra Briere covered a city income tax and downtown parks.

Question: Regarding tax revenues, the city has occasionally talked about the idea of a city income tax. What are your thoughts on that? Would it be beneficial to the city, or detrimental – in terms of regionalism and for the city itself.

The question was posed by local attorney Scott Munzel, who serves on the chamber’s public policy committee. Before answering the question, Briere laughed: “Oh, really, Scott – are you going to bring that up?”

Andrew Cluley, Sabra Briere, WEMU, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Steve Kwasny, a volunteer for Sabra Briere’s mayoral campaign, is interviewed by WEMU’s Andrew Cluley.

Briere: For people who didn’t know how income taxes work, she said, if the city were to ask voters to approve an income tax, the revenue from that tax would be offset by a decrease in the base property tax rate. The goal is to keep the impact to the property owners neutral. But there are always barriers to an income tax, she said, and there are reasons why the city hasn’t pursued it.

One reason is that the city hasn’t figured out a way to impact the people who make the most and live away from the city, Briere said, in a fashion that doesn’t discourage them from working in the city. There’s no way to guarantee that businesses won’t move five feet outside the city’s borders. In addition, “we haven’t figured out a way to ensure that the people who get paid the least, suffer the least. If they’re commuting to the city, what is the economic impact on their lives if we try to institute a portion of a percent of a mill.”

These issues haven’t been discussed in a way that leads to the decision to put an income tax proposal on the ballot, Briere said. If councilmembers aren’t convinced that an income tax would benefit the city’s bottom line and the citizens who live here, “then it becomes harder for us to sell.”

The reason that this idea keeps coming up is that people want to make certain that “if the university won’t pay its fair share, as it were, of the cost of doing business in Ann Arbor, then the people who work at the university should be forced to pay. And that is a barrier that none of us have quite been able to overcome. It hasn’t gone on the ballot. Anything can happen in the future.”

Question: The city has about 158 parks and 15 parks facilities. Can you talk about why there’s a need for another park, specifically in the downtown area?

Briere: People in Ann Arbor are fortunate that the city embraces the idea of as much natural area and recreational area and community gathering area as possible. One of the challenges that any downtown faces – anywhere in the country – is that there needs to be respite from construction and hardscape, she said. While it’s not always possible to guarantee, as Ann Arbor creates a dense downtown, the city will confront the need of people who live and work and visit downtown to have a break from the buildings and hardscape. That’s the purpose of a downtown gathering space or park.

The truth is that there are several places downtown, which are all small pocket parks, Briere continued. But there’s no coherent plan yet for how to use space on the Library Lane lot. The top of that underground parking garage was intended to hold a park, but not a building, in certain areas, she said. The city needs to address the needs of the community, how that park is designed, and what it does – and that can’t be done in isolation, she added. Ann Arbor embraces its open space, and when people come to visit Ann Arbor or decide to live here, part of the reason is because of its parks. “I wouldn’t give up a single one, but we’ll always have a challenge of paying for the ones we have.”

[.mp3 of Sabra Briere's remarks and answers]

Opening Statement: Stephen Kunselman

Stephen Kunselman began by thanking the audience for considering his candidacy, saying he was honored that they were interested in his policy positions and his record as an elected official.

Stephen Kunselman, Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Stephen Kunselman.

As a three-term councilmember representing Ward 3, he said he’s held a position of dignity, respect and honor, and he’d continue to do so as mayor. He’s been a strong and effective voice for all Ann Arbor residents, using common sense and fiscal responsibility as the basis for governing. “I believe in fairness and equity in the distribution of the city’s limited financial and staff resources, and have been a consistent advocate for investment in our infrastructure, funding of our parks system, and the rebuilding of our public safety department.”

Kunselman described how he grew up in Ann Arbor, and attended Ann Arbor public schools beginning with kindergarten at Pittsfield Elementary. He also attended King Elementary, Wines Elementary, Forsythe Middle School, Community High and graduated from Pioneer High in 1981. He got a bachelor of science degree in natural sciences with a major in forestry from the University of Michigan, and went on to obtain a masters degree in urban planning and landscape architecture, also from UM.

His career has been primarily in the public sector. He was an intern with the city of Ann Arbor’s forestry department, and a driver for Recycle Ann Arbor. He worked in local government for over 10 years, serving as an environmental planner in a nearby township and eventually as the township administrator. His responsibilities during that time included duties in environmental planning, solid waste operations, water distribution systems, development review, public works projects, recreation programs and planning, senior programs, and public safety.

Currently, Kunselman is employed at UM as an energy conservation liaison. He’s been in that position for the past 10 years. He’s married to Letitia Kunselman, a public school teacher, “and together we have helped raise our now young adult children – Shane, Sabrina, Sophia and Hannah.”

As a councilmember, he said he helped lead the successful community-based effort to prevent the dissolution of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority for an “ill-conceived” countywide transit authority. Today, there’s an expanded Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority “just as I’d advocated for from the very beginning,” he said. “That is what I call common-sense governance – because anybody with common sense could have easily predicted that the western, wealthy Washtenaw County communities were never going to participate in a countywide transit taxing authority.”

Kunselman said he also helped defeat the “very questionable” transfer of restricted utility and millage funds to the public art fund. “I was the greatest critic of the Percent for Art program, and today we can confidently state that it’s been dismantled. You and I want our utility dollars to repair water mains and maintain fire hydrants – not to construct a fountain in front of city hall.”

But what he’s most proud of in his six years on city council was championing reform of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, “which entailed perseverance, courage and compromise to legislate the most significant amendments to the city’s DDA ordinance, which passed overwhelmingly.” The DDA tax capture is now restricted to a reasonable rate of increase, he said, providing all taxing authorities with their fair share of revenues. In addition, he continued, the DDA budget now requires funds to be allocated to affordable housing, and there are term limits for board members.

Due to his advocacy, Kunselman said, the former city-owned Y lot was sold, ending a “10-year speculative development venture.” Also, the Valiant proposal to put the full faith and credit of the city behind a “questionable” hotel/conference center venture for the Library Lot site was halted, he said, “and I was the first elected official, in 2006, to say ‘Support the skatepark’ and in 2009 to say ‘Save Argo Pond’ – and today, we have both.”

If elected mayor, Kunselman said he’d continue to work cooperatively and graciously with his council colleagues, “with an emphasis on open and vigorous debate of all issues facing our great city.” He’s proud and humbled to have the trust, support and endorsement of current city councilmembers Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). “As your mayor, I’m confident that city council will prioritize public health, safety and welfare, as we all expect.”

Q&A with Kunselman

There were two questions for Kunselman, focused on transportation and roads.

Question: There are a lot of ride-sharing apps and transportation companies that are coming into Ann Arbor, and it’s not clear whether they’re following the rules that the city put in place. What would you do as mayor to try to curtail those somewhat dangerous companies that are out there transporting people?

The question was asked by Sean Duval, founder and CEO of Golden Limousine International and chair of the chamber’s executive board. Duval was referring to the entry into the Ann Arbor market of Uber and Lyft. Those two companies, which coordinate drivers and passengers through software applications, have been sent cease-and-desist letters by the Ann Arbor city attorney’s office – for aiding and abetting the violation of a state statute regulating limousines.

Kunselman: It doesn’t require being mayor to take action, he said – it requires being on city council. He serves on the city’s taxicab board, and at a meeting of the board that morning, they reviewed a rough draft of amendments to the city’s taxicab ordinance regarding taxicabs and non-metered vehicles for hire. The basic premise for public safety purposes is to know who the drivers are, he said.

Stephen Kunselman, Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Stephen Kunselman at the A2Y Regional Chamber mixer.

Currently, two regulations address vehicles for hire – the state limousine act, and the local taxicab ordinance, he explained. The state limousine act doesn’t regulate drivers – it regulates vehicles, and requires insurance. The city’s possible taxicab ordinance amendments would regulate drivers. For Uber and Lyft, the city has no idea who those drivers are, he said. So if the city can at least require that the drivers register with the city, “we’ll know who the drivers are.”

If the city also has a way of identifying these drivers as registered, that would be great, Kunselman said. That way, if the police see a driver who doesn’t have a registration, the police officer would have authority to use that as a primary offense to pull over the vehicle. “So if they see that pink moustache on a car [Lyft's logo] without a registered driver in it, then that’s going to get pulled over.” Right now, police can’t pull over a vehicle just based on a suspicion that it’s a driver for hire. “So we are addressing it.”

Question: The city is spending money to repair roads. Where does that funding come from, and when will the roads be repaired?

Kunselman: When the city council approved its budget for fiscal 2015, which begins on July 1, Kunselman said he was one of the few councilmembers who didn’t put forward any amendments – because the budget was pretty tight and everything he’d wanted was already in it. Staffing for the police and fire departments was increased, and the city allocated $1 million from the general fund reserves for street tree maintenance. That’s the only way that the city can catch up on a huge backlog of tree maintenance issues, he noted. He thought in the next budget cycle, the city might look at whether they can take money out of the general fund reserve – knowing that they’re spending very prudently.

Given the downsizing of local government in recent years, Kunselman said, the city can’t spend money on “all kinds of things for all people.” There seems to be an expectation, he added, that the city can continue to provide services outside the realm of public health, safety and welfare – such as pursuing transportation initiatives that are outside the city’s jurisdiction. While it might be great that the city is thinking forward, he said, they still have to take care of their needs today. “That’s been one of the problems I have with what I will term the progressive elitist agenda – always wanting more of something else, but never taking care of what they have.”

That’s been seen in the last few years in local government, he said, “pursuing public art, and letting our roads fall apart.” As mayor, he’d push back on that kind of agenda and start a new agenda focused on public health, safety and welfare. “I’ve been the most consistent councilmember, the most consistent politician focusing on those things because of my work history, and because of the community that I grew up in. I remember when our roads were in great shape, because I was a skateboarder and didn’t have to worry about any potholes.”

[.mp3 of Stephen Kunselman's remarks and answers]

Opening Statement: Christopher Taylor

Christopher Taylor began by saying he was running for the city of Ann Arbor – then realized he’d misspoken, and joked that he knows the chief executive embodies the city, “but I think that’s getting a little grand.”

Christopher Taylor, Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Christopher Taylor.

Taylor has been on city council for about six years, but he came to Ann Arbor in 1985. Like many, he came here for college and has a degree from the University of Michigan music school. “And like many folks with a degree from the music school, I’m now a lawyer,” he quipped. He works at Ann Arbor law firm of Hooper Hathaway on Main Street, where his practice focuses mostly on corporate commercial clients. He represents local businesses, individuals and nonprofits.

Both of his kids are in public schools – at Tappan Middle School and Pioneer High. In the community, he’s been involved in several theatrical production and choirs, as well as nonprofits. He’s been on the board of 826 Michigan, which does work in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and he’s on the board for FestiFools.

He thinks Ann Arbor is going in the right direction. The city isn’t perfect, but it’s doing all right. “We can improve, but we’re on the right track.” If elected mayor, he’d like to work on two major things. The first is basic services – neighborhood safety, streets, sidewalks, snow removal, “all of the pipes underneath the ground.” These are things that the city has to work on day in and day out, and that are fundamental to the city, he said.

Taylor was proud to say that he’s a progressive, and Ann Arbor is a progressive place. So without attention to other things, “I think we would cheapen ourselves in this city.” And with respect to the business community, the city wouldn’t be as effective a place and wouldn’t attract people to come here if the only thing that the city focused on were the basics. As mayor, he’d like to work on a few discrete areas.

The city needs to do all it can with respect to affordability and affordable housing. Taylor said he’s also sat on the parks advisory commission for six years, and Ann Arbor’s parks are crucial to its quality of life. They need to be kept well-maintained and beautiful at all times. Ann Arbor also is an environmental leader. The city can’t stop climate change, “but we ought to do our part.” The city should work with residents and businesses to help them do their part as well. It’s a real opportunity to move the city’s climate action plan goals forward, he said.

The city also needs to focus on transportation, both public transit and non-motorized and pedestrian safety. These are fundamental to quality of life for residents in Ann Arbor, Taylor said, and fundamental to employees and customers for local businesses. Finally, it’s important for Ann Arbor to have a vibrant, active downtown that still maintains its essential character, he said. “Finding this balance between the growth that has to happen downtown, and a maintenance of the character – this is a tension that we all have to keep working on.” Finding that balance is part of the city’s charge going forward, “and part of my pleasure if I were to be elected as mayor.”

Fundamentally, Taylor said, he has the temperament, experience and judgment to serve as mayor, and he’d be delighted to have the individual and collective support of chamber members.

Q&A with Taylor

There was a lull before the first question was asked, so Taylor quipped, “I’m 6-6, for those of you who want to know.”

Question: There are only 24 hours in a day, and lawyers probably work more than eight hours a day. How would you balance your job as mayor, if you’re elected, and your real job? If you represent a corporation that presents a conflict of interest with your work as mayor, how would you handle that?

Taylor: Fundamentally, Ann Arbor deserves a mayor who works every day to maintain and improve the quality of life for everyone. “If I am elected mayor, I will absolutely do that.” He has a small commercial practice downtown. He doesn’t go to court, so “my schedule is my own.” His clients don’t care if he types their contracts before his kids wake up, or during the business day, or after his kids are in bed. He’s 100% confident that he could do everything necessary as mayor, and still maintain his practice.

Julie Grand, Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Julie Grand, a Democratic candidate for Ann Arbor city council in Ward 3, talks with mayoral candidate Sally Petersen. Grand is running to fill the seat that’s currently held by Christopher Taylor, who’s also running for mayor. Other candidates in the Ward 3 Democratic primary are Bob Dascola and Samuel McMullen.

Taylor also thinks it’s a benefit to have a mayor who is engaged in the local community as a lawyer, working with businesses and people. “I think it gives that person a special understanding of the challenges and opportunities that are before folks.” Someone who still has to pay their mortgage, to pay for kids’ college, to pay their own student loans – this gives him an additional perspective on the challenges that confront Ann Arborites, Taylor said.

Regarding potential conflict of interest, Taylor said he represents clients now who have business that comes before the city council. What he does is make an announcement at the council table that he represents a petitioner, and he asks his council colleagues permission to sit out of that vote. In that way, he doesn’t participate in the conversation, deliberations or vote with respect to that issue, he said.

Question: Ann Arbor is a beacon in the state and the Midwest in terms of job creation, and how well local businesses are doing. How would you be an ambassador and tell the Ann Arbor story, and get other communities rolling?

Taylor: Ann Arbor is a community that values entrepreneurship. It’s open, diverse and welcoming to all faiths, origins and orientations. It’s focused on creating its own quality of life, and is open to education – it’s the seat of a global university. “We are a community that cares for ourselves – not in a selfish way, but that we care about ourselves and we strive to treat ourselves well.” Ann Arbor has a wonderful quality of life. Ann Arbor values sustainability and the environment, and progress. “Telling the story is an easy one,” he said.

As businesses come to Ann Arbor, they are keen to see where their employees would like to live. “You could talk all day about why Ann Arbor is awesome, and I’d be delighted to do so.”

Question: As a follow-up, when you look around Washtenaw County, not all communities are doing as well as Ann Arbor. The city has a brand that works and a model that works. How do we get the other communities in Washtenaw County to do as well? The business community wants people throughout Washtenaw County to come to Ann Arbor, and they do that when there’s good transit, and when other communities are doing well.

Taylor: “I would not presume to tell other folks what they should be doing and why they should be doing it.” Other communities “know their own lights best, and I wouldn’t want to play a role in advocating one way or the other on how they do their particular business.” Regional cooperation is vital, he added, and the success of Ann Arbor’s neighbors builds the success of Ann Arbor. So to the extent that other jurisdictions felt that Ann Arbor had the opportunity to be a successful partner, to help lift both communities, he’d be behind it 100%.

Transportation is an obvious example, Taylor said, as is the Washtenaw Avenue corridor. These are areas “where I think that we can and we ought to work together openly and zealously and with some cheer.”

[.mp3 of Christopher Taylor's remarks and answers]

Other Candidates

In addition to mayoral candidates, the chamber’s June 26 event drew several other candidates for local, state and federal office. Here are some photos of a few of the other candidates who attended.

Gretchen Driskell, Michigan House of Representatives, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Gretchen Driskell, a Democrat from Saline, is running for re-election in District 52 of the Michigan House of Representatives. She was first elected in 2012.

Jane Lumm, Dan Smith, Ann Arbor city council, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jane Lumm, a Ward 2 Ann Arbor city council member who was elected as an independent, greets Republican Dan Smith, a Washtenaw County commissioner who represents District 2, which includes a small portion of northern Ann Arbor. Smith is running for re-election. Lumm is in the middle of her two-year term, which runs through November 2015.

David Rutledge, Michigan House of Representatives, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

David Rutledge, a Democrat from Superior Township, is running for re-election for District 54 in the Michigan House of Representatives. He was first elected to that seat in 2010.

Kirk Westphal, Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kirk Westphal is running in the Ann Arbor city council Ward 2 Democratic primary against Nancy Kaplan.

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