Column: Mayoral Folk, Easy Listening

Reflections on campaign themes heard from four Ann Arbor candidates, based on their remarks at recent mayoral forums

Four candidates are competing in Ann Arbor’s Democratic mayoral primary on Aug. 5 – all of them currently members of the city council: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).


Four quotes from four candidates for mayor in the Ann Arbor Democratic primary.

The fact that all of the primary candidates are current city councilmembers does not in my view reflect positively on Ann Arbor. In a city that prides itself for its diversity, are there really no others beyond established political personalities who’d be willing to serve the community as mayor?

Putting aside that lament, the upside is that all four candidates have been recently vetted by the local electorate. And council service can be a useful common denominator for contrasting the four candidates. Over the last few weeks, they have appeared at several forums, fielding questions in a variety of formats. And the candidates have attempted to contrast themselves with each other. But on occasion that contrast has been hard to hear – because it has been oblique or offered quickly in passing.

The Chronicle has broadcast live audio from three candidate events, hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party, Literati Bookstore and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber. We wanted to provide that service, because those events would otherwise have been inaccessible – except for those physically present. And even those who were physically present might want to check their recollections against the actual audio recordings.

During these forums, it has been interesting for me to listen to the range of ways that candidates have tried to distinguish themselves from the others. I think in some cases those attempts have not been necessarily conscious and deliberate. And in some cases those attempts rely on lumping other candidates together.

Based on these candidate forums, here’s how I see the most salient aspects of the mayoral campaign strategies – listed in the order that candidates announced their intention to run.

Stephen Kunselman is asking voters to cast their ballots for him the person: A vote for Kunselman is a vote for integrity and dignity, and for someone who was born and raised here.

Christopher Taylor is inviting voters to identify him with the city of Ann Arbor itself in broad terms: If you think Ann Arbor is basically a great place, on the right track, and you’d like it to stay on track, then vote for Taylor.

Sabra Briere is asking voters to notice that she has accurate knowledge of the issues: If you want a mayor who is willing to work down in the weeds on policy questions, and get something done based on analysis of those policy questions, vote for Briere.

Sally Petersen has absolutely pounded the theme of economic development in her campaign messaging: If you want a mayor who will develop a strategy to pay for all the things people say they want, and won’t get distracted from that plan by factional squabbles on the council, vote for Petersen.

Those summaries are a bit one-dimensional. And I’m sure that the candidates themselves would argue that there is much more to their campaigns than that. And there is, of course. But I’d like to share in a bit more detail how I arrived at those summaries.

Kunselman: A Person to Vote For

At the Ann Arbor Democratic Party forum, Kunselman made an overt effort to contrast himself with the other candidates – by contending that he was the only one of the four who was not looking for votes from supporters of outgoing mayor John Hieftje. That was the choice being offered to voters, he contended. That choice is somewhat supported by the fact that Kunselman is endorsed by four other councilmembers who might be fairly characterized as Hieftje’s political opponents: Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

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

Stephen Kunselman at the Literati Bookstore mayoral forum on June 25.

But that was not the contrast that was most evident throughout that particular forum: Kunselman was the one candidate among the four who shared specific details about his personal self with the audience – not just during his opening and closing statements, but sprinkled throughout his remarks. From that forum you knew that Kunselman was married – to Letitia, who he called “the dynamo behind my politics here in Ann Arbor. Without her, I would not have the courage to stand before all of you.”

You learned that Kunselman has a stepson – who had flatted out on his bicycle twice recently on Ann Arbor’s roads. You learned that Kunselman grew up in Ann Arbor, attending Pittsfield Elementary, and that his grandparents were founding members of St. Francis Catholic Church. You learned that he was raised by a single mother, and that they lived adjacent to the Library Lot for a time.

Kunselman also managed to work in the fact that he still holds a certified water distribution system operator license from the state of Michigan – from his days as township planner and supervisor in Sumpter Township.

From the Dems forum alone, attendees could not have learned much of anything about the other candidates’ personal backgrounds: Are they married? Do they have kids? Where in the city do they live? Briere did quip, “I don’t know that man,” when her husband Dave Cahill rose to speak and cheerfully admonished those audience members standing in the back to “sit down…and shut up.” But to get the joke you had to know already that Briere and Cahill are a couple.

At the Dems forum, Kunselman identified himself in his closing statement as a common-sense, fiscally responsible Democrat, who lives in a low- to moderate-income neighborhood, not an upscale neighborhood – a precinct where there’s a mobile home park. The attempted contrast was apparently to neighborhoods where Petersen and Taylor live, which feature median home values of something like $370,000 and $440,000, respectively. Even though it was Petersen and Taylor who were probably being lumped together, it was Briere who was stirred to respond. In her closing statement, she 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,” Briere said.

Kunselman also highlighted his personal self at the Literati Bookstore forum. At the Literati forum you learned that Kunselman worked as a roadie in the past. From that forum, you also learned that he grew up in Ann Arbor and had an acquaintance with a police officer: “And I remember the beat cops. I remember Officer Blake. We got to know them as teenagers. … I won’t tell you why! From that experience, as a teenage rebel growing up in Ann Arbor, I have great admiration for the police force as an adult. Because I understand the difficulties that they have to deal with, I understand the clientele they have to deal with, and I think that’s the number one issue.”

Briere played off Kunselman’s vignette a bit later at the Literati forum and got a laugh line out of it: “I remember beat cops too, although I was not a troubled teenager. I wasn’t a rebellious teenager, either!” If it was not clear from that follow-up that Briere was in some sense chiding Kunselman for talking too much about himself, then it was possibly more apparent later on when she gave her closing statement: “I didn’t talk a lot about myself, I talked a lot about what I think and what I believe and what I have done. … That’s what I bring to this – a skill set …”

It’s not as if Kunselman talked only about his person at the Literati forum. He did talk about things he’s done – like his vote against the original A2D2 zoning for downtown. That vote was taken in late 2009, so it served to contrast him with Briere and Taylor, but not with Petersen, who was not a member of the council at the time. And at the Dems forum, Kunselman contrasted himself with Taylor by talking about something he would not do: He doesn’t work on something then plop it on the council table – after the city attorney’s office has been told not to communicate it to other councilmembers.

That was an allusion to the approach that Taylor reportedly took to his development of a charter millage question on public art, which the council put on the November 2012 ballot. Voters rejected it. Responding to a Chronicle query about whether he’d asked assistant city attorney Abigail Elias not to talk about the millage question before he unveiled it, Taylor at the time refused to answer the question, but stated: “It strikes me, therefore, that the attorney who declines to speak with one council member about legal advice given to another council member does so in the public interest.”

But at the chamber forum, Kunselman seemed to take a cue from Briere – by talking more about what he has done and was doing on the council. On balance, Kunselman’s prepared remarks at the chamber forum highlighted more of those things he considered to be his accomplishments on the city council than his personal background. Those included: leading the effort to amend the ordinance regulating the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority tax capture; opposing the countywide transportation initiative in favor of a more limited expansion like the one that was eventually ratified; eliminating the city’s Percent for Art funding mechanism; advocating for the sale of the former Y lot, which led to its sale; and advocating for preserving Argo Dam and for building a new skatepark – both of which were successful.

And a question from Sean Duval – founder and CEO of Golden Limousine International and chair of the chamber’s executive board – allowed Kunselman to talk about some of his council work that he’d done that very morning, as a representative to the taxicab board. Duval’s question was about Uber and Lyft, which have entered the Ann Arbor market – so Duval wanted to know what Kunselman would do as mayor to regulate those companies. Kunselman told Duval that the taxicab board was already addressing the issue – by considering a recommendation on a draft ordinance that would require all drivers for hire – including those for Uber and Lyft – to be registered with the city.

But the chamber’s forum also showed that in impromptu settings, Kunselman is among the candidates probably the most inclined to share anecdotal vignettes about his personal background. After his prepared remarks, responding to a question about the condition of local roads, Kunselman included his skateboarding as a youth in his answer: “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.”

Taylor: Embodiment of the City of Ann Arbor

Taylor has identified himself in the role of the city of Ann Arbor itself in a few different ways. At the Ann Arbor Democratic Party forum, he led off in his opening statement like this:

I sorta think that … we’re goin’ in the right direction. You know, we’re far from perfect. It’s not Elysium, it’s Ann Arbor, we live in Michigan. But I think we’re doin’ the right things for the most part. We have improvements, but we can be confident that we’re doin’ all right. If I’m elected mayor I’d like to work on two piles of things, broadly speaking. Number one is all the basic stuff ….

The first way Taylor identifies himself with the city is to stress that our current direction is basically right and should not change much. The sentiment of “We’re doin’ all right” was one he also highlighted at the chamber forum. So Taylor is not a candidate who perceives a need for radical reform or change from the current course. This is a well-known and established successful campaign strategy in American politics. Taylor has essentially invited voters who look around the city and ask themselves if they are content and comfortable with what they see, and then vote for the candidate they think is most likely to continue the existing quality of life they enjoy. Taylor has made an explicit effort to make voters think of him in that context.

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

Christopher Taylor at the Literati Bookstore mayoral forum on June 25.

A second way Taylor has identified himself with the city of Ann Arbor is to highlight the role of the mayor as the city’s external representative. Just by way of background, the mayor, of course, represents the interests of all city residents in the context of our internal local governance. That’s the mayor’s role as a member of the city council. The mayor is, in some sense, merely an at-large city councilmember with only a few extra powers – most notably to preside at council meetings, to nominate members of boards and commissions, and to veto legislation. Somewhat remarkably, at the Dems forum, not one of the four candidates mentioned the power to nominate members of boards and commissions when asked to name a key distinction between a councilmember and the mayor. The mayor is also described in the city charter as being the “ceremonial head” of the city.

So, when asked at the Dems forum how the roles of mayor and councilmember are different, the point that Taylor highlighted was the role of ceremonial head. Specifically, he highlighted the mayor’s role in representing the city to third parties – like the state, the county, and the university. He called this role the “head of state” or “secretary of state” for the city.

And at the chamber’s forum, Taylor misspoke in a way that I think is, if not revealing, then at least interesting in this context. He 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, adding “but I think that’s getting a little grand.”

So Taylor is inviting voters to weigh the question of which candidate would seem more mayoral in a context where the person is supposed to be the embodiment of the city. That plays to Taylor’s advantage, because Taylor is the candidate I think more voters would cast in the role of mayor in a movie, compared to the other three. He simply looks the part. That’s not just because he’s always well-mannered and neatly pressed, but because he is significantly taller. There’s at least some research to suggest that taller candidates win elections more often than shorter candidates. Taylor’s exact height (6′-6″) is a fact about himself that he volunteered at the chamber forum – as a time filler, waiting for someone to ask a question. He also managed to work his height measurement into his remarks delivered at the recent grand opening of the new skatepark.

Taylor has implicitly invited voters to identify himself with the city – not just as an abstract institution, but also as a kind of synthesized amalgam of the entire populace of the city. His speech patterns at recent forums have often been those of an everyman, alloyed with an aspiration to erudition – even if that alloy is not always perfectly forged. The opening passage above is a typical example. Taylor drops his g’s like a regular guy – unlike a former law review editor, and unlike the councilmember most likely to sprinkle his speech with gratuitous Latin phrases or technical vocabulary. Then, Taylor tosses in a reference to Elysium – a somewhat jarring juxtaposition, to my ear at least – but nevertheless more consistent with the persona he’s cultivated over the past six years of his city council service.

As the city’s head of state, speaking to different groups who might have different expectations or backgrounds can require some adjustment in presentation, even at the level of word choice. And Taylor has demonstrated during the campaign that he is capable of adjusting his lexical choices to suit an audience. For the general audience of the Dems Taylor offered [emphasis added], “If I’m elected mayor I’d like to work on two piles of things,” and to the general audience at Literati Bookstore, ”If I’m your mayor I’m gonna work on two big piles of things.” But for the members of the chamber – a possibly somewhat more buttoned-down crowd – Taylor was slightly more refined: “If I’m elected mayor, I’d like to work on two big sets of things.”

The two sets of things that Taylor wants to work on are (1) basic infrastructure and services, and (2) those things that make Ann Arbor more than just a basic city. This second set of things – consistently recited by Taylor at forums – has included affordable housing, parks, mitigation of climate change and mass transit. While voters will likely differ slightly on various details for policy implementation in those topic areas, these are all topics that resonate strongly in the community. More than 70% of voters supported the recent transit millage earlier this year. And on the National Citizen Survey conducted in Ann Arbor last year, 50% of those surveyed rated Ann Arbor’s parks as “excellent” – top of the scale. Another 40% gave parks a “good” rating for a total of 90% rating Ann Arbor’s parks as good or excellent.

So Taylor is linking his candidacy not just to a general contentedness with quality of life in Ann Arbor. It’s linked to specific areas in which many residents take pride.

Briere: Action Based on Sound Policy Knowledge

Candidates at the Literati Bookstore forum were asked to comment on how they saw the downtown and Ann Arbor in general five years from now. Briere pivoted away from the five-year time frame by focusing on the much longer-term, which depends on sound basic policies:

I don’t really like speaking in five-year increments. I know a lot of plans do that but the truth is we should really be talking about 40 years. We should be talking about 40 years, because the changes we make today are still going to be with us in 40 years.

And Briere highlighted longer-term planning in her remarks at the chamber’s forum, saying that more than just two-year or five-year planning is necessary, 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, she said, 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.

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

Sabra Briere at the Literati Bookstore mayoral forum on June 25.

Beyond a focus on the longer-term effects of policy choices, Briere seems to have made a conscious attempt to convey her mastery of factually accurate detail, related to specific policy areas.

The Literati forum provided an opportunity for candidates to talk about public safety. With respect to public safety and police staffing levels, Briere’s embrace of factual detail took the form of an allusion to technology that the police department has implemented – which automates the measurement of how officers are spending their time. ”For the past year the city police chief has been looking at what the police do. And looking at what the police do, he’s discovered that he had a lot of slack time that he could reassign. He reassigned police to traffic enforcement, he reassigned people to walking downtown. This process of looking at our expectations and how well we can meet them is a much more effective way to convince me how many more police we need and what we need them to do.”

Action based on knowledge of policy was evident at the Literati forum, when Briere said that she would, no matter what the outcome of the election, work to incorporate into the zoning regulations requirements for protected pedestrian walkways during downtown construction. At the Dems forum, Briere conveyed her command of factual detail related to zoning policy considerations by outlining the way development incentives work in the downtown, describing the by-right 400% floor-area-ratio (FAR), and how building residential units (as opposed, say, to office units) can result in an additional 300% premium, for a total of 700% FAR.

That sort of wonky command of zoning regulations is in Briere’s wheelhouse – as the city council’s representative to the planning commission. Taylor, at the Literati forum, expressed his view of the problem with residential premiums, by saying that the residential premium tended to encourage 6-bedroom units, which were marketed primarily to students.

But Briere subsequently countered Taylor’s characterization with some factual detail: “Almost all of the buildings that have been built under D-1 zoning, the modern zoning, don’t have six bedroom units. They have one-, two- and three-bedroom units. I think that’s important to keep in mind, because honestly the people who can afford to live in those buildings don’t want to live with five other students. The other thing to keep in mind is that not everybody who lives in those buildings is a student. There are a lot of people who live in those buildings who work downtown. It always surprises me, but it is just true.”

The way Briere concluded that statement – “… it is just true …” – is another way of saying, “What I’m telling you is factually accurate.” Another variant Briere sometimes uses to convey the same idea is to introduce a statement with: “The truth is …”

And Briere will sometimes correct factual errors made by other candidates – which might come across as pedantic to some listeners, especially when the point seems to be minor or inconsequential. But in the case of such a correction made by Briere at the Literati forum, the end result was, I think, an amplification of part of Briere’s implicit message – that she knows what she’s talking about because she works hard at it.

The factual point in question was a passing comment from Petersen to the effect that all four mayoral candidates had served on a joint committee of councilmembers and DDA board members. Briere interjected that she had not served on that committee. Petersen gracefully walked back that minor factual mistake like this: “You attended the meetings, it felt like you were there. Thank you for attending.” Petersen had made Briere’s point for her: Briere puts in the time and the effort to keep informed – showing up when she’s not required to. And that supports Briere’s campaign theme of having mastered the material, because she’s put in the necessary homework.

A question about city income tax was posed at the chamber forum, which is a topic that has not been an active part of community debate for at least three years. But Briere gave a decent general summary of some of the issues at stake, including the fact that in Ann Arbor, the charter prevents adding a city income tax layered on top of the existing operating millage. That is, we could levy a city income tax or a general operating millage, but not both. More telling than the basic competence of the answer was, I think, the way Briere responded initially to the person who asked the question, local attorney Scott Munzel. As he was introducing the topic, Briere said: “Oh, really, Scott – are you going to bring that up?” That quip had about the same effect as if she’d said, “I know this topic cold, folks, so if you want to ask about the city income tax, well, take your best shot.”

So one of Briere’s basic themes is that she has a factually accurate mastery of policy issues. Put crassly, that could translate as: “I have studied things, and I am right about things.” At the Literati forum, that theme was both highlighted (by way of contrast) and hedged with some humility by Briere’s mention of a book, “Being Wrong.” That mention came as candidates were asked to talk about what book they were reading currently: “And you may think ["Being Wrong"] is an odd thing for somebody to read. But first it is a fast read, second it is a comprehensive read, and third, it reminds us that we all make decisions based on just inadequate information from time to time. And as we talk about being wrong we also talk about how to be right. But how to admit you made a mistake is a really important part of my life. And it’s a really important part of city government.”

Petersen: A Way to Pay

Anyone who has listened to the mayoral forums and has not heard a main theme of Petersen’s campaign as “economic development” has not been listening very closely.

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

Sally Petersen at the June 25 Literati Bookstore mayoral forum.

During the Literati forum, the word “economic” was uttered 12 times total. Of those 12 mentions of the word “economic,” Petersen accounted for 11 of them. The other one came from the moderator. So it’s not just that Petersen talked explicitly and often about local economic development at that forum – it’s that other candidates seem content to allow Petersen complete ownership of the topic.

That can’t be chalked up an unwillingness to step on each other’s toes. Candidates are not in general squeamish about adopting each other’s talking points when the situation demands it. For example, at the Literati forum, Taylor stated: “We will have a new mayor, we will have a new university president, we have a school district that is, candidly, in trouble …” Those who listened to the Ann Arbor Democratic Party forum will have heard Petersen say something similar: “They’re [University of Michigan] going to have a new president. We’re going to have a new mayor. It’s time for a new attitude to really balance the town-gown relationship.” Just barely on mic, Petersen’s reaction to Taylor’s remarks at Literati was this: “Where have we heard that before?”

On that occasion, Taylor had brought up the university’s change of leadership in response to a question about the city’s possible role in the K-12 public schools. But as part of Petersen’s campaign, the university fits into the priority that she’s placing on economic development. And in that context, Petersen does not want to dwell on the fact that the University of Michigan does not pay property taxes.

So a key part of her economic development strategy is better cooperation between the city and the university – through regular conversations at the top levels of leadership.  In her formal response to Taylor’s comments at the Literati forum, she stated: “And I will finish Christopher’s statement that, yes, the university will have a new president and the city will have a new mayor, and it’s time for a new town-gown relationship. The city and the university don’t have a strategic dialogue on a regular basis at the top, and this needs to happen. The city for too long has been resentful, not just the city government, but there are plenty of residents who are resentful towards the university for not paying property tax, and we need to get over that.”

The first part of Petersen’s economic development strategy, as articulated at the Dems forum, is to grow jobs in Ann Arbor. 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 would include a plan to redevelop the downtown and business corridors in ways that preserve the community’s character and heritage. The point of Petersen’s emphasis on economic development is to make sure there is sufficient revenue to the city to pay for those things that are priorities: better roads, more beat cops downtown, and safer mobility for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and runners.

Petersen is able to pivot from pretty much any topic to the general question of economic development strategy and increased revenue. At the chamber forum, responding to a question about road repair, Petersen acknowledged that roads are one of the key pieces of infrastructure that the city needs to improve. The city has a revenue problem, she said, and without an economic strategy, “I don’t know how we’re going to solve that revenue problem.”

Petersen helped establish economic health as a council priority at the council’s December 2012 retreat. And she’s made into a campaign resume point an economic collaborative task force she led the council to create. At the chamber’s forum, she gave some detail about the work of that task force, describing it as taking inventory of several economic development activities. Gaps were identified, she said. 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]

Also at the chamber’s forum, she more narrowly focused a strategy she’d used at the Dems forum to address a possible perception about a lack of experience on the city council. [Petersen's nearly two years of service is at least four years less than other candidates' time on the council.] At the Dems forum, she invited attendees to focus not on her shorter experience on the council, but rather 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. But at the chamber forum, she highlighted the parts of her background related more to economic development, like her private sector experience and her business degree. Petersen noted that she’s the only candidate with an MBA. She also cited her work in senior-level positions at CFI Group, ABN AMRO Mortgage Group and HealthMedia.

Another part of Petersen’s campaign message is that she’s not a part of  factional politics on the city council. At the Dems forum she characterized  the council’s factions not in terms of  personal politics, but rather in terms of pro-neighborhood versus pro-downtown. She described herself as aligned with neither of those factions. Separate from those remarks, she also noted that she’d been elected to the council as a “supposed outsider” – which helps support her contention that she’s not a part of a council faction.


It’s worth repeating an observation from the beginning of this column: No doubt the candidates and their supporters would argue that there’s much more to their campaigns than those aspects of their remarks that I’ve highlighted here.

I’d encourage you to listen for yourselves – either to the audio recordings that The Chronicle has provided of the Ann Arbor Democratic PartyLiterati Bookstore and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber forums, or to upcoming forums or city council meetings. Three forums will take place in the coming weeks:

The next city council meeting takes places on Monday, July 7 starting at 7 p.m. You can watch it in person at city hall, 301 E. Huron, as broadcast on Channel 16, or streamed online by Community Television Network.

You might hear things differently than I do.

But because the outcome of the Aug. 5 Democratic primary will almost certainly determine the next mayor of Ann Arbor, now’s a good time to start listening.

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of local government. We listen to every word, so that you don’t have to. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!


  1. July 1, 2014 at 10:55 am | permalink

    Thanks for this summary and overview. It is helpful. And you are right, it is time to be listening.

    Something you didn’t say but that I derived from your description is that Christopher Taylor’s l’état c’est moi approach suggests that he sees himself as the natural successor to John Hieftje, who has often presented himself as the embodiment of the city.

  2. By Jeff Hayner
    July 1, 2014 at 11:52 am | permalink

    If a so-called outsider actually ran for mayor, what do you think their chances would be? I for one would love to have a choice outside of this group, to see an independent candidate for mayor come forward. But there seems to be little support for such an action in what is essentially a one-party town, with 75-80% voter apathy.

  3. By Jeff Hayner
    July 1, 2014 at 12:19 pm | permalink

    To follow up on my remarks, no candidate has said anything about working to engage more people, and get more voters to the polls. When you say seventy percent of the voters approved the transit millage, what you actually are saying is 70% of the 12.9% that voted approved the millage- so really, 9% of the possible voters approved the transit millage. And it turns out many of them were bused to the polls or handed AV applications by the Transit Lobby. And it will likely be the same for this race, less than 10% of Ann Arbor’s registered voters will choose our next mayor. No candidate talks about engaging more citizens as being important to the well-being of the city; certainly not “Coattails” Taylor. The political status quo loves low turnout, it consolidates their power over the rest of us into small, easily defined groups. Any number of bums could be thrown out by a candidate who made voter registration and turnout their #1 priority.

  4. By Jack Eaton
    July 1, 2014 at 4:29 pm | permalink

    I think you have done a good job of distilling the the candidates’ campaign themes. I applaud your ability to sit through these events, which must include significant repetition.

    Without having listened to all of these events, I would have thought that CM Kunselman would be credited with repeating the phrase “health, safety and welfare” during his comments. That seems to be a common theme of his discussion of City priorities.

    I am amused by CM Taylor’s reference to “two piles” of issues. It is reminiscent of Council budget discussions where fund accounts were referred to as “buckets” of money. Is this being folksy or is it a case of dumbing down the discussion?

    I was a little surprised by your observation about CM Taylor: “That’s not just because he’s always well-mannered…” An mLive article from December 11, 2013 observed:
    “At the same meeting, during a debate on DDA ordinance changes, Council Member Christopher Taylor essentially called Kunselman an arrogant narcissist. He also used the phrase “soul-sucking micromanagement” to describe Lumm’s skeptical line of questioning during a debate over expanding the city’s transit authority.” [link]

  5. July 1, 2014 at 5:57 pm | permalink

    This is an insightful column and deserves to be read widely.

    Dave (Askins), based on similar materials, how many people would you estimate will read this directly – that is, will read it without it having been forwarded to them?

  6. By Glacial Erratic
    July 1, 2014 at 6:18 pm | permalink

    What a wide range of views, from candidates, failed candidates, incumbents, and spouses. It’s what makes the Chron such a fantastic window into A2, esp by comparison to the sites of yore. I definitely feel that it’s a huge good thing to know what Dave C, Jeff, and Vivienne know about every single thing, and yee hah that Jack can get his campaigning in for free.

  7. July 1, 2014 at 7:17 pm | permalink

    #6 – Thanks for adding absolutely nothing to the conversation. If it wasn’t for the Chronicle, much of what happens in Ann Arbor would go unreported. There are few choices left for accurate reporting of any sort in SE Michigan, we are lucky to have this resource. Maybe you are one of those that would prefer the electorate remain in a state of ignorance? Feel free to NOT read the comments in the future if they trouble you so.

  8. By Tom Brandt
    July 1, 2014 at 7:28 pm | permalink

    Re [3]: “And it turns out many of them were bused to the polls or handed AV applications by the Transit Lobby.”

    Do you have any evidence to support this allegation?

  9. July 1, 2014 at 7:59 pm | permalink

    Re (6) I assume that I am one of the “failed candidates”. I think these little digs would be more supportable from someone who does not hide his identity.

    FWIW, I don’t comment on “every single thing”. Would it be preferable that I don’t participate in the civic conversation at all? I think that what you are actually saying is that you don’t want to hear from anyone you don’t agree with. So much for Open, much less Generous.

    I have noticed that participation in the Chronicle’s comment section has been much reduced from a couple of years ago. To some extent, commenting seems to be going out of fashion. The “other online news source” in Ann Arbor has almost been reduced to a tiny recognizable circle of malcontents. I also noticed in looking at one of my old blog posts that I had a long line of substantive commenters, and now I scarcely get any. (Whenever I actually post.) We may be seeing another step in the evolution of online behavior. Too bad that it is likely hastened by anonymous spitball throwers. It used to be fun, and often informative.

  10. July 1, 2014 at 8:08 pm | permalink

    Re (3) and (8) From my observation, the campaign for the May 6 millage was a classic, and classy, political operation. This is the way it works, folks. People who really want to win put in money, heart, and effort to win. No election takes place with the participation of all potential voters. It is the job of each campaign to get out their voters, and to persuade people to vote. My perspective as a biologist is that this is akin to a process of natural selection. I speak as someone who was out-campaigned in a race for a council seat. That is the essence of democracy. It is important that we accept the will of the voters (as expressed in any particular election) and move on, maybe to the next contest.

    Actually, it seems to me that Ann Arbor elections have been remarkably free of misdeeds. Plenty of money and influence brought to bear, but again, that’s the process. We live in a favored place.

  11. By bob elton
    July 1, 2014 at 10:00 pm | permalink

    I would take at least a little issue with Dave Askin’s first paragraph. Ann Arbor may pride itself on diversity, but only if that diversity doesn’t include scruffy hippies, blue collar folks, or, heaven forbid, an actual Republican.

  12. July 1, 2014 at 10:30 pm | permalink

    Dave… really well thought out and written. I’ve thought of writing something similar, but I think you really hit on the points.

    A few observations.
    As the debates have gone on, the candidates are:

    1. Getting better at delivering a joke during the debate
    2. Less nervous. At the start, some seemed nervous.
    3. Refining their points.

  13. By abc
    July 2, 2014 at 9:02 am | permalink


  14. By abc
    July 2, 2014 at 9:03 am | permalink

    @ 9 – I am certainly guilty (if that’s the term) of cutting back on my online comments. Some of that is just due to time; an online conversation can be a lot to manage, particularly if you want to be timely and thoughtful. However I have not cut back on my reading on this site, and others.

    I even used to regularly comment on the rag that was I took it as a personal challenge to raise the bar of the conversation. For example, I decided that I liked that they ‘reported’ on art exhibits around the area but I didn’t always like the presentation. The writer’s descriptions were aloof and inaccessible (and sometimes just plain wrong) and it has been just such effete approaches to the conversation of art that has driven many people out of the museum and away from art. So I thought I might engage in that conversation through my local ‘paper’ and challenge the writer a bit. And why not, most of his posts had no comments. Well after commenting a number of times in an attempt to have a conversation about his posts he never responded. You might think that a ‘reporter’ who only writes an article a week that apparently is read by very few, and commented on by none, would welcome a note by someone who saw the work, thought about what he wrote, has some background on the topic, and then tried to look at it differently, would get a response. Not one.

    Between that and the caustic dialogue that occurs on that site I swore I would not comment again; and have not.

    As far as someone’s nom de plume, Ms. Armentrout, we have discussed this before. There are many reasons one might “hide his [or her] identity”. And, of course, I am biased and think that there are good reasons to do so. I think you should react less to that fact, than to what someone has to say. I do believe Mr. or Ms. Erratic has an online presence on, although I am not familiar with the arc of their involvement there. I do find it interesting that there seems to be little cross over between the people who comment there and here. Maybe D & M need to write more about guns and crime… or maybe not.

    I have also noticed that fewer and fewer posters on the AA Chronicle seem to use a pen name. Dave can you bear that out? I have no explanation.

    Oh and Dave, I am still not posting to that number. Sorry.

  15. July 2, 2014 at 11:59 am | permalink

    Fewer and fewer posters on the Chronicle use pen names because they have figured out that using pen names decreases credibility.

    For all I know, people using pen names are Republicans from Idaho.

  16. By Jack Eaton
    July 2, 2014 at 12:28 pm | permalink

    Re (9) & (14) I guess I had not noticed that the number of comments here had declined over time. That would be a shame. The pleasure of reading the Chronicle is found both in the excellent coverage and the quality of commentary that flows from the articles. High quality reporting attracts intelligent readers which leads to interesting discussions.

    I also participate in the comments on the dotcom or mLive or whatever it is now. It is not difficult to be the most reasonable commenter on that site. Amusingly, at about the time the dotcom editorial board endorsed my opponent in 2013, at least in part because of a perceived flaw in my temperament, I received a very nice email from the community engagement person at the publication complementing the quality of my on-line comments.

    I recognize why an individual would want to remain anonymous when commenting. Too often public discourse devolves into verbal bullying. I post under my real name because I just do not care what others say about me. On the other hand, I also recognize how tiring it gets to be the target of shallow name calling and how some decent folks would want to avoid that. I enjoy a good comment whether posted anonymously or not.

    I would just conclude this rambling comment with a reminder to provide financial support to the Chronicle. Quality is worth supporting.

  17. By abc
    July 2, 2014 at 1:31 pm | permalink

    @15 – Mr. Cahill, this is what I meant when I wrote, “…an online conversation can be a lot to manage, particularly if you want to be timely and thoughtful.”

    You wrote,” For all I know, people using pen names are Republicans from Idaho.” Now maybe you were just being flippant but I find your choices to be interesting. This website is available to pretty much anyone, anywhere in the world. Why do you assume that all posters live here? And I guess it follows that since all posters live here, they must also be democrats, because this is liberal Ann Arbor. Wow. You might want to assume less and focus on what you actually know, which in this case are the words that someone writes. The difficulty of dialogue is focusing on just what is being communicated, without filtering it through our many biases. Is the speaker young or old, poor or wealthy, slovenly or slick, female or male, and of course, non-white or white? And as we all know there are many more biases out there.

    The internet levels many of these biases and allows people to be judged by the content of their communications. Shouldn’t that be embraced?

    Credibility lies in the words; the product of communication. We, as a people, put up with ‘credible’ authority figures, who lie to us all the time. Are they credible because we know their name and their job title? And one of the hardest things is to recognize the truth when it comes from an unexpected source; the child who observes a reality well beyond their years, or a non-expert who points out the problem to a befuddled expert. We all have heard that it is hard to speak truth to power. It may be harder for power to heed the truth when told plainly. Credibility is not bestowed, it is earned. And if I am not credible, to you, because you do not know my name, that’s your problem, not mine.

  18. July 2, 2014 at 1:40 pm | permalink

    It’s your problem because I don’t pay much attention to what you write. The overwhelming majority of people who use their real names are people I know, and are from the AA area.

  19. By Donna Estabrook
    July 2, 2014 at 5:44 pm | permalink

    The reportage in the Chronicle is detailed and lengthy. It takes time and concentration to read an article. If you don’t live in Washtenaw County and, therefore, probably don’t have a personal interest in the content of the Chronicle I doubt that you would be reading, much less commenting on the articles. I do have an interest and am grateful to the Chronicle.

    Does anyone know anything about proposal 14-1 on the Aug 5 ballot? I hadn’t heard it even mentioned until I saw my absentee ballot. Even after reading it I still don’t know what its import is.

  20. July 2, 2014 at 5:55 pm | permalink

    Donna, I had the same question. This is known as Proposal 1 (I think the 14 refers to the year) and is part of a complex package of bills that are aimed at replacing the business Personal Property Tax with (it seems to me) a complicated formula of applying the use tax to hold municipalities and authorities harmless, since they will lose a significant fraction of their property tax revenue when the PPT is withdrawn. Businesses hate the PPT, which is levied against equipment. The use tax is what is paid in place of sales tax on purchases and services from outside Michigan. My question is whether this will be a dependable source of revenue. However, the Michigan Municipal League and a slew of other public bodies are endorsing the ballot measure, since without it the PPT may be withdrawn anyway, but without a substitute source of revenue.

    Murph (Richard Murphy) replied to my query on Twitter, which is how I got this information. He now works for the MML. Info can be found on their website. I also found this Balletopedia article helpful. [link]

  21. July 2, 2014 at 6:02 pm | permalink

    Whoops, should have been Ballotopedia. No dancing involved, at least not that kind.

  22. July 2, 2014 at 8:46 pm | permalink

    Citizen’s Research Council has now come out with a memo about Proposal 1. [link]

    They point out that this will mean a loss to the state’s General Fund (because the use tax has been going into the General Fund and would now be rerouted).

    They also say that if the referendum is defeated, the PPT will continue for the next year. But Murph hinted in his tweet that there might be a lame-duck rollback of the PPT that would not have a hold-harmless provision for local governments. This is, of course, only speculation and was presented as such from a political insider.

  23. By Donna Estabrook
    July 2, 2014 at 9:10 pm | permalink

    Thanks, Vivienne, for those links. I was completely ignorant about this whole issue. I wonder how many voters in Michigan will have heard of proposal 1 before they look at their ballot. It is a rather complex issue and the ballot language does not tell you much.

  24. By Glacial Erratic
    July 4, 2014 at 3:11 pm | permalink

    First, let me be clear that I do not comment anywhere else with this name and if there is someone who is using any version of it elsewhere, it’s not me.

    There are plenty of folks who comment once, and some who comment regularly but erratically (that is, in bursts around specific issues or themes or when the spirit moves them), but it is still the case that there are a handful of people who comment ALL THE TIME, to a degree that they dominate the conversation. I have just counted all comments, inc “stopped watched” etc from the beginning of January to the end of March this year, and certain people in the categories I named commented more than twice, or more than three times, or even nearly five times as much as any one else. Someone else can count thru April, May, and June, and prove me wrong, but the beginning of this thread–before I got testy–doesn’t disprove the stats I have collected.

    This is a different issue than the toxicity of the mLive comments, but I find it stifling; I also do see it as highly motivated. It’s both boring and a pity that this is what we seem to have.