Council's New Majority
The tide has gone out
From the December, 2013 issue
The tide has gone out on the council majority of seven-term mayor John Hieftje.
When Republican Ingrid Sheldon decided not to seek reelection in 2000, Hieftje, a first-year councilmember, ran for mayor and won. Within five years, council's last Republicans switched parties, giving Democrats complete control.
On paper, that dominance lasted until 2011, when Republican-turned-independent Jane Lumm defeated Republican-turned-Democrat Stephen Rapundalo. In reality, Hieftje's majority began to crack in 2007, when Mike Anglin beat Wendy Woods in a Democratic primary. Steve Kunselman in 2009, Sumi Kailasapathy in 2012, and Jack Eaton in 2013 each replaced a Hieftje ally.
If anyone still doubted that the true divide on council is between supporters and opponents of the mayor, they disappeared this year. In Lumm's reelection campaign, Democrats Anglin, Kunselman, Kailasapathy, and Eaton all endorsed the independent over fellow Democrat (and Hieftje supporter) Kirk Westphal.
Sally Petersen also beat a Hieftje loyalist, in 2012. When she votes with the rest, they'll have a majority on the eleven-member council. But Petersen broke ranks this year when she voted to approve a controversial fourteen-story building at 413 East Huron, and she endorsed neither Lumm or Westphal. She's now the swing vote.
With the addition of Eaton, the new majority wasted no time exercising its power: in November, the mayor acquiesced to Kunselman's proposed cap on the Downtown Development Authority's tax revenue (see "Curbing the DDA"). Though the limit won't take effect until 2016, over the long run it should free up some money to achieve a goal widely shared in the new majority: reversing some of the Hieftje-era staff cuts. Eaton, for example, says he "supports increasing firefighter staffing to achieve nationally accepted fire response times" and "increased police staffing to allow for proactive community policing."
To pay for the added staff, Eaton says he favors "budgeting by objective, spending money first on the top priority. This year there was an increase in property tax revenue, and I would have taken a fair portion of
the extra money to public safety." If that and the new revenue diverted from the DDA isn't enough, he supports Lumm's 2012 proposal to lay off probation officers to hire cops, "or if not from there, then we could look to the IT department or the city attorney's office."
As councilmembers negotiate the new balance of power, a complicating factor is that several also are jockeying for Hieftje's job. Kunselman has declared his candidacy, and Petersen, Third Ward rep Christopher Taylor, and First Ward rep Sabra Briere have all said they're considering running.
A final complication: Petersen and Taylor are both up for re-election next year. If they choose to run for mayor instead, they'll leave their seats open to all comers.
This article has been edited since it appeared in the December 2013 Ann Arbor Observer. The spelling of Sally Petersen's name has been corrected.
[Originally published in December, 2013.]