"The city needs better leadership," Jack Eaton declares.
From the April, 2018 issue
In March, two-term mayor Christopher Taylor announced that he's seeking reelection. Soon afterward, Eaton, a three-term Fourth Ward councilmember, announced that he'll oppose Taylor in August's Democratic primary.
"Mr. Taylor is a wonderful gentleman, but I don't see any strong leadership out of him," says Eaton, interviewed in his far-west-side home. "He seems to be willing to be led by staff rather than set an agenda. He's satisfied to let staff bring climate action plans to him or transportation plans to him. He hasn't identified his own agenda but tried to extend [seven-term mayor] John [Hieftje]'s terms in office."
Taylor sees that as continuity, not drift. "The city has for years been looking to improve on climate action [and] transportation," he counters. "I have supported that since I showed up on council in 2008. I supported it when I became mayor in 2014. And I still support it."
Eaton adds that he and the mayor "disagree on a variety of issues." Since he joined council in 2013, the town's added about 4,000 residents and more than a dozen apartment buildings in and around downtown. But Eaton argues, "We don't seem to know what we want." He knows what he wants: "a diverse economic scenario, not just the very wealthy students and retirees ... a very livable downtown, [and] a senior-friendly city."
Taylor knows what he wants: "I want downtown to be a place that is welcoming to everybody. I want it to be vibrant, active, and accessible. I want there to be diversity of commerce. I want people to work down here. I want people to live down here. I want it to be a destination for residents and a benefit to the incredible quality of life we have here in Ann Arbor."
Eaton himself is a senior: he recently retired from his work as a labor lawyer. "I was born in Saginaw, moved to Alma, moved to Kalamazoo, [and] in 1985 I moved here." He also spent a year
in Tucson, Arizona, where he grew his hair to his waist. He still sports a Western-style moustache. Taylor's hair was at its longest in college, when it was curly and to his shoulders, though like Eaton he now keeps it neat and short.
A refrain in Eaton's time on council has been the city's infrastructure, which he says "was neglected for ten years. We were distracted by projects. We built a great big parking structure downtown. We built an addition on the city hall. We started planning for a train station."
Taylor calls the charge of neglect "absolutely false ... We've been focused on infrastructure since when I was on council, and we've focused on infrastructure since I became mayor. This year we're spending several million more on the roads than we did when I became mayor in 2014. We have increased money for storm-water improvement. We built a hundred-million-dollar wastewater treatment plant."
Finally, Eaton charges that crime is more prevalent than folks know. "In the Fourth Ward, there's a house near Allmendinger Park where last year the police responded to seventy-two calls. There were two overdoses there. One was fatal. There are guns, knives, and assaults. There's drug sales and drug use."
Soon-to-retire police chief Jim Baird emails that's not quite accurate. "[O]n the west side of the City near Allmendinger Park, we had 25 calls for service last year, not 72," he writes. "Six calls were related to some type of criminal activity, and there were none classified as weapons offenses."
Eaton was reelected to council last fall, and his current term runs through 2020. If he beats Taylor, council would appoint a successor to finish out his council term. Because he's one of four opponents to the current majority, they could take the opportunity to choose someone more to their liking.
Eaton hopes to change that equation. "There will likely be a contested race in every ward," he says, though he's not yet able to say who those challengers will be. Eaton first ran for council in 2010 on a slate that included current Ward One rep Sumi Kailasapathy and council critic Pat Lesko, whose fiery challenge to Hieftje crashed and burned. These days, Eaton says, he and Lesko are "friends, [but] she has no role in my campaign."
Eaton says he wants to avoid a contentious race. "I hope this can be a race of just issues. [Taylor is] a delightful guy. I disagree with him, but that doesn't make him a bad person. We both want best for the city."
[Originally published in April, 2018.]
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