Three Critical Council Races
Mayoral ambitions put seats in play.
From the August, 2014 issue
The drama of who's running for city council began in March when Bob Dascola went to federal court to get a place on the ballot and climaxed in June when Dascola won his case and Leon Bryson abruptly ended his campaign.
That still leaves nine candidates running in five wards--two in the First and Second, three in the Third, and one each in the Fourth and Fifth. There are more races than usual because four council members are running for mayor (see "Four for Mayor," p. 29)--and two of them are giving up their seats to do so.
All the candidates are Democrats, and in deep blue Ann Arbor, that makes the August 5 party primary decisive. Based on perceived or declared loyalty to retiring mayor John Hieftje's brand of municipal activism, they fall into two camps.
The First's Don Adams, the Second's Kirk Westphal, the Third's Julie Grand, the Fourth's Graydon Krapohl, and the Fifth's Chuck Warpehoski are more or less on one side. The First's Sumi Kailasapathy, the Second's Nancy Kaplan, and the Third's Dascola are more or less in the opposition camp, with the Third's Sam McMullen nonaligned. Hieftje has endorsed Westphal, has a Grand sign in his Burns Park yard, and says he's "very impressed" with Adams.
Many issues divide the candidates, but one issue unites them: the acute need for better roads. According to the candidates who are going door-to-door, that's the voters' number one issue.
That's predictable after the coldest winter on record left the pavement strewn with potholes. With the controversial 413 E. Huron apartment tower rising over the Old Fourth Ward historic district, development is also a hot topic. Public safety remains an issue, but with crime at historic lows and council approving the hiring of three more police officers this year, less so than it's been in the past. With the overwhelming approval of the AAATA's expansion millage, transportation is also less divisive this year, though that still leaves the proposed new
train station to fight over.
Without opponents, Krapohl will win in the Fourth, as will Warpehoski in the Fifth. In the First, Kailasapathy has an incumbent's advantage over newcomer Adams. In the Second, Westphal lost to Jane Lumm last year but gained visibility in the attempt, while Kaplan represents the powerful neighbors of Huron Hills golf course. In the Third, Grand nearly beat Steve Kunselman, now a mayoral candidate, last year, but Dascola has a lot of friends, and McMullen has an incredible thirty volunteers.
Voters in the First, Second, and Third will shape the council's, and the city's, future direction. If Adams, Westphal, and Grand all win, the activists will again run council. If Kailasapathy, Kaplan, and Dascola win, the new back-to-basics majority will solidify its position.
First Ward incumbent Sumi Kailasapathy and challenger Don Adams strongly differ in their view of what Ann Arbor is and should become. It's now "the best midsized city" in the eyes of Adams, who works in a traumatic brain injury rehabilitation facility. But, he warns, "if we don't have development, we'll go down. For property values and tax revenues to go up, development is going to have to support the community to a certain extent."
"I'm happy as it is: a culturally diverse small town," says Kailasapathy, an accountant. "I don't know that we need to aspire to be something else. I don't have a vision of us growing fast. I'm in no hurry to see another huge development boom."
They also differ on public safety. Kailasapathy acknowledges "part one" crimes --such as assault and robbery--have gone down, but, she points out, "the police do more than part one crimes. People want more traffic enforcement and traffic calming. I'm happy with gradual growth" in the force.
"I love police and firefighters," says Adams. "My father and brother are firefighters. But crime is at an all-time low, and the chief says we don't need more."
Kailasapathy explains that the city stockpiled road millage money to pay for rebuilding the Stadium bridge if the state and feds hadn't stepped up--and that the city can't bear too many major rebuilding projects at once without creating gridlock. "Nevertheless we need to make a greater effort to fill in the potholes," she says. Council has asked city administrator Steve Powers to look for ways to supplement state funding for road repairs, and "if all else fails," she emails, "I will be willing to bring about a budget amendment to take it out of general funds if the need arises."
Adams says the city needs to educate citizens to "help us put pressure on the state and county to do a better job fixing roads." If that fails, he says, he'd be willing to "put the matter [of more local funding] to the voters and let them decide."
Kailasapathy has eight to ten volunteers, and aims to raise about $6,000 to support her run. Adams plans to raise $8,000, has twenty-two volunteers and his brother for a treasurer, and calls his "two little girls, seven and six" his managers: "They love to walk doors with me."
Nancy Kaplan and Kirk Westphal, the candidates for mayoral candidate Sally Hart Petersen's Second Ward seat, are as different as Adams and Kailasapathy--and in many of the same ways. To Kaplan, Ann Arbor "should be what it already is: a college town with great neighborhoods," and "the best way [for it] to grow is to preserve the best parts of what it already is." For Westphal, "it's a great mix of small town and big city," but it needs to grow because "successful cities always evolve--though the neighborhoods won't change much and the historic districts won't change at all."
Naturally they differ on development. "My view is that we need to grow organically," says Kaplan, who's served two terms on the district library board. "We don't need to push it." Unlike Petersen, Kaplan says she "would have voted against 413 E. Huron."
"I challenge anyone to show me a city that can maintain quality of life without attracting new investment and residents," argues Westphal. Like Hieftje and the majority of council at the time, the two-term planning commission chair says he would have voted for 413 E. Huron, because it complies with the site's zoning. "Political rhetoric led many to believe that building approvals are popularity contests. But when somebody proposes a building that fits our laws, it is extremely dangerous if you don't approve it. Courts do not look favorably upon cities that play fast and loose with their own laws."
They also differ over transportation. "I had mixed feelings about the [AAATA] millage because we already pay so much," says Kaplan, and she's against a new train station because "we have a train station already on Depot Street." Westphal, on the other hand, says he's "thrilled with the success of the transit millage" and is "absolutely in favor of a new train station."
It's easy to see how Kaplan and Westphal line up politically. For council, Kaplan supports "Sumi absolutely. She's been an outstanding councilmember. Bob Dascola seems energetic."
Westphal favors "Julie Grand and Graydon Krapohl. They were both thoughtful on the Parks Advisory Commission, and Chuck's track record has been thoughtful and forward-looking. I've found Sumi respectful and pleasant, however I disagree strongly with her policy priorities. I've met Don, and he strikes me as a collaborative and forward-thinking candidate."
Kaplan has Lumm supporters Rita Mitchell and Ann Schriber as co-chairs, hopes to raise about $15,000, and has about a dozen volunteers. Westphal is using the same leadership as last year, plans to raise between $11,000 and $14,000, and has fewer than ten volunteers.
The race for mayoral candidate Christopher Taylor's Third Ward seat is the most interesting because its three candidates are distinctly different, though they share many views.
Unlike any council candidate in five years, Dascola agreed to be interviewed only via email with follow-up questions in person. Asked why, he explains, "I'm new at this, and it helps me to see what's coming at me." And unlike any other candidate, Dascola had someone accompany him to the interview: attorney Tom Wieder, who secured Dascola's place on the ballot by winning a federal court decision invalidating the city's residency requirements. (City attorney Stephen Postema emails that Jane Lumm will be bringing forward "a Charter amendment with new eligibility requirements for the November election.")
To Dascola, Ann Arbor is a "town-and-gown community" that "will continue to grow and attract more young professionals." The barber says "we need more development, but primarily of projects that increase city tax revenues."
"Ann Arbor is a small city [that] feels like a small town," says Julie Grand. The Parks Advisory Commission chair also believes "we have to grow" and that "Ann Arbor should be the city in the state that other cities look to."
For Sam McMullen, Ann Arbor "is home. When I was growing up, I thought it was small because I only saw parts of it, but as I grew up I found out it's so much bigger." Like Grand, the premed U-M sophomore believes we "can be so much more of a leader in the state."
"Ann Arbor needs to expand its economic base," argues Grand. "We need not just high tech but a diversified economy that serves not just students but the whole range of people."
"We need more density," asserts McMullen, "but not necessarily high-rises in student areas." As a supporter of the Mixed Use Party candidate Sam DeVarti's run for council last year, McMullen believes "adopting mixed-use zoning should be a huge boon downtown." For instance, he envisions "mixing low-rise (2-3 story) apartment-style housing with retail in the student areas south of campus."
On public safety, Dascola says "we need more a couple more [cops] downtown." Grand agrees that "having more police downtown make people feel safe" but says that growing the force "needs to be based on data, and crime has gone down."
"I'm happy with the state of public safety," says McMullen. "I've traveled all over town from a young age; not once did I run into a scary situation."
Grand and McMullen also agree on transportation. "I'm excited by the millage's passage," says Grand, "and I'd love to have a new train station."
"I was supportive of the millage because having a strong transit system is essential for higher density and affordable housing," says McMullen.
Dascola is less enthusiastic. "With the recent millage increase for the AAATA it should be sufficient to provide for a large increase in transportation services. Any further needs could be met through increased efficiency in the provision of services and by substantially cutting down on the budget for marketing and image-building"--comments that directly echo the themes of the anti-millage campaign.
Asked whom he endorses in the other races, Dascola replies, "I am focusing on my own campaign and do not intend to make a public endorsement." McMullen likewise won't endorse. "I've talked to all of them, and they're all very reasonable people. But if you get them on teams [on council], they lose that. I hope to appeal to people who want to cooperate."
Grand doesn't hesitate. "I support Christopher Taylor for mayor. I worked with him for five years on the Parks Advisory Commission, and he always had thoughtful and useful answers." For council she endorses Adams, Westphal, Krapohl, and Warpehoski because "we share a vision of the city."
Asked how many volunteers he has, Dascola replies "I don't have a count, but the number is growing every day." Asked how much money he hopes to raise, he writes: "We plan to raise as much as we can."
Grand says she has "a handful of volunteers" and plans to raise "a lot of money" though "not anywhere close to $20,000." McMullen hopes "to get close to $10,000" and also has those thirty volunteers.
The winners in the Fourth and Fifth Wards are already clear. In the Fourth Ward, Graydon Krapohl announced his candidacy shortly after Margie Teall announced her retirement, and no one else came forward. Krapohl supports Taylor for mayor and Westphal, Grand, and Warpehoski for council, isn't "sure we need more cops," and says "no matter what, Ann Arbor has got to grow and develop. If you stop growing, you die."
In the Fifth Ward, Leon Bryson came on strong in his press release announcing his challenge to Warpehoski: "Our roads are crumbling. ... Police and fire protection have been severely reduced." But though Bryson remains on the ballot, in mid-June he suspended his candidacy, telling his supporters that he realized "I needed to know more about city issues and local politics."
That leaves one-term incumbent Warpehoski as the certain victor. He'd planned to raise up to $8,000 and assembled more than a dozen volunteers before Bryson dropped out. He says he still will "knock doors in every precinct--it's a great way to hear what's on people's minds. But I will scale back my door knocking and mailing to spend more time on constituent service and with my family."
[Originally published in August, 2014.]
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