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Mike Garfield, Ann Arbor

Transit Triumphant

"I was shocked by the margin of victory," says Ecology Center director Mike Garfield.

by James Leonard

From the June, 2014 issue

"I was shocked by the margin of victory," says Ecology Center director Mike Garfield.

"I thought it was going to be close," says Garfield of the May vote on a 0.7-mill tax to expand bus service in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township. "But it broke our way in the last few days. On election day we were very nervous, but I was so wrong!" Voters turned out in force to pass the millage by a margin of 70-30 percent.

"I expected us to lose by the end," says Libby Hunter of Better Transit Now, the group opposing the millage. "I didn't have a clue that it would be 70-30." BTN's Kathy Griswold likewise didn't expect so resounding a defeat, and offers an additional explanation. "We weren't as well organized as we needed to be. The press gave us a lot more credit for being an organization than we were."

"The voters have decided the matter," emails former transit authority treasurer and BTN leader Ted Annis, who argued that AAATA could raise the necessary funds by slashing its management staff. "I have no more to say."

"It's a difficult thing to win a millage campaign against an organized opposition," explains Garfield. "You really need a well thought-out campaign and lots of support--which we had."

Though the whole campaign was hard fought, both sides deployed their heaviest artillery in the final weekend: mailings and door-to-door canvassing.

"We ran a low-budget campaign," says Griswold. "The door-hangers weren't very expensive--3,000 for less than $500. And the McCullough [Creative] ads were in-kind."

Garfield says the big late push was part of the long-term strategy. "That's typical for any ballot campaign. Most communications are sent out in the last week because most voters make up their mind in the last week. We called [prospective voters] for two months, and up until a week before the election, more than half the people we talked to didn't know how they were going to vote."

The

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final weekend, the pro forces put out an ad and mailer accusing the opposition of "using tea party tactics of distortion and deception." At issue was the opponents' claim that the authority employed "a 52 person management staff for 133 bus drivers." In fact, that number included every non-union AAATA employee--and the counter-ad featured effective mini-profiles in which some of them described just how they contributed to the system's work.

Garfield says supporters decided to counterattack "after the opponents publicly repeated the '52 managers' argument at least a half dozen times, even after being corrected, and after we heard from at least as many proposal supporters that they were questioning their support." It was, he says, ""a blatant misrepresentation [that needed] to be corrected. They based their whole campaign on the AAATA being bloated and inefficient, and that was not true."

When the millage comes up for renewal in five years, Griswold says she won't oppose it. But she's not giving up--she just hopes to find a quicker path to changing AAATA's direction. "This [election] shows how important the [August] primary elections will be," she says, "because council appoints boards--including the AAATA board."    (end of article)

[Originally published in June, 2014.]

 

 
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