The Education of Ron Ginyard
He had the inside track on a city council seat-until he changed sides.
From the January, 2019 issue
When he moved back to Ann Arbor in 2014 to care for his ailing mother, Ron Ginyard thought about getting into city politics one day. A 1974 Huron grad, Ginyard had lived in California since 1976, working mostly as a stockbroker and branch manager for Morgan Stanley in Long Beach.
Ginyard moved to the Northside neighborhood in Ward One. In 2017, he talked with Anne Bannister, who won one of the ward's city council seats that year, about running in 2020, when Bannister's term would be up. Early last year, he says, he heard back: she and others wanted to talk to him about running--in 2018.
Ginyard said that they met in February at Carson's restaurant. "They wanted to get to know me, check me out."
At the time Sumi Kailasapathy, the other Ward One rep, was still talking about running for reelection. But according to Ginyard, she was at the Carson's meeting. So were Bannister and Ward Four rep Jack Eaton--all members of what we call the Back-to-Basics Caucus.
Ginyard evidently passed the audition. "They gave me the directions on the things I needed to do," he says in one of several interviews at Sweetwaters downtown. And Bannister sent him Pat Lesko to set up his campaign.
"They were very, very, very positive on Pat," Ginyard says. "She was very versed in putting together a campaign."
Lesko had managed council campaigns before. In 2010, she'd also run for mayor against John Hieftje--then the leader of what we call council's Activist Caucus. After a brutal race, Lesko got just 16 percent of the vote. Eaton, Kailasapathy, and another council candidate who'd campaigned with her also lost.
Eaton and Kailasapathy ran again and won in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Lesko hasn't tried for public office since. But she stayed politically active, attacking the Activists in her short-lived newspaper the Ann Arbor Independent, its online successor a2indy.com, and an ongoing flood of social media posts.
Lesko lives just
up the block from Ginyard on Brookside Dr., and he started going to weekly campaign meetings at her home. He says he saw Kailasapathy, Bannister, and Ward Two activist Kathy Griswold there at different times. (Bannister and Kailasapathy didn't respond to requests for comment on Ginyard's account. Griswold says she doesn't recall meeting Ginyard at Lesko's, but it could have happened.)
Though Kailasapathy had taken out petitions to run again, Ginyard says the popular incumbent did so only "to keep other people out of the race." He provided the Observer with copies of emails in which she and other Basics councilmembers welcomed him as her heir apparent.
In one exchange, Ginyard emailed Kailasapathy to tell her he would be out gathering nominating signatures. She responded "I would still like to help you. You can drop off a sheet at my office." She signed the message, "in solidarity."
"So glad you're running in Ward 1, Ron!" Ward Two's Jane Lumm emailed. Bannister chimed in: "If you need anything, let me know! I'm so happy you're running!! Thank you!"
"Hugs to you both," Kailasapathy wrote Ginyard and Bannister, "and so relieved I am going to be represented by two caring council members."
In another exchange, Bannister wrote Lesko and cc'd Griswold: "Thanks, Pat! We desperately need a candidate in Ward 3, and Ward 2." Griswold later announced that she'd run against the Activist incumbent in Ward Two.
Lesko didn't email him much, Ginyard says, because they were meeting weekly. But in early April she sent him a list of people who'd supported Bannister, and later that month, a long message with advice on how to run his campaign. In it, she mentioned she'd "been asked to help more than one candidate this time around."
"Pat is the brains of the operation," Ginyard says. He later elaborates: "She's integral. Her hands are all over everything."
In April, most of the declared candidates appeared at a forum at the U-M's Ford School, including Ward Four challenger Joe Hood. Ginyard says he didn't attend because "I wasn't ready." Neither did Kailasapathy--which he says didn't surprise him, because he knew she wasn't really running.
In an email exchange afterward, Lumm brushed off the Activist candidates' talk of supporting basic services. "They speak the language when they run for office, but look at their voting records!" she wrote. "Lots of fodder here for Jack, Ali, Ron, Joe."
"The Crows are coming home to roost Jane," Ramlawi responded. "The voters are smarter then the majority on council give them credit for."
"Go wonderful crows, GO!!!," Lumm replied. "I am cheering you all on!!!!!!!!!!!! ... You guys give me hope!!!!!"
But Ginyard was beginning to wonder about his choice of allies. He liked some of the changes in his hometown--but it seemed to him that the Basics caucus wanted to "totally stop development."
Lesko's attitude bothered him, too. "I didn't like how she spoke to me, very demanding, pushy, very rigid," he says. "There was no deviation."
Ginyard is black, and he says some of Lesko's advice emphasized that: She wanted him to put his photo on his lawn signs, he says, and kick off his campaign at Arrowwood Hills, the HUD co-op that historically has had a large African American population. He refused. "I didn't want [race] to be a factor," he says. "I wanted to run as a citizen and a man."
He was also concerned by what he was hearing about Lesko's reputation. He got the impression, he says, that "everybody enjoyed using Pat as long as she stayed in the background." He says Eaton told him that when they ran together in 2010, "'she sunk us all.'" (Eaton declined to comment.)
Lesko takes her reputation seriously. In 2017, when Ward Five councilmember Chip Smith dismissed the Ann Arbor Independent as "Pat Lesko's blog," Lesko emailed the Observer to warn that it would be "actionable" to describe it as "anything but a newspaper." The same year, she threatened to sue former Ann Arbor News staffer Jen Eyer over a Facebook post.
In a recent interview, Eyer explains that when Lesko ran for mayor, she was in charge of comment moderation at what was then AnnArbor.com. In 2017, she saw a Facebook comment about Lesko "being toxic on the local political scene. So I made a comment stating the simple fact that we frequently had to moderate her comments for pushing false information, and there were many accounts that she would use"--despite the site's ban on candidates posting anonymously.
"She went after me really hard," Eyer says. In addition to threatening litigation, "she called my place of business. She emailed my boss and tried to get him to fire me." Fortunately, her boss just laughed it off.
Soon afterward, the Ann Arbor Independent disappeared from the Internet. Lesko continues to post to Twitter and Facebook as A2Indy, but her paper's online archive is gone: links to a2indy.com now end up at a site called GiganticBeanbags.com.
After three or four meetings, Ginyard says, he stopped attending the sessions at Lesko's house. "I realized I didn't like the way this was going."
In late April, Eaton kicked off his campaign against mayor Christopher Taylor. Kailasapathy was at the party, working the room to discourage Basics candidates from competing with one another in the primaries. Joe Hood agreed to bow out in Ward Four, consolidating support for challenger Elizabeth Nelson. (She crushed an Activist incumbent in the primary--and when Hood ran as an independent in November, she crushed him, too.)
In Kailasapathy's Ward One, Jeff Hayner had also pulled petitions to run. He told the Observer he felt "a lot of hostility" at the party, but decided to stay in the race. Hood told us he thought Eaton and his allies might favor Ginyard "to show a little diversity."
We included that quote in an article ("Council Triage," June)--but mistakenly attributed it to Hayner. We apologized to both candidates and corrected the attribution online and in print, but Hayner wasn't satisfied. Saying people were accusing him of "racism," he demanded corrections pinned to our Facebook page and Twitter feeds and free ads in the next two issues. Since Hood's suggestion that politicians might favor racial diversity seemed harmless, we refused.
We also got an email from Lesko. Though she wasn't mentioned in the article, we'd previously described her as an Eaton ally--and so, she said, tainted her by association with what she called a "disgusting racist assertion." She, too, demanded corrections pinned to our Facebook and Twitter feeds. Hood's speculation, she wrote, was "a gross insult to me and my family and, equally importantly, an insult to my neighbor Ron Ginyard, whom I know and respect immensely."
That may have been the last good thing she said about Ginyard. In an interview for the June article, he had told us he didn't align with either faction--but if anything, he was "more on the mayor's end" of council's political spectrum.
After the article appeared, Ginyard says, Lesko "walked down the street, and we talked.
"I told her that I could not deal with her issues and who she is and how she does things ... I didn't want to be tied to somebody who is a political operative who is very much disliked by a large group of people.
"She says, 'I feel sorry for you.' We sat and talked for thirty-plus minutes. She played all nice, and, when she walked out, she commenced to slamming me every chance she got."
She wasn't the only one to turn on him. "Anne Bannister was my biggest supporter," Ginyard says. "She gave me $250." After the article came out, "she wanted me to give it back."
It was the only check he got from the Basics Caucus. But as the primary approached, he found new supporters in the Activist Coalition. "They listened to me," he says. "I spoke to the mayor about being independent. I told him, sitting down with him, that I won't always vote with him. And he said that's the way it's supposed to be."
Taylor endorsed Ginyard and made a donation from his campaign fund. Other Activist supporters also contributed. Meanwhile, Eaton, Kailasapathy, and Bannister all endorsed Hayner and gave him money. Ramlawi contributed to him, too.
In July a website appeared with the address RonGinyard.org, but it wasn't Ron Ginyard's. Headlined "What Is Ron Ginyard Hiding?," it was a skillfully crafted attack on him and his candidacy, highlighting his failure to vote and a financial settlement that Morgan Stanley made with an investor he'd advised. (Ginyard says he wasn't reprimanded and continued to work for the company.)
The website was registered anonymously, but it did include an email address. When we sent a message, "John D." replied.
"Jeff Hayner/Ron Ginyard had nothing to do with the site," the message said. "The site went up because for months Ginyard didn't answer neighbor phone calls, emails and he didn't meet with some of our leading neighbors who asked to meet him."
Ginyard says whoever sent that message was "lying through his teeth like the lying website ... I meet with neighbors." But he thinks "John D." was a fiction--he believes that the person who emailed us was actually Lesko.
When they were working together, "Pat said to lock down RonGinyard.org before somebody takes it," he explains. "I think Pat secured the site on my behalf [as] a friendly gesture"--then weaponized it when he switched sides.
After the election, we emailed "John D." to ask if the website had influenced the outcome. The reply: "the primary is over"--then both the site and the email address went offline.
Asked about Ginyard's account of the Ward One campaign, including his theory about RonGinyard.org, Lesko emails that she's "not interested in discussing the primary election at this point." But she has used other names in the past: in 2009, she launched the blog a2politico.com as "Sam Rosenthal."
Just before the election, Lesko made an anti-Ginyard post on their neighborhood's Nextdoor social network. Its headline asked, "Is it racist to say a black candidate is unqualified?"
Ginyard calls that "race baiting." When they were working together, he says, Lesko never said a word about his qualifications.
Ginyard ended up losing to Hayner by 130 votes. Taylor won reelection, but three of his supporters lost council seats, reducing the Activists to a four-vote minority.
Lesko was triumphant. "Hieftje gave Taylor the Titantic and the ship hit an iceberg of their own making," she wrote in an email to the Observer. "They were sucked down in a whirlpool of lockstep voting and group think." The message ended, "Now the real work begins."
Asked if that means she considers herself a partner in the new council's work, Lesko didn't answer. But in a November Facebook post, she wrote that since 2010 she's "recruited and helped seven progressive Democrats run for and win seats on Ann Arbor's City Council." And she seems to feel empowered to speak on their behalf. When local resident Neal Kessler tweeted something she disliked in November, she responded by tagging his employer:
"Hey @SmithGroup, love your employee insulting the new #A2council majority," she wrote. "This is how contracts are won and working relationships are established."
We asked the members of the new majority if Lesko spoke for them. Lumm and Griswold didn't respond, but the others all gave firm No's. But given her claimed influence, it's perhaps not surprising that the tweet was deleted--and Kessler emails that he can't talk about it.
"That is A+ Pat Lesko," Ginyard says. "I've had neighbors tell me she is very intimidating. And I said, 'I will stand up to her.'"
He may get another chance. He says he's thinking about going back to his original plan and running in 2020. And he hopes Lesko will run against him.
from Calls & Letters, February 2019
Pat Lesko objected to our article on last summer's First Ward Democratic primary ("The Education of Ron Ginyard," January). In an email, she called it a "spittle-stained, misogynistic rant."
Lesko claimed the article was "jam-packed" with errors, but we found only one substantive factual dispute: "I never told Ron to put his photo on his signs," she wrote. "Kathy Griswold did that."
In a separate email, Griswold confirmed that she'd suggested the idea to Ginyard. Asked to respond, Ginyard emailed that while Griswold may also have suggested it, he vividly recalls Lesko telling him to put his "smiling face" on his signs.
On December 24, 2018, Kai Petainen wrote:
What's shocking about the A2Indy tweet to Kessler is that the A2Indy wants to be known as a 'media organization' of some sort. However, here we have a media organization tweeting to the employer about the personal political opinions of one person. He wasn't commenting on behalf of the company he works for. Imagine if MLive started complaining to UofM about personal political opinions by UofM employees/staff. It's just very unprofessional for a media organization to do that and if the A2Indy wants to be taken more seriously then they need to stop with the personal attacks.
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