In overwhelmingly Democratic Ann Arbor, where the mayor and all ten city councilmembers belong to the same party, the only election that matters is the August Democratic primary.
This year, as usual, endorsements, donations, and yard signs cluster in two groups—blogger Sam Firke calls them the “Strivers” and the “Protectors.” They divide principally on the question of how much, and how fast, the city should change.
Since mayor Christopher Taylor and his activist allies regained control of council majority in 2020, they’ve moved to accelerate growth, taking themselves out of planning decisions, allowing more accessory apartments in single-family neighborhoods, and creating new “transit-oriented development” zoning to turn outlying commercial districts into mini- downtowns. They’ve also pushed hard to implement the A2Zero climate action plan.
None of their opponents question affordability and sustainability as goals. But they have reservations about how they’re implemented, exemplified by the proposed expansion of transit-oriented development to W. Stadium and N. Maple roads. Taylor’s challenger, former councilmember Anne Bannister, says she’d support it only if council adds a long list of additional requirements for future developers.
Taylor has endorsed five council candidates. Two are running against opposition incumbents, one against an uncommitted newcomer, and two are headed for council uncontested.
Mayor: Taylor vs. Bannister
Challenger Anne Bannister, fifty-eight, was defeated in 2020 after serving one term as Ward One councilmember. The executive director of Personal Finance Education Services, she’s managing her own campaign and hopes to raise about $30,000.
Incumbent Christopher Taylor, fifty-five, is a lawyer at Hooper Hathaway. He hopes to raise about $80,000, and his campaign is being managed by Jeremy Glick, state rep Laurie Pohutsky’s legislative director.
Bannister says she decided to run because Taylor was unopposed and she wanted “my unique qualifications and skills to offer Ann Arbor a choice.” Asked why voters should choose her, Bannister replies that she’s “a strong advocate—listening to the concerns of residents and amplifying their voices.” And, she says, “I can do better than Mayor Taylor at developing our new comprehensive land use plan.” In an email, she writes that she’s “concerned that in recent years major changes to land use and density have been, and are being, approved without proper notification to and engagement with the public.”
Taylor says at first he “didn’t want to” run again, but changed his mind after like-minded candidates swept every ward in 2020 and “it became clear they very much wanted me to do it again.” And “there are aspects of the job that are simply fun—the head of state/city mascot functions.”
Asked why voters should choose him, Taylor replies, “I have the temperament and values and experience to … envision and accomplish substantial improvements to quality of life.” That includes to significantly increase the housing supply, primarily through much denser development along bus routes.
“Ann Arbor is an expensive place,” he says, “and we want to enable folks to find housing at all price points.” After rezoning the area around Briarwood last year, council is now considering extending the new “transit-oriented development” zoning to about 200 parcels along W. Stadium Blvd. and Maple Rd.
In an email, Taylor calls it “a long-term question that requires careful deliberation … I look forward to listening to resident feedback along with the input of planning professionals to determine how best to proceed.”
Bannister objects that the up-zoning would create “ ‘by-right’ conditions for developers without consistency with our other stated goals.” She’d attach eight stipulations, including requirements for affordable housing, parking, and green space, as well as advancing A2Zero goals. Otherwise, “I would vote no and send it back to the drawing board for more rigorous citizen input.”
Taylor wouldn’t attach stipulations in advance but says he’s “incredibly excited” about the carbon neutrality plan.
Bannister voted for A2Zero when it was adopted in 2020 and says that she still supports it, but adds that she considers it “a living document that will need to change over time. If elected, I will advocate for greater focus on practical solutions like weatherization of leaky homes and buildings, stormwater management, and strengthening the metrics and measurements of success.”
Ward One: Harrison vs. Smith
The contest to succeed one-term incumbent Jeff Hayner features two first-time candidates, Cynthia Harrison and Angeline Smith.
Harrison, fifty-one, is program manager at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living. She’s endorsed by Mayor Taylor, but isn’t supporting him or any other candidate because “I’m really focused on my own campaign.” Like every candidate endorsed by Taylor, her campaign is managed by Blue Path Solutions, a consulting company run by labor organizer Robert George and Ruby Schneider, an administrative assistant to Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit.
Smith, fifty-four, owns and runs the accounting firm Angeline & Associates and is an Arrowwood Hills Housing Cooperative board member. Ross School of Business student Zach Solomon is managing her campaign and they hope to raise up to $7,000. Though Bannister displays Smith’s yard sign alongside those of her allies, the candidate says she hasn’t “engaged enough” to see “a clear delineation” of the factions and intends “to make sure that I’m approaching things from a neutral perspective.”
Because of her son’s struggles with mental illness and run-ins with Ann Arbor police, Harrison says she is “uniquely qualified in a way that my opponent absolutely is not. I’ve had decades of experience in learning to navigate the criminal justice system and advocating for people struggling with mental health issues.”
“I am someone who has, in my opinion, a lot of integrity,” Smith says. “I can be confident in saying that I bring significant value to the council table.”
Both candidates support the A2Zero plan, Harrison “without reservation” and Smith “wholeheartedly,” though she adds that “I would like to be able to get very specific about the outcomes and have a way that we can measure those outcomes on a regular basis.”
Harrison supports rezoning N. Maple and W. Stadium, calling it “well-placed density that will significantly improve the character of the area.” Smith is withholding judgment for now, but writes that “I have a very favorable opinion of transit-oriented development and look forward to how such an endeavor can transform parts of our city into walkable communities with much less reliance on vehicles.”
Ward Two: Chris Watson
First-time candidate Chris Watson, thirty, is running unopposed. He’s employed by the American Mathematical Society and is supported by both Mayor Taylor and current Ward Two rep Kathy Griswold.
Watson supports the A2Zero plan and expects to support the N. Maple and W. Stadium rezoning, “presuming public comment is generally supportive of it.”
Ward Three: Ayesha Ghazi Edwin
Ayesha Ghazi Edwin, thirty-seven, is deputy director of Detroit Disability Power. Running unopposed, she is endorsed by Taylor, and in turn endorses him and his council slate.
Edwin supports A2Zero plan and expects to support the west-side rezoning, because it would “allow more people who contribute to our city the ability to live here.”
Ward Four: Akmon vs. Nelson
This race pits first-time challenger Dharma Akmon, forty-six, against one-term incumbent Elizabeth Nelson, forty-eight. (Anti-Israel activist Mozhgan Savabieasfahani is also on the ballot, but got less than 10 percent of the vote when she ran in 2020.)
Nelson is a lawyer who currently teaches preschool in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. First elected in 2018, she is managing her campaign with her husband, and says she’s “not interested in talking about how much money is invested in winning an election.” Akmon is an Ann Arbor District Library trustee and a U-M assistant research scientist; she reported raising $15,000 in her initial filing.
Akmon supports the A2Zero plan, saying “it is our responsibility as stewards of the city for people in the future to do what we can to mitigate climate crisis effects and also make ourselves resilient to what is already here and what is to come.” Nelson also supports the plan, though like Bannister, she calls it a “living document” and stresses that “we need to be careful about metrics—what the end result is going to be.”
Nelson supported the Briarwood-area rezoning as an “experiment,” but emails that the conditions at N. Maple and W. Stadium are “very very different. I look forward to thoughtful discussion about how rezoning for increased development (e.g. additional housing, additional height) can more strategically preserve or incentivize mixed use.”
Akmon supports the rezoning there. “I think it’s an ideal location for infill development focused on a highly walkable, varied range of higher-density housing and mixed-use businesses.”
Ward Four already has a 450-unit apartment development underway on S. Main. Originally known as Valhalla Glen, after the small subdivision it replaced, it’s now called the Arbour on Main.
The development was approved on a 7–4 vote that divided council on factional lines, and both candidates says it’s come up in their conversations with voters. “The concern I hear most frequently is about increased vehicular traffic and changes in the traffic pattern at the Scio Church/Main St. intersection,” Akmon says.
“I hear the idea that Council members have some obligation to listen to the residents they represent,” Nelson emails—and also “that we must look for compromise instead of treating every proposal as an all-or-nothing position.”
Ward Five: Ramlawi vs. Cornell
One term incumbent Ali Ramlawi, forty-seven, owns and runs Jerusalem Garden and hopes to raise $15,000. Dawn Bizzell is again running his campaign, and though he’s endorsing no one, he’s supported by Elizabeth Nelson who says she “respects” his work.
Asked why he should be voters’ choice, Ramlawi replies, “I have experience. I have worked thirty years of connections to this community. I’m a small business owner. I have an independent voice. I’m a person of color.
“I’m not afraid to ask tough questions. I’m not afraid to challenge mob mentality. I’m principled, I’m disciplined, I’m experienced, and people like me.”
Challenger Jenn Cornell, forty-six, used to work for SPARK and now works for Multiverse Investment Fund. Like the other candidates endorsed by the mayor, she’s hired Blue Path Solutions to manage her campaign. She says that’s “expensive,” but won’t say how much she hopes to raise.
Cornell says voters should pick her because she’s “an environmentalist, and having that perspective on things is unique. Working with public-private-academic partners and understanding those facets of what it takes to have a successful city make me really unique … Those are small differentiators that make a huge, huge difference in terms of the perspective that I can bring compared to Ali.”
Ramlawi supports the A2Zero plan but says “there are issues there that will need to evolve with time.”
Cornell is “an A2Zero collaborator [and] on the board of the Ecology Center.” She allows that the plan’s goals are “audacious” but argues that “if we fail, at least we’ve advanced, right?”
Cornell is in favor of transit-oriented development. “This is as much a social equity concern to me as well as an environmental issue,” she says. “I value inclusion and am looking forward to welcoming new neighbors to our community.”
Ramlawi says he’d support rezoning N. Maple and W. Stadium if council adds requirements similar to Bannister’s. “We’re not asking [developers] for A2Zero,” he points out. “We’re not asking for sustainability measures and goals to be incorporated in this. We’re leaving it up to the market to provide us these benefits … which I think is foolhardy at best.”
State Senate: Shink vs. Heck Wood
Newly created State Senate District Fourteen nominally features a three-way Democratic race in the August 2 primary to see who faces the Republican candidate in the Nov. 8 general election. But while current Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners chair Sue Shink and former Jackson city councilmember Kelsey Heck Wood both replied to emails and did interviews, Jackson’s Val Cochran Toops, who lost a race for old state Senate District Sixteen in 2018, never replied and has mounted no visible campaign.
Heck Wood, thirty, is endorsed mostly by Jackson city and county politicians including current and former mayors, vice mayors, and councilmembers. She hopes to raise up to $150,000 for the primary and $350,000 more for the general.
Shink, fifty-four, is endorsed mostly by Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County politicians, including both mayor Christopher Taylor and his challenger, Anne Bannister. Shink hopes to raise up to $150,000 for the primary and $500,000 more for the general.
Shink says she’s running because “the seat that will determine whether or not Michigan has a Democratic state Senate. And I have a depth of experience across the community and in terms of years that I believe makes me the most viable candidate for the general.”
“I think we’re probably gonna tie the state Senate this year,” Heck Wood says. “So having someone in this seat who is ready and prepared to really go to the mat on a lot of this stuff and be really bold and fight is gonna be critical.”
“Lansing is a lot more like Jackson than it is like the Washington County commission,” she adds. “I’ve worked with Republicans when I was on city council. The best legislator that we can send is gonna be someone who has a ton of experience talking to a lot of different coalitions and working in a lot of different sorts of places. And I think I’m that person.”
“I have a lot of experience, a lot of practice bringing together people and building a coalition to get really good things done for our community,” Shink says. “I’m a bridge builder and a problem solver.”
The winner takes on Republican Tim Golding in November. The construction business owner, Grass Lake Township trustee, and first-time candidate for state office would replace current majority leader Mike Shirkey, who is term-limited.
While the choice between Heck Wood and Shink is between progressive Democratic women of different backgrounds and experiences, Golding promises to “empower our families” by reducing taxes and “defend our values” by ensuring election integrity and supporting law enforcement.
A Four-Way race for Judge
Chief judge Kirk Tabbey of Washtenaw County Court 14A is retiring at the end of the year, and four candidates are vying for his seat in the August primary. Two are in private practice in Ypsilanti, and two work for the county. Court 14A-1 presides over Pittsfield Township for all criminal misdemeanor and traffic cases, while 14A-2 does the same for Ypsilanti.
Fawn Armstrong of Saline is an assistant prosecuting attorney for Washtenaw County. A decorated Army veteran who served a tour in Iraq, she is endorsed by David Allen of Wayne County’s Third Circuit Court and Jennifer Coleman Hesson, whose Thirty-third District Court presides over several downriver courts.
Karl Barr of Ann Arbor is the principal of Ypsilanti’s Barr, Anhut & Associates. He’s endorsed by Tabbey as well as David Swartz of Washtenaw County’s Twenty-second Circuit Court plus Ypsilanti’s city manager and two councilmembers.
Stuart Collis of Saline is a divorce lawyer at Ypsilanti’s Collis, Griffor & Hendra. His endorsers include judges Mark Braunlich from Monroe County Circuit Court and Ronda Gross of the Fiftieth District Court in Pontiac.
Torchio Feaster of Ann Arbor is an assistant public defender for Washtenaw County. He’s endorsed by 14A judge Cedric Simpson; Pat Conlin, Tim Connors and Tracy Van den Bergh of the Washtenaw County Circuit Court; and Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton.
Judicial races are nonpartisan, so the top two finishers in August will face off again in November.