More than twice as many people–7,073–voted for Taylor as for any other candidate. Sabra Briere was second in the four-way race, with 2,971 votes, followed by Steve Kunselman’s 2,448 and Sally Hart Petersen’s 2,364. Taylor still must face independent Bryan Kelly in the November general election–but in heavily Democratic Ann Arbor, the primary is all but certainly decisive.
The nearly 15,000 votes were way more than were cast in the three contested mayoral primaries since John Hieftje became mayor in 2000, and close to the turnouts in the hard-fought partisan contests of the 1980s.
Taylor reckons he won for a couple of reasons. “We put together an excellent campaign, and we were out on the street a lot. I knocked on 6,000 doors personally, and we had dozens of volunteers who knocked on doors and put up yard signs.”
He also raised a lot of money: $76,923 as of July 25. That’s much more than his opponents had by the same date–Petersen’s $49,495, Briere’s $32,180, and Kunselman’s $7,474–and 46 percent of the total raised. Asked why Taylor won, Petersen answers succinctly: “He had a professional staff and more money.”
Taylor figures he won also “because our message resonated with voters: Ann Arbor is doing the right things. We can improve, but Ann Arbor isn’t broken.”
While Taylor had the most money and volunteers, Steve Kunselman had the most endorsements from councilmembers: Mike Anglin, Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy, and Jane Lumm. Yet his campaign drew just 16 percent of the vote.
Asked about the electoral math that produced such results, Briere answers, “That’s not about math, that’s about the [limited] power of endorsements.” As Taylor puts it, “Some voters find endorsements useful. Some use other means to evaluate candidates.”
Taylor campaigned as an unabashed supporter of the initiatives of retiring mayor John Hieftje. To Hieftje, his decisive win suggests that “the ‘anti’ brand may be losing its luster. The big message from the election was people like the course the city is on.”
For Jack Eaton, the unofficial leader of the mayor’s opposition, the reason is more prosaic. “I understand that 94 percent of the time the candidate with the most money wins, and pretty obviously one candidate had a humongous amount of money. If everything else had been equal, endorsements might have helped.”
Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum thinks maybe not. “The mayor’s vocal critics convinced many of us that they stood at the head of a great army of discontent,” he emails. “And while dissatisfaction may make someone more likely to show up and vote in a primary, perhaps that makes less difference in an already high-turnout population like Ann Arbor townies. The results demonstrate widespread satisfaction with Hieftje’s administration and ideas.”
In the council races, voters returned Sumi Kailasapathy in Ward One, and elected Hieftje supporters Kirk Westphal in Ward Two and Julie Grand to Taylor’s seat in Ward Three. To Briere, that means “the voters chose to keep the balance on council–philosophical balance, that is.”
What does that balanced division mean for council politics going forward? “Nothing,” Briere emails. “Council will continue to work to solve problems and will continue to disagree, from time to time, on the means to solve those problems.”
Taylor has higher hopes. “I expect the political culture on council will improve. The race was largely positive, and I expect the fights of the past to remain in the past. We have plenty of common ground on infrastructure, urban forestry, and transportation.”
Jack Eaton agrees: “I don’t see any problems going forward.”
What does council’s continued balanced division do for Briere, its remaining true independent? “Sabra will be the swing vote,” predicts Taylor. “But she’s said she’s not interested in factions; she’s interested in the issues on their merits.”
As the swing vote, Briere is potentially the most powerful person on council–if she wants to be. “I have heard that,” Briere comments, “and will know whether it has any validity after November. Before then, I choose not to speculate.”