Mayoral candidates John Hieftje and Pat Lesko are each aligned with a trio of council candidates in the August 3 Democratic primary: Hieftje with fellow incumbents Sandi Smith, Carsten Hohnke, and Margie Teall; Lesko with fellow challengers Sumi Kailasapathy, Lou Glorie, and Jack Eaton. Blogger Vivienne Armentrout calls Hieftje and his allies the “Council Party,” while First Ward rep Sabra Briere refers to herself and others who often question the majority’s direction as the “Loyal Opposition.”
The CP candidates all defend the city staff cuts (though most frame it more positively, as good fiscal management), while LO members oppose or at least question the reductions. The slates also disagree about the need for two ongoing construction projects, the new police-courts building in front of City Hall and the underground parking structure next to the Ann Arbor District Library.
Because council members are elected by ward, not citywide, each matchup has its own dynamic, and the outcomes won’t necessarily track the mayoral vote. But since the mayor is just one of eleven voices on council, Hieftje and Lesko both are working hard to get their allies elected.
The First Ward, which covers a wedge of the city’s north side, has seesawed back and forth between the council party and the loyal opposition for years. Sandi Smith, a forty-seven-year-old real estate agent, successfully challenged an LO incumbent (and beat write-in candidate Pat Lesko) in the 2008 primary. This year, it’s the CP’s loyalist’s turn to be challenged: the LO candidate is Kailasapathy, a forty-three-year-old certified public accountant from Sri Lanka.
As a member of both city council and the Downtown Development Authority, Smith supported construction of the underground parking structure. Kailasapathy opposes it because “going underground is so much more expensive” than above-ground structures. Echoing Lesko, Eaton, and Glorie, Kailasapathy contends that “we have no need for another parking lot.” She sees no reason to add parking when “the population of Ann Arbor is declining. Between 2002 and 2010 there was a net decline, and the population now is 144,000.” (Kailasapathy is half right: the population has declined in the last decade, but it went from 114,000 to 108,600.)
Lou Glorie–a sixty-year-old real estate agent running against incumbent Hohnke in the west-side Fifth Ward–also believes that the garage is “unnecessary because the parking system is not full.” But while mayoral candidate Lesko says she’d cancel the project and shift the money to rebuilding the West Stadium bridges, Glorie considers that “a moot point now because they’ve already dug the hole.” Noting that “there’s $19 million in the [city’s] road millage fund,” Glorie says, “I’d take the money and fix the bridge.”
Hohnke, forty-one and an organizational consultant, disagrees. For major construction projects, he says, “The state and feds are always the way to go. That way it’s paid for with our gas taxes. We’ve been holding back because we think there’s a good chance the feds could come through for a sizeable piece of it–and if they do, we can keep the local money for road repair.”
Eaton, the challenger in the Fourth Ward, got involved in politics primarily through development issues in his southwest side neighborhood. But his campaign, too, centers on budget priorities. Like Lesko, the fifty-eight-year-old labor lawyer has been endorsed by the local firefighters union and opposes any further reduction in public safety staff–instead, he says, the general fund can be balanced by reining in “administrative overspending.” He opposes the parking structure, contending that “the downtown had a surplus of parking places. Plus they’re using the DDA as a funding mechanism, and I’m afraid [the DDA is] stretched dangerously thin.”
Teall, fifty-eight, draws her only income from her work on council. While she prefers to focus on development issues–topping the list of accomplishments on her website are her role in creating Dicken Woods Nature Area and rezoning Lower Burns Park to limit student apartments–she also strongly defends the staff reorganization. She notes on her website that the city has cut its workforce by nearly 25 percent, saving the general fund more than $10 million a year. She calls the police-courts building “necessary and long overdue,” and praised the underground parking structure as “a great idea.” Like the rest of the Council Party, she prefers to wait for state or federal funding to rebuild the Stadium bridges. She says that now that the engineering has been done, they’re “shovel ready”–a contention Eaton disputes.
Despite such disagreements, the council races remain civil–unlike the superheated mayoral contest. Eaton notes that he’s worked with Teall before and expects he’ll continue to do so in the future–no matter who wins on August 3.