Nothing brings out voters like a presidential contest—and even by that standard, the November 4 vote is shaping up to be exceptional. County clerk Larry Kestenbaum says his office is preparing for the largest turnout in Michigan history.
Though most local races were decided in the August primary, two Republicans and one Libertarian are braving the expected surge of Democratic presidential voters. Ann Arbor voters will also decide the fate of three tax renewals and a city charter amendment—and send a new judge to Fifteenth District Court.
A presidential election year seems an especially lonely time for a Republican to run for city council in one of the bluest cities in the nation. But Fifth Ward candidate John Floyd, a self-employed accountant and Ann Arbor native, shrugs off the seemingly overwhelming odds. “It’s always the right time” to run, he says, if you have something to offer your community. Besides, he adds, “no general election should go uncontested.”
Floyd, fifty, says he was inspired to get into politics after fighting a series of proposed multifamily projects near his home on Sunset. Though all were defeated, he concluded that city government was unresponsive to neighborhood concerns—and that “uncontested elections—general elections in particular—were the root of [that] unresponsiveness.”
Concerned that more tall buildings will destroy Ann Arbor’s blend of “small-town feel” with “big-city vitality,” Floyd is calling for an eight-story height limit on new buildings downtown. He also suggests that his Democratic opponent, Carsten Hohnke, will “rubber stamp” the council majority and mayor John Hieftje in permitting denser development downtown—a charge that Hohnke dismisses.
Floyd has masters’ degrees in public policy (from the U-M) and accounting (from DePaul University). His website is strongly focused on development issues, including the dramatic charge that “council’s downtown development will raise your taxes.” Because property taxes on new projects go to the DDA rather than to the general fund, he argues, “services to new downtown residents will be paid for by the rest of us.” Instead, Floyd writes, Ann Arbor should be “emulating the European model, protecting the historic center of town by locating tall buildings at the edge of town and providing transit to the center.”
Floyd emphasizes that he is running on local issues only—he says he has not asked for support from the Republican Party, or even other local Republicans. Interestingly, though, he seems to have picked up support from some disaffected backers of Democrat Vivienne Armentrout, Hohnke’s opponent in the August primary. (Armentrout says that she has “decided not to endorse either candidate.”)
Like Floyd, Hohnke, thirty-eight, is an Ann Arbor native and U-M grad; he has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and biopsychology. After getting a Ph.D. in neuroscience from MIT, he is now an organizational consultant. Hohnke barely beat Armentrout in August, but he should have an easier time in November, since many Obama backers are likely to vote for local Dems as well. Although Hohnke contends that reports of a city council schism are exaggerated, he appears to be in sync with the supporters of Mayor Hieftje on council, and the mayor endorsed him in the Democratic primary.
Hohnke says he’ll support expanding environmental initiatives, from recycling to commuter rail. He also believes his scientific and business background will help during difficult times—”I happen to be one of those weirdos who like looking at profit and cost sheets,” he says. While he calls Floyd’s proposed eight-story height limit “a little too simplistic,” Hohnke says he doesn’t want new buildings to be taller than existing ones: “I don’t expect that we need to put any new peaks in the city’s skylines.”
If there’s anyone lonelier than an Ann Arbor Republican, it’s an Ann Arbor Libertarian. Mayoral candidate Eric Plourde told the Michigan Daily that he doesn’t expect to win but is running to give exposure to the party’s limited-government principles. He’s gotten some coverage for his call to decriminalize alcohol possession for eighteen-to-twenty-year-olds—but in mid-October, Mayor Hieftje hadn’t even bothered to gear up a campaign against him.
Settling the sheriff’s race
When Jerry Clayton beat two-term incumbent Dan Minzey in the August primary, he became the overwhelming favorite to be the next Washtenaw County sheriff. But the first-time Democratic candidate still has to beat Dwayne Taylor, the first-time Republican candidate.
That shouldn’t be difficult. Though Taylor received 5,538 votes in the primary, Clayton polled 16,027—and will presumably pick up the lion’s share of the 13,709 votes cast for the other two Democratic contenders as well. Add in the tens of thousands of Democratic presidential voters expected to show up on November 4, and it’s hard to see how Clayton could lose. Yet Taylor says he is “very, very much expecting to win. According to the poll on my website, forty-four percent of the voters are highly dissatisfied with the department and want change. If the voters really want change, they’ll vote for me.”
Clayton, forty-three, is a former sheriff’s department commander now working as a national consultant to police departments on racial profiling. Taylor, thirty-two, is a fourteen-year veteran of private security firms now working for Great Lakes Protection Inc.
Both candidates criticize Dan Minzey. “Leadership is lacking in the sheriff’s department,” says Clayton, “a lack of internal direction, and not just in policies and procedures but in right and wrong.” Taylor concurs: “We need a better leader, someone who will lead by example and demand a higher level of accountability from the whole staff.”
Both also agree that controlling the department’s budget is a high priority. “We have to manage our budget,” says Clayton. “We have to be fiscally responsible—and the key is to keep overtime on budget.” The key for Taylor is “equipment. If you can buy equipment for less that works just as good, then you should.” Taylor acknowledges “overtime is a big deal” in the department’s budget overruns; to control it, he says, he’ll “require command staff work one day a week on patrol” and use unpaid “police reservists” to back up regular deputies.