The August 2 city council primary is odd in more ways than one.
Mayor Christopher Taylor and councilmembers Kirk Westphal and Julie Grand are heading to reelection unchallenged (see Inside Ann Arbor, p.13). In two other wards, incumbents face two opponents. Only one race is between the usual two candidates.
The Ward One race features an unorthodox two-term incumbent challenged by a young policy wonk and a well-connected “convener and camaraderie builder.” Ward Four pits a quiet one-term incumbent against one challenger who says the incumbent is too quiet–and another recruited by the ward’s other incumbent. In Ward Five, a two-term incumbent who describes himself as deliberative and responsive faces a challenger who says he hasn’t done enough.
Though incumbents traditionally have the advantage, with so many candidates to split the vote, the results are unpredictable.
Ward One incumbent Sumi Kailasapathy arrives for an interview with tears in her eyes. The downtown CPA has just heard from three neighbors upset about the new Toll Brothers subdivision on Nixon Road. “Some of them were sobbing because the bulldozers had come and cut down the trees,” she says.
Kailasapathy, who opposed the project, explains why she wants a third term. “There’s this orthodoxy that has developed [on council], and that always happens when you have a theory and you believe in it and you don’t question it. There has to be people who question this–and many of my residents feel that there are only two or three of us left in council who don’t just lockstep vote.”
For example, she recalls how she and former councilmember Steve Kunselman were “maligned” when they called for capping the tax revenue captured by the Downtown Development Authority. “And now everybody is happy, because all this excess money is being shared by �xADWashtenaw County and the city and Washtenaw Community College.” (The district library and the AAATA also got a slice of the $462,000 redirected this year.)
When council reviews development proposals, Kailasapathy adds in a follow-up email, the “orthodoxy presumes that all dense development is good without considering the impact it has on existing neighborhoods, our open spaces, the environment, and our traffic infrastructure …In the rush to adopt density we simply ignore the impact it has on natural features, wildlife and quality of life.”
Will Leaf is all about density. Three years ago, his short-lived Mixed Use Party ran candidates on a platform that called for lifting most land-use restrictions. When they were trounced, he turned his focus to the Democratic Party, running against Sabra Briere last year and now Kailasapathy.
“City council needs better policy leadership,” says the intense twenty-five-year-old. For instance, Leaf says, council talks about creating more affordable housing by making it easier for homeowners to add accessory dwelling units. “I’m very open to that idea, but I don’t think it matches the size of the problem,” he says. “We need to think bigger.” He’d like to see the commercial corridors along S. Main, S. State, and Plymouth rezoned “to allow suburban strip malls to evolve into mini-downtowns.” He’d also “legalize private parking facilities, which are currently banned, and sell off surface lots … I don’t think the city should be in the parking business.”
This is Jason Frenzel‘s first council race, but he’s no stranger to city government or politics: the stepson of former First Ward rep Sandi Smith, he worked for the parks department for ten years, coordinating volunteers for the Natural Area Preservation unit. Now the Huron River Watershed Council’s stewardship coordinator, he says he decided to run for council after realizing that “those skills, to be a convener and to be a camaraderie builder, could be used very well at City Hall.”
The cheerful forty-two-year-old wants the city to use a wider range of tools to engage its citizens. “How often do you see the city actively tweeting?” he asks. “How often do you see the city actively using Instagram? … My job was to work with a thousand, two thousand people a year, and I worked nearly exclusively via email.”
With his environmental background, Frenzel adds, he sees “waste diversion [as] super important. Single-stream recycling was the only significant uptick we’ve seen” in keeping waste out of the landfill. “Effectively we’ve stagnated and fallen behind.”
Kailasapathy has a volunteer campaign manager and seven to ten other volunteers organizing the precincts. She plans to raise $5,000 and campaigns the old-fashioned way: “I go door-to-door and make that connection. When they see a person, they know whether you are sincere.”
Leaf also is managing his own campaign and says he has “a big group of people helping me a little bit.” He’s “raised about $1,500 so far, and I’m going to raise as much money as I need. Money has been exaggerated in importance. Meeting voters door-to-door and having a compelling platform is what wins elections.”
Frenzel too is his own campaign manager, or as he says “delegator” to “a few dozen volunteers.” His financial goal is around $10,000. “We’ve grown in the last five years from homegrown campaigns to something that’s distinctly more professional,” he says.
Frenzel believes “new voters are key in this race” and is counting on his personal and political networks to turn them out. But Kailasapathy’s empathy has won her a devoted following. “They don’t treat me like a politician … It’s not a game for me. It’s my heart. That is what they get when they vote for me.”
After winning his first term unopposed, Graydon Krapohl says he wants a second “to continue to help the community. Some things that need to change haven’t happened, and I’d like to continue working on those. A lot are processes: how council runs, how the organization runs.
“A lot of the problems staff encounters are how council operates,” says the fifty-six-year-old consultant. “We haven’t always been good about keeping a focus, [instead] setting a direction [or even] competing directions, and then changing them. Zoning was a priority, and then other issues came up and it just got pushed back.”
The retired Marine Corps colonel says “I’ve been involved in public service my entire life. I feel it is very important, because everybody owes something back. Our country has given us a lot, and you owe it back to make it better.”
Krapohl faces two challengers. One is Diane Giannola, a former planning commissioner and author of the local political blog MiddleoftheLeft.com. “I’ve been around politics in the city of Ann Arbor for about ten years,” says the forty-eight-year-old U-M program manager. “But recently I don’t feel like the Fourth Ward has a voice at the table.”
The other is Eric Lipson, an attorney who also is a former planning commissioner. “I was recruited at the going-away party for [former Fifth Ward councilmember] Mike Anglin,” he says. “Several people including [Fourth Ward rep] Jack [Eaton] and [Second Ward rep] Jane Lumm encouraged me to run.”
Krapohl’s two big issues are “transportation and storm water. Transportation is no longer just roads. It’s the street, the sidewalk, and how we think about, how we plan, how we fund those. And rain’s increasing. The answer isn’t to build bigger pipes. That just pushes the problem downriver. We’re looking at different solutions. There are a series of projects: retention tanks under Lawton Park and another along Scio Church. I’d like to try to insure funding for them.”
Lipson, sixty-six, is all about pedestrian safety. As noted in Calls & letters (p. 19), he anticipated the Observer’s July story on the topic in April, when he told a forum at the U-M’s Ford School that “we kill more people with cars than we do with guns.”
“I started activing for traffic calming measures on my street, Rosewood, a cut-through between Packard and South Industrial,” Lipson explains. “The traffic calming installed ten or fifteen years ago has significantly slowed the traffic.”
But traffic isn’t his sole safety concern. “There should be more firefighters,” he says. “We should examine reopening Station Number Two on Packard and Stadium.”
On her blog, Giannola stakes out strongly pro-growth positions. “I like to get the conversation on the real issues, versus what the spin is out there,” she says. For example, she criticizes council for looking at the issue of affordable housing too narrowly: “What they did was to throw money at the affordable housing trust fund, which helps lower-income [people] and the homeless but doesn’t help everybody else.”
“The law of supply and demand needs to balance out before housing becomes more affordable,” she explains in a follow-up email. “I would like to see development that is for all levels of income throughout the city.”
Both challengers have the same criticism of Krapohl: “He’s been a very quiet member of council,” says Lipson. “I don’t think he speaks up enough,” agrees Giannola. “I don’t know what he does behind the scenes.”
“I’ve worked extensively with some subcommittees,” the incumbent responds by email. “The admin committee to reestablish the evaluation processes for the city administrator and the city attorney. I was very involved with the search for the city administrator.”
While Giannola says that she’d be more vocal than Krapohl, she says that “he votes almost the same as I would.” Not so the Fourth Ward’s other rep, Jack Eaton: “He votes the exact opposite of what I’d vote. Eric and I are opposite on most things.”
Lipson would likely vote like Eaton. “Jack has been a very effective force on council,” he says. “I don’t know that he has always been on the winning side, but he is a voice for an alternative view.”
“I’m not sided with anybody,” says Giannola. “I wouldn’t care how many people were screaming and yelling at me. I’m more interested in doing what’s right than being liked.”
Krapohl has hired Mayor Taylor’s former campaign manager, Brad O’Furey, and plans to raise $7,000-$8,000. The challengers are both self-managed. Giannola has no staff or volunteers and hopes to raise $3,000. Lipson says he’s getting advice from Eaton and others, “but I’m taking full responsibility for my campaign. So far I’ve [raised] about $3,000 for mailings and signs.”
Though all three plan to knock on doors, Krapohl may hit fewer than his challengers. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma earlier this year, the incumbent says “the prognosis is good, but the treatment impacts everything.” He admits it’s affecting his campaigning, “but not my duties. I haven’t other than a few times missed a council meeting or any of my committee meetings. I take those obligations very seriously.”
In Ward Five, Chuck Warpehoski has the incumbent’s traditional reason for seeking reelection: “I feel like I’ve been able to do good things for the city, and there are priorities–pedestrian safety, affordable housing, and police-community relations–that I still have work to do on.
“We’re making progress in shifting the approach to traffic engineering to more complete streets,” the thirty-eight-year-old peace activist continues. “I would like to see us continue to build out our infrastructure. To solve our affordable housing problem there’s going to need to be a mix of public investment and supporting market conditions that create affordable housing.”
Police-community relations is a personal issue for Warpehoski: “Aura Rosser’s death [in a police shooting] was across the street from me … Our new chief and our department are doing a lot of things right in terms of training, improving response to people in mental health crisis.”
Kevin Leeser likewise has the challenger’s traditional reason for seeking election: he feels he’s gone as far as he can as a citizen to lobby for greater pedestrian safety on Seventh St., where he lives. “I’ve asked so many times for something to be done, and it doesn’t happen,” he says. The forty-six-year-old nurse wants the speed limit there lowered to 25 mph.
Leeser’s also frustrated at the city’s limited control over Huron/Jackson, a state business route. “Everything I ever come up with, Chuck is ‘That’s the state. We can’t do anything about that.’ Then why do we even have a city council? Why are we even a city? If everything is beholden to the state, then let’s just dissolve this and say we’re a county!”
Warpehoski says he plans on hitting “a thousand doors and [using] other methods, direct mail, to get the rest of the voters. I’ve got about five grand in the bank now. I would like to raise another three or four. I’m going to hire some additional help this year.”
Leeser says he aims to win by “meeting people” and hopes to raise “two or three grand.” He doesn’t have a campaign manager but counts eighteen volunteers. “I’m taking it as seriously as I can,” he says, “and I’m going to do as much as I can.”
This article has been edited since it was published in the August 2016 Ann Arbor Observer. Diane Giannola’s age has been corrected.