The eight candidates running for four seats in the city’s August 4 Democratic primary don’t agree on much, but they do agree elections are getting more interesting.

This one is interesting. Three of the incumbents are among the fiercest critics of the policies identified with mayor Christopher Taylor and his predecessor, John Hieftje–initiatives that range from more mass transit to tougher stormwater rules. And Taylor, Hieftje, and their council allies are breaking with precedent to publicly oppose their reelection. The fourth race pits council’s most independent thinker against an advocate of radically simplified zoning.

None of the challengers has run for public office before, but all the incumbents are seasoned politicians. Then there’s the generation gap: the incumbents are on average thirty years older than the challengers.

Naturally, the candidates disagree on issues like development, safety services, and affordable housing. They even disagree on whether Ann Arbor is better or worse now than when they moved here. How they answer that core question shows which direction they want the city to go.

How voters respond will determine that direction. Currently council is split between the factions, with Mayor Taylor as the tie-breaking vote. If his candidates pick up a couple of seats from his critics, they’ll have a council-controlling supermajority.

His targets hope that prospect gives people pause. “I don’t believe a supermajority on Council is good for the decision-making process,” emails Ward 5 incumbent Mike Anglin. Ward 3 incumbent Steve Kunselman told the Ann Arbor News he suspects the mayor may want a freer hand to determine, among other things, what gets built over the Library Lane parking structure.

Ward 3 incumbent Steve Kunselman doesn’t seem too worried about reelection. The U-M urban planner was the last candidate to put up a website, and he’s taking a couple weeks off in mid-campaign to represent Ann Arbor in Tuebingen, our German sister city.

Kunselman, fifty-two, was born in Chicago; his family moved here when he was two. “I was six years old in 1969, the height of the student protest movement,” he remembers. Today, “Ann Arbor is much more sanitized.” Is that better or worse? “It’s change,” Kunselman allows.

Challenger Zachary Ackerman, twenty-one, was born in California; his family moved here when he was eight. Like Kunselman, the U-M IT supervisor describes Ann Arbor as “an incredible place to grow up”–though for different reasons. “It has safe streets that are tree-lined and always beautiful.” What’s his view of the city now? “We’re going in the right direction.”

Ackerman’s been volunteering on political campaigns since he was thirteen, most recently working for congresswoman Debbie Dingell, mayor Christopher Taylor, and councilmember Julie Grand. He’s endorsed by both Taylor and Hieftje as well as Ward 5 challenger Chip Smith.

Asked to rank the city’s top five issues, Kunselman says: “Infrastructure is number one. Public safety is very important to our community. Development, affordable housing, and transportation: it’s hard to put those in an order.” Like the incumbent, Ackerman says “infrastructure is number one,” but ranks the rest “affordability, transportation, public safety, and development.”

However it’s ranked, development is surely the town’s most debated issue. “I’m not anti-development,” says Kunselman, who was on the planning commission from 2004 to 2008. “I’m for responsible development. My vote is somewhere on every new building in town.” The only buildings he recalls opposing were two student high-rises, the Landmark and the Foundry Lofts at 413 E. Huron.

“I like good development that adds to our tax base and makes basic services better,” says Ackerman. “I don’t like development that’s ugly and ruins people’s quality of life.” He says he’d have voted for 413 E. Huron because “it’s dangerous to risk $10 million of taxpayer money on a lawsuit [by the developer] that the city attorney says we can’t win.” That said, he calls the site’s zoning “an oversight,” and says, “we need better buffers between our downtown core and the historic neighbors immediately adjacent.”

Kunselman “would like to increase our public safety services.” He says he “would like to have downtown beat cops [because] until we do we’re going to see quality-of-life issues.” Ackerman doesn’t see the need. “We spend over 50 percent of our general fund budget on public safety. That’s sufficient [with] crime rates at historic lows.”

Both favor more affordable housing. “I concentrate on low-income housing,” Kunselman says. “I’m proud to lead the charge against politicians unwilling to welcome that in their neighborhoods.” Ackerman agrees. “We need to do a better job of embracing people of every income level. We should have affordable and workforce housing everywhere.”

Ackerman says folks should pick him because “I will be open and responsive to everyone. There is a courtesy that must be extended to every other human: dignity and respect.” He doesn’t see that coming from his opponent. “He’s abrasive. He’s not willing to work collaboratively. Everything is a fight.”

Kunselman says folks should return him because he has “a very lengthy record of success in transportation, development, and public safety. If people don’t want to vote for me because they don’t like me as a person, I can’t change that. I’ve been serving them with honesty and transparency, and I haven’t changed. I’m still the same politician.”

Ward 5 incumbent Mike Anglin, seventy-one, was born in Brooklyn, New York, and moved to Ann Arbor in 1992. “My view from the beginning was very positive,” says the owner of an Old West Side bed-and-breakfast. Is it better or worse now? “It’s changing,” he says. He doesn’t share his own view on whether that’s good or bad, except to say that he thinks that age is a “huge factor” in how people respond to the changes.

Born in Cincinnati, Ward 5 challenger Chip Smith, forty-five, arrived here in 1995. He says he “instantly fell in love with [his] Water Hill neighborhood,” though “downtown was still pretty dead. Nobody I knew lived downtown.” The urban planner has since moved to the Old West Side, and likes downtown better now. “I miss the things like the Del Rio. But what we’ve gained has made our community a better place.”

Asked to rank the issues facing the city, Anglin replies, “You need development in order to pay for your infrastructure. You can’t keep wanting services and adding taxes.” But, like Kunselman, he voted against 413 E. Huron. “It is not a benefit to have buildings that are that tall and massive,” he says. “I was not at all concerned about a lawsuit. We would have won.” At the Ann Arbor Democratic Party debate, he added that “people like the town not because of tall buildings downtown but because of the parks. My job is: what can I do for the people?”

At the debate, Smith said Anglin’s comments reflect a “culture wars” mindset that pits “development versus neighborhoods,” a split he rejects. “We should have more people living downtown,” he says. Like Ackerman, he’d have voted for 413 E. Huron. “We gave somebody the right to build [when the site was zoned], and to arbitrarily take it away is unfair.”

Asked if the city needs more safety services, Anglin replies, “A good community automatically brings safety with it,” then rambles into a discussion of the city’s leaky water pipes. Asked again later, he says that he suspects Ann Arbor’s white-collar demographic is likely to be more supportive of safety services, and thus should experience less crime–but he nonetheless thinks “we do need more safety services.”

“I have a different point of view,” says Smith. “With the U-M department of public safety there’s been a net gain in public safety over the last twenty years. When I talk about public safety, [I talk about] how do we make our streets safer. My biggest fear in the whole world is my kids are gonna get hit by a car.”

Anglin believes the city needs more affordable housing. “We need more quad [four-unit] housing. Bankers in the community care enough to sponsor some of that. But I want a dollar sign. I don’t want to keep talking ’cause that to me is nonsense.”

“This isn’t an affordable place to live,” Smith agrees. “People don’t come here because of the way the downtown looks. They come here because of the people. As we become more unaffordable [and] lose artists, musicians, and tradespeople, we lose the culture of who we are. If all we’re going to do is talk about basic services, then our aspiration is to be Sterling Heights.” He says he’d encourage both more affordable housing and more “maker spaces” for artists, including looking at the former city garages as a future “art/cultural space.”

Smith says voters should choose him because “I will bring to the job professionalism, someone [who is] pragmatic and practical, who says, ‘Let’s solve some problems and do things.'” That’s the same attitude as Hieftje, Taylor, and Ackerman–and likely why they’re endorsing Smith.

Anglin says folks should reelect him because “I have always voted what I have in my literature every single time.” He then returns to an earlier topic. “Economic development is neighborhood development, OK? So Plymouth can develop more, and it’s already developing kind of nicely, but it doesn’t have the right housing yet.”

Born in Saginaw, Ward 4 incumbent Jack Eaton moved here in 1985. Back then, the town “still had that funkiness to it” and was “more of a small Midwestern town with that veneer of great culture,” says the sixty-three-year-old labor lawyer. Thirty years later, Eaton says, the town is “heading in the wrong direction.”

Challenger Jaime Magiera, forty-one, was born in downriver Detroit and moved here in 1990. “Ann Arbor was filled with a lot of countercultural elements” then, the U-M tech support person recalls. “Is it as good [now]? Some things have gotten better. Some things are not as good.”

Eaton says his first priority is “safety services, followed by infrastructure, affordable housing, transportation, and development.” He’s pro-development “because I want to attract high-quality development.” But he says that had he been on council when 413 E. Huron came up for approval two years ago, he would’ve voted against it.

Magiera says “infrastructure is our top priority [followed by] transportation, development, affordable housing, and public safety. I am not anti-development, but I hesitate to say pro-development. There’s an assumption you’re either for all development or against all development.”

Like fellow challengers Ackerman and Smith, he says he “would’ve voted for [413 E. Huron] because it fit into everything that we had laid out for development. Voting against it is very dangerous, to risk taxpayer money.” That echoes the view of Taylor, Hieftje, and councilmembers Julie Grand, Graydon Krapohl, Chuck Warpehoski, and Kirk Westphal–all of whom have endorsed Magiera.

While affordable housing means low-income housing to Kunselman, to Eaton it means “protecting neighborhoods so people who have lived here thirty years and paid off their mortgage can afford [to stay in] their house.” Asked how he’d do that, the incumbent replies “we’re going to have to keep an eye on our taxes”–keeping in mind not just the millage, but the high property values they’re multiplied by.

Magiera agrees affordable housing should include “residents on the older end of the age spectrum,” but says workforce housing is also important: “We’ve got people providing services that can’t afford to actually live in the city. That’s not fair, and it’s not healthy.”

At the Democratic Party debate, Eaton questioned the city’s handling of the ward’s storm-water issues, arguing that “residents know better than experts” what needs to happen. Magiera responds that continuing to put stormwater into the sanitary sewers, as Eaton advocates, is neither “fiscally responsible [nor] environmentally sustainable.”

Eaton’s top priority remains public safety staffing. At the debate, he and Magiera tangled over whether the city needs to meet standards created by a firefighter-dominated trade group (Eaton saying yes, Magiera no). And he’d like to expand the police force to provide “more traffic enforcement, police in the schools, [and] beat cops downtown.”

Magiera doesn’t see the need. “Since the Nineties, [there’s been] a continual decrease of crime.” Instead of more cops, the challenger says “we want to have the right tools: video cameras and whatnot. Things like that can improve the quality of the service.”

Magiera says voters should choose him because “Jack has not represented the city as a whole sometimes. For example, [in his criticism of] the footing drain disconnect program. I don’t think that that should be the sole focus of a councilmember’s attention. It seems like he wants the issue to keep going. That doesn’t serve the city.”

Eaton says he should be returned because “people who appreciate what I’ve tried to do will think I deserve another two years.”

Ward 1 incumbent Sabra Briere, sixty-four, was born in Nevada, raised in Indiana, and moved to Ann Arbor in 1973. She found a town where “I couldn’t buy a book in downtown” and “there were only two places to go out to eat.” On the other hand, “you could buy all the clothes for your whole family on Main St.” These days, she says, “Ann Arbor is different, and that difference isn’t bad.”

Challenger Will Leaf founded the Mixed Use Party in 2013. He ran two independent candidates on a platform of radically simplified zoning, only to see them swept aside by November’s Democratic tidal wave. He’s running now as a Democrat because “there’s a better chance of getting elected.”

Leaf was born in California and was two when his family moved here; he’s now twenty-one. “I like [the town now] at least as much as I did then,” he says. “If you like a small-town feel, then the new buildings downtown are bad things. If you like the concentration of people and businesses [and] the different artistic events that supports, then it’s probably a good thing.”

Briere’s voting record shows her to be the most independent member of council, as does her ranking of city issues. “Development and infrastructure are tied for one, then transportation, then public safety, and public housing. But you can’t prioritize these things. They’re completely enmeshed.

“What got me onto council was development,” the retiree continues. “I’m pro-development in that I want a full spectrum of choices.” Like her fellow incumbents, Briere voted against approving 413 E. Huron, “because it didn’t follow the master plan.”

Leaf, a U-M grad who sells his own mineral sunscreen online for a living, says that “council created the problem [of a high-rise next to a historic neighborhood] by making zoning rules it didn’t want to enforce.” But once it zoned the site, he says, the city “shouldn’t deny something that fits the standards.”

Leaf says he “can’t rank [the issues] because they’re all so interrelated.” But he’s clearly pro-development: “Given the population increases because of the regional job market, it’s important to allow development within Ann Arbor rather than pushing it into the townships.”

Neither candidate thinks the city needs more cops, and both agree it needs more affordable housing. But while the incumbent sees more subsidized housing as the solution, the challenger would encourage private construction by relaxing zoning rules. He points to the limit on the number of unrelated people who can share a home as one such “artificial restraint.”

“Sabra does a great job of listening,” says Leaf. “But once council solicits input, it sometimes falters and doesn’t publicly suggest solutions. I’m going to propose specific solutions.”

“If you vote for me, you have a known quantity,” says Briere, “someone whose core values–affordable housing and human services and transportation and development–are well known.”

Who’ll win is impossible to predict–but possible to handicap.

Sabra Briere hasn’t faced a primary challenger in Ward 1 since 2007, and she came in second in last year’s mayoral race. And as Eaton’s record shows, few challengers beat incumbents their first time out.

Steve Kunselman’s faced challengers in Ward 3 every time he’s run. He lost once in 2008, never won by much, and came in third in last year’s mayoral election. Zack Ackerman is young but well connected and with experience getting out the vote. Odds are Kunselman will win–but given the incumbent’s laid-back campaign style, don’t count Ackerman out.

Jack Eaton won in 2013 with 29 percent more of Ward 4’s vote than incumbent Marcia Higgins, but her campaign was halfhearted, while Jaime Magiera is hungry. Eaton can win by hitting the doors, but Magiera had already hit them once by June and will probably do it again.

Mike Anglin’s won decisively in four consecutive Ward 5 elections, but Chip Smith gained visibility with a write-in campaign in 2013. Despite a solid following, Anglin could lose if Smith gets out the vote.

Of course, all the incumbents stand a good chance of being returned simply because of name recognition. But with two popular mayors calling for change, they might not all make it. And with council’s battle lines drawn more sharply than ever before, watch out for 2016.

First, however, watch out for an interesting race in November. In Ward 2, independent incumbent Jane Lumm faces Democrat Sally Petersen–a former colleague who gave up her seat to run for mayor last year. Both live on the Huron Hills Golf Course, and both have deep pockets and friends with deep pockets. It’s already shaping up as the most expensive council campaign on record.

This article has been edited since it was published in the August 2015 Ann Arbor Observer. The electoral records of Mike Anglin and Sabra Briere, and Chip Smith’s neighborhood, have been corrected.