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Kunselman, Eaton win Democratic City Council primaries

Marlene Lacasse/Daily
Stephen Kunselman (D-Ward 3) celebrates winning the Democratic primary at Dominick's Bar with supporters on Tuesday. Buy this photo

By Tui Rademaker, Daily News Editor
Published August 6, 2013

Ann Arbor residents went to the polls Tuesday to determine the Democratic candidates for the Ann Arbor City Council, settling primary battles in both Ward 3 and Ward 4.

Incumbent Stephen Kunselman (D-Ward 3) was re-elected to run for Ward 3 with 51.76 percent over current Park Advisory Commission Chair Julie Grand’s 48.13 percent. Longtime neighborhood activist Jack Eaton won Ward 4, acquiring 62.47 percent of the vote over incumbent Marcia Higgins’ (D-Ward 4) 37.28 percent. In both races, write-in candidates received less than one percent of the vote.

Wards 3 and 4 are the only two of Ann Arbor’s five wards whose incumbents were challenged in Tuesday’s primary. .

Gathered at CUBS’ A.C. Sports Bar and Restaurant on Tuesday night, Eaton and a group of supporters expressed excitement as the results began trickling in. Despite an initial issue in Precinct 9, when the polling machines appeared to have temporarily malfunctioned, the results from Ward 4’s nine precincts looked promising for Eaton almost immediately. He carried all precincts but the first, which Higgins won by three votes to Eaton’s one.

“I’m just humbled that so many people have put their trust in me,” he said after hearing the official results. “We first have to realize that I’m one of 11 votes on council and I’m the junior member of council but I’m going to work hard to assert those priorities that voters told me were important to them when I went door-to-door.”

Eaton’s victory marks the second time in two years that he’s run in the Ward 4 Democratic primary. Last year he lost to current councilwoman Margie Teall (D-Ward 4) in a close race. He attributed this year’s different outcome to increased name recognition among constituents.

“Last year I went to a couple thousand doors, I shook hands, I talked to people, I came within 20 votes,” he said. “This year I went out and talked to those same people and some more and they just got to know me over time … they’re coming around to the idea that I was a realistic alternative.”

Councilman Mike Anglin (D-Ward 5) and University alum Hatim Elhady, who ran for Ward 4 in 2009 as an LSA senior, were among supporters gathered to celebrate Eaton’s victory. Anglin, who will run for re-election in November, said he became involved in Eaton’s campaign when he discovered that his own seat would be unopposed in the primary.

Higgins did not return requests for comment either on her location during the election or her thoughts on the race itself.

Kunselman’s victory in Ward 3 is an end to what has been a somewhat turbulent race against Grand. She has run her campaign with an emphasis on an ability to communicate with constituents. Grand has criticized Kunselman for an alleged detachment from constituents. Kunselman, who had previously called her campaign’s strategies “deceptive”, responded with an emphasis on issues as well as his six years of experience on City Council.

“I communicate with my constituents quite regularly,” he said while celebrating his victory with his campaign and supporters at Dominick’s Bar on Tuesday night. “You know, anytime they e-mail me, any time they call me, I talk to them and I communicate with them.“

Kunselman said he will continue to focus on the issues that he feels most affect residents, including infrastructure, police and fire. He also said he plans to continue his fight for the protection of the neighborhoods which he said has suffered from recent zoning changes that have led to increased high-rise buildings.

Grand did not return phone calls following her loss, but did say on Tuesday morning that her campaign and supporters would be following the race from Sava’s Restaurant on State Street. It is unclear whether or not she will run in future races.

Tuesday’s results culminate months of campaigning for the four candidates and while Kunselman will still have a challenger in the race for the general election, Ann Arbor’s 90 percent Democratic population means that securing the council seat will likely not be as competitive as Tuesday’s race. The city does not hold a Republican primary.

“This was the election,” Kunselman said. “I’m actually looking forward to the general election because my opponent Sam Devarti is actually a good family friend.”

Devarti plans to run as an independent for Ward 3 in November’s election while Eaton is expected to face no competition for Ward 4.

Relatively consistent with primary elections, Tuesday saw a low voter turnout of only 8.16 percent. Only four voters — or 0.26 percent of the ward’s registered voters — cast ballots for Ward 4-1, whose polling place was located inside the Michigan Union. At the other end of the spectrum, Ward 3 boasted a 20.09 percent turnout.

Managing News Editor Aaron Guggenheim contributed reporting.

Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated the date of the election. It was Tuesday, not Thursday.