By Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 31, 2013
As a mathematics major at Eastern Michigan University, Samuel DeVarti’s candidacy for Ann Arbor’s Third Ward city council seat may seem unlikely.
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In spite of these unconventional credentials, DeVarti enthusiastically accepted when a member of Ann Arbor’s Mixed Use Party approached him and asked him to run. He has previously worked on the city’s Video Privacy Ordinance, attended numerous Human Rights Commission meetings and met with several city council members. Candidacy wasn’t far off.
“I’ve been living in this city for my whole life, for 23 years. Ultimately, I saw this as an opportunity to really get involved,” DeVarti said. “It’s an opportunity to act as a force for good. And it has been a huge learning experience.”
Although this is DeVarti’s first time running in a city election, his family has a history in local politics. His grandfather ran for mayor as a Republican, his father ran for city council as a Democrat and his uncle ran as a Libertarian for city council. DeVarti said part of his inspiration stems from a desire for “beating that slew of bad luck” that led to his family members’ defeats.
DeVarti also got a taste of the local campaign trail in 2009 when he went door-to-door for incumbent City Council member, and now opponent, Stephen Kunselman.
The Mixed Use Party platform centers on rezoning the city into three segments: heavy industrial zones, a mixed-use downtown area and a restricted mixed-use residential zone. “Mixed-use” development entails the combination of residential and commercial real estate.
“We would allow businesses to expand into residential neighborhoods while strengthening the protections on those neighborhoods — odor controls, noise controls and height limits,” DeVarti said.
Although the Mixed Use Party is a proponent of increased commercial-residential blending, DeVarti emphasized that this approach is not meant to commercialize neighborhoods, but to inject them with local business that allows them to thrive.
“We’re not talking about Wal-Mart, we’re talking about Washtenaw Dairy or Sergeant Pepper’s,” he said. “These are places that make our neighborhoods more walkable. It makes it more appealing to walk to the store to buy some groceries rather than driving all the way out to Meijer – I think our zoning changes are a good way to really take cars off the roads.”
DeVarti added that part of his personal platform will be to address student housing in local neighborhoods. He said he hears complaints about student high-rises downtown, but is concerned that Ann Arbor policies prevent students from living elsewhere.
Additionally, he said, he wants to make sure that housing is more affordable in an increasingly expensive Ann Arbor.
“We’ve spent so much money making the city look beautiful,” he said. “That being said, if we really want to maintain a diverse community, I think we need to redouble our efforts and make a commitment to bringing up the lower segments of our community so they can continue to live here.”
DeVarti is confident in both his ideas and his party’s, and he hopes that this confidence — combined with his freshness to the politics scene — may give him an edge.
“In one way, yes, I have less experience. I’ve dealt with fewer people. I haven’t dealt with as many issues,” he said. “The fact that I haven’t been around for so long gives me perspective. That’s the flipside to youth and inexperience.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Samuel Devarti as a candidate in the second ward.