BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Published August 1, 2010
There’s no hiding Ann Arbor’s overwhelmingly blue hue when it comes to politics. With Republicans rarely standing a chance in the general election, the August primary among Democrats tends to be the deciding ballot in city elections. That makes it especially important for students to show up to vote on Tuesday, when contests will be decided for the mayor as well as City Council seats for Wards 1, 4 and 5.
Undoubtedly the most encouraging factor of this year’s election was the consensus among most candidates that the primary date should be changed. While many blamed the restrictions stipulated by state law, there appeared to be a sincere willingness to work with state-level officials to move the date to a time when students can participate. What remains to be seen is whether or not this election year enthusiasm translates into action, lest this continue to be an empty campaign promise.
With a decade under his belt at the helm of Ann Arbor’s city government, incumbent John Hieftje has plenty to boast about. During a time when most other municipal governments face crippling cuts to vital public services and tax hikes, Hieftje has done a respectable job as the steward of Ann Arbor’s finances. The city has minimized layoffs and cutbacks while continuing to embark on impressive “green” initiatives, promote a dense, vibrant urban core and enhance mass transit.
Hieftje will face off against challenger Patricia Lesko, CEO of Part-Time Press and the formerly anonymous voice behind the blog A2Politico. With a level of rhetoric not typical to Ann Arbor politics, Lesko venomously criticized Hieftje’s tenure as a lot of talk and “green-wash” without real results. She argues passionately for the direct inclusion of student voices in city politics and opposes the ward system, as well as condemns the current administration for cuts in public services.
Hieftje has, by most measures, been a positive force for Ann Arbor. Lesko seems to be much more apt as a critic than as a candidate to lead Ann Arbor. Her fiery campaign rhetoric has featured a list of statistics and facts that have turned out to be outright false or misleading, such as stating that the city government’s Chief Financial Officer Roger Fraser had received a 35 percent pay raise since he started (it’s actually 16 percent) and that Stadium Bridge collapsed, according to AnnArbor.com. And while Hieftje could benefit from incorporating some of Lesko’s emphasis on engaging students more directly with city politics, he has proven himself able the manager and leader Ann Arbor needs. The Daily endorses John Hieftje for mayor.
In Ward 1, incumbent Sandi Smith faces a formidable challenger in Sri Lankan-born Sumi Kailasapathy. Smith has an impressive legacy on city council protecting human services, supporting affordable housing and promoting downtown development. She led initiatives to double the occupancy of the emergency shelter system last winter, supported an expansion in the city’s recycling program and created the Energy Audit and Rehabilitation Grant Program, which incentivizes downtown businesses to invest in energy efficiency.
But Sumi Kailasapathy also has a remarkable record in human rights, most notably as a leading student organizer at the University of Jaffna during the 1980’s, where she co-founded a women’s shelter for victims of the military’s sexual violence and fought for human rights. Now a certified public accountant, Kailasapathy, more than any other challenger this year, demonstrates an incredibly strong grasp of the city’s finances and the skeptical voice the Council needs to keep its spending in check, ask the right questions and ensure that all available options are explored.
While Smith’s record on human services is indeed commendable, Kailasapathy too shares this passion for helping society’s less fortunate members. More importantly, she demonstrates an immense knowledge of the issues at play in this election, including the city’s complex financial picture. She argues enthusiastically — and rightfully — for the need for independent voices on the Council. The Daily endorses Sumi Kailasapathy for City Council in Ward 1.
In Ward 4, incumbent Margie Teall is running against Jack Eaton. Teall has an impressive and lengthy resume as a member of City Council since 2002. She has been a leader in supporting environmentalism in both city government and Ann Arbor at large. Most importantly, she has found innovative funding solutions for building projects that have minimized their impact on the budget. And like most other candidates, she expressed an eagerness to move the primary date to a time when students can participate.
Challenger Jack Eaton, on the other hand, criticizes the city’s cuts to public services and also promises to work directly with student groups to move the primary date. As a former University student, he claims he understands the issues students face as unique residents of Ann Arbor. He also argues that he will make the Council more transparent, citing incidents this year in which council members were found to be regularly trading e-mails during meetings with the public.
Yet while his vision for Ann Arbor is impressive, his plans for making it a reality are rather vague. In contrast, his opponent has extensive experience in city government and the deep, specific knowledge necessary to find creative solutions to the problems facing the city. The Daily endorses Margie Teall for City Council in Ward 4.
In Ward 5, incumbent Carsten Hohnke is pitted against Lou Glorie. Hohnke can point to a solid record during his two years on the Council, when he sat on the Greenbelt Advisory Commission, passed legislation that expanded the city’s recycling program and supported policies restricting suburban sprawl. He has worked with students on lighting issues and shows a genuine desire to work more closely with them in the future, including an expressed interest in collaborating to engage state legislators on finding a primary date during the school year.
Like most challengers this year, Glorie is campaigning on what she sees as the need to reprioritize the city finances toward public services and restore fiscal responsibility. On her website, she states that if some in the city government “believe we have too many police and firefighters, then they should explain why, and we should discuss it” and that she “doesn’t see why the city would consider reducing the number of these employees.” Glorie similarly promotes repairing the city’s leaky water system and crumbling roads.
Hohnke has the benefit of being able to point to his accomplishments as a councilmember, whereas Glorie must run on the quality of her ideas and plans for change. Unfortunately, these are both lacking in details and paint a picture of Ann Arbor that oversimplifies the challenges it faces. The Daily endorses Carsten Hohnke for City Council in Ward 5.