More than 40 Ann Arbor residents gathered for food and drink at the home of Ann and Steve Arbaugh on Thursday night in support of former journalist Jen Eyer’s candidacy for the Ward 4 City Council position in Ann Arbor.
Those in attendance included Mayor Christopher Taylor; state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; Washtenaw County Commissioner Katie Scott, D-District 9; and former state Sen. Mitch Irwin. Former City Councilmembers Kirk Westphal, D-Ward 2; Margie Teall, D-Ward 4; Graydon Krapohl, D-Ward 4; and Joan Lowenstein, D-Ward 2, were also present.
During the event, Eyer said she wanted to continue working in public service after her time on the Board of Commissioners. After reflecting on where she could make the most difference, Eyer explained she was compelled to serve at the local level, which she believes is often overlooked.
To Eyer, one of the most important issues in the city is a housing crisis, which she said she believes is largely due to an affordable housing shortage.
“We have 80,000 people who commute into our city every day, and we are a city of 120,000 people,” Eyer said. “Our population grows 75 percent every single day. How many of those people would like to live here? I would guess quite a few.”
Eyer said she would like to address the city’s structural budget deficit. In addition, she said she wants to see the city pursue more aggressive action to address what she called the “existential threat of climate change.”
“I don’t know about you, but I feel like Ann Arbor should be a leader among cities when it comes to climate action,” Eyer said. “And we are so far from that goal right now that we can’t even see it. We are not doing the work.”
Eyer previously worked at MLive and the Ann Arbor News. After leaving MLive in 2016, Eyer replaced Conan Smith on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. Smith left to pursue a position in the county’s Office of Community and Economic Development, and Eyer served the remainder of the term.
Following an unsuccessful write-in campaign to continue in that position, Eyer became a partner at Vanguard, a Michigan public relations firm representing organizations in the fields of education, labor and advocacy.
According to Eyer, she is running because she wants to reshape how the council approaches issues in the city.
“When I look at our current City Council, I’m frustrated … because I see a lot of ‘no’ when ideas come to the table, and I don’t see a lot of solutions being put forth,” Eyer said. “I don’t think that’s leadership, and I think that has to change.”
Ginny Rogers, Ann Arbor resident and a member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, explained she attended the event hoping to learn more about Eyer’s campaign, as she is attracted to Eyer’s stances on affordable housing and climate action.
“Seeing what she’s said on social media about the importance of those issues, I’m just really interested in Jen’s campaign and what she can do to address those issues in the city,” Rogers said. “I just want to hear more details of what she thinks and what she’s hoping to do.”
Jenna Jarjoura, a Community High School student, helped sign in guests at the door. Jarjoura explained she wanted to help with the campaign because she has known Eyer since befriending Eyer’s daughter in kindergarten.
“Every time I’ve gone over to her house, she’s always made sure I’ve had everything I needed from a very young age all the way until now,” Jarjoura said. “She’s just very caring, and she’ll think about all the people instead of just a small group.”
Having known Eyer for years through mutual friends, Ann Arbaugh said she opened her home for the fundraiser and is passionate about Eyer’s candidacy because of Eyer’s commitment to affordable housing. As a realtor, Arbaugh explained, she often has clients who ultimately choose to live in nearby cities because they cannot afford to live in Ann Arbor.
“She’ll get it done, and she’s not about that partisan he-said-she-said back-and-forth,” Ann Arbaugh said. “If we can get something done, she will work with that person, and that’s important, because just saying ‘no’ all the time to working with people isn’t going to get us anywhere.”
Ann Arbor resident Hassan Hodges worked with Eyer at the former news website AnnArbor.com. Similar to Arbaugh, he said he supports Eyer because he believes she is capable and has an ability to get people to listen.
“Having sat on the other side of her when she was looking to get things done, she knew what she wanted and she would go after it,” Hodges said. “She’s very good at speaking truth to power.”
Pete Tchoryk, Dexter resident, said Eyer helped his family go public with the story of their young transgender son in the Ann Arbor News. Tchoryk said his family followed Eyer’s work at the Ann Arbor News and reached out to her for advice on countering misinformation.
“She helped us navigate getting our story out so that we could do it safely,” Tchoryk said. “She’s a remarkable person, because just like she helped us, she really has her heart in the right place and tries to help whoever she can. She always tries to do the right thing, even when that comes at a cost, and she’s fearless in doing that.”
In an interview with The Daily, Eyer said with her background in journalism, she would bring an open-minded perspective to the position.
“As a journalist, you are trained, and it becomes deeply ingrained in you, that there’s more than one side to a story,” Eyer said. “That there’s more than one solution to an issue, and that you really have to listen to all sides and be open-minded to get at the truth.”
Reflecting on the fundraiser event and her campaign so far, Eyer said she is most looking forward to continued conversations with people throughout Ward 4 and the city.
“I am overwhelmed with the support here, and my heart is so full,” Eyer said. “There are old friends, new friends, friends I’ve never met in real life before … it’s what I live for, connecting with people, and figuring out ways to solve problems so people’s lives are better.”