Around 20 Ann Arbor residents gathered Saturday to rally support for a recall petition of Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1. Organizers assembled in Wheeler Park to distribute materials to canvassers who fanned out across Ward 1 to collect signatures.
The petition was launched after Hayner used a quote in a Facebook comment that referred to journalists as a homophobic slur. Hayner initially defended the comment in a phone interview with The Michigan Daily before apologizing in a later statement.
Hayner declined to comment for this story, alleging the media has misrepresented his positions in the past.
Ariah Schugat, who organized the recall petition and the rally, said in an interview with The Daily that she wanted to send a clear message that Ann Arbor is a welcoming city and Hayner’s words do not represent residents’ views.
“This petition is to recall him not only to show members of the LGBT and Black and brown communities that they are welcome, but to show that the residents have power and can show political figures that this language is not acceptable,” Schugat said. “When prejudice and bigotry are up for debate, it translates to real-world harm.”
Schugat also said Hayner’s latest comments only further reinforce a pattern of hateful rhetoric.
“Before (Hayner used the homophobic slur), people were upset with him for not properly condemning white supremacy when another councilmember put forth a proposal about anti-Asian … hatred after the rise of attacks over the pandemic,” Schugat said. “From that point, it was the homophobic slur, and I filed the petition. The language (of the petition) was approved and then the next day, he said the N-word in its entirety twice as well as the homophobic slur in its entirety.”
Hayner used the racial slur in a May 18 interview with Samuel J. Robinson, a Black MLive reporter. Before the recall petition, he was removed from his committee appointments by an 8-2 vote of the City Council.
Amir Fleischmann, Contract Committee co-Chair for the Graduate Employees’ Organization, said in an interview with The Daily that GEO is backing the effort by providing both manpower and material support to organizers. He said the union felt supporting this effort was important due to the nature of Hayner’s words.
“I think the comments that (Hayner has) made are despicable and totally inappropriate for an elected official, and they demonstrate just a general contempt for his constituents, many of whom are LGBTQ+ or people of color,” Fleischmann said. “It just really shows that he really doesn’t care about them, and I think it’s also more reflective of his attitude as a city councilman.”
Michelle Hughes, another organizer, highlighted the danger of normalizing Hayner’s use of offensive slurs in an interview with The Daily.
“I don’t think it’s okay for a politician to be normalizing these things,” Hughes said. “I think that there’s an idea going around now that the struggle is over, that LGBT people have it fine now, and you can say whatever you want. I think that’s a really harmful idea because it makes people think that it’s okay to say terrible things and do terrible things to LGBT people.”
Hughes said instead of normalizing the use of harmful rhetoric, councilmembers should focus on the vulnerable communities they serve.
“I think that it’s important to have a city councilmember who understands the needs of vulnerable communities,” Hughes said. “For transgender people and for Black people, the harm comes from the government. And I think that if we have someone in the government, they really have to understand their place in this … and they need to be working really hard to undo that damage.”
Summer News Editor Dominic Coletti can be reached at email@example.com