More than 45 Ann Arbor residents joined a virtual forum via Facebook Live Thursday evening to listen to City Councilmember Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, and challenger Lisa Disch discuss their platforms. The council candidates responded to questions regarding Ward 1’s constituent services, the city of Ann Arbor’s rapid growth, local government response to racial injustices in policing and Democratic values during the forum.
In Ann Arbor, City Council members are elected to four-year terms in staggered elections. The Ann Arbor Democratic Party has planned to host a series of five candidate forums over the month of June to provide a platform for Ann Arbor residents to learn about the members potentially representing them come the Aug. 4 primary.
Disch, University of Michigan political science professor, is challenging Bannister as a progressive Democrat running on a platform of managing Ann Arbor’s growth in an environmentally and socially conscious manner.
“I believe in environmental sustainability and urban stewardship,” Disch said. “I think that public policy serves us better when it’s based on evidence rather than on personal impression and anecdata. And like the many voters I’ve been speaking with over the last three months or so, I really appreciate the quality of life that I enjoy and Ann Arbor. But, I can appreciate Ann Arbor and recognize that Ann Arbor is not an exception. We have the same kind of racial and injustices here and economic stratifications as exist all over this country.”
Bannister said she is running for re-election in hopes to build on the progress and relationships she has created the past two years serving as a councilmember.
“We’ve built a strong foundation over these last two and a half years, and we need to continue to build on the work and the investments that we have made in the community,” Bannister said. “I’m a people person, a listener, a problem solver and I don’t have an ideology or an agenda, but I rather listen to my residents and you all tell me what your priorities are.”
Pressing issues in Ward 1
When asked about what each candidate believed was Ward 1’s most pressing issue, both candidates expressed concern over responding to Ann Arbor’s growth while simultaneously serving residents’ basic needs.
“I’ve been speaking with many voters over the past few months and I’m hearing it loud and clear: Ann Arbor is growing, and Ward 1 residents tell me that they feel like they are bearing the brunt of the growing pains,” Disch said. “I’ve had many residents talk to me about traffic, about racial justice in our schools and in our streets, and of course, talk about the soaring cost of housing even in Ward 1, which has been traditionally one of Ann Arbor’s more affordable options.”
Throughout, Bannister emphasized focusing on constituents rather than governing with a set of specific policies.
“There are many issues that we tackle in Ward 1,” Bannister said. “I think the most important issue is constituent services and public outreach and engagement. Whatever the issue is, I want to hear from my residents and learn from them.”
When asked about how each candidate plans to handle an impending budget shortfall for the city due to COVID-19, Bannister expressed confidence in both city-level budgeting and reliance on financial representatives.
“We will get some federal and state support, but a lot of it is going to be due to a belt tightening here at the city level,” Bannister said. “I am so happy that we have our interim City Administrator Mr. Tom Crawford in place. So far, we’ve been prioritizing human services.”
Disch expressed an optimistic outlook on budgeting the coming fiscal year: Rather than solely restricting to basic services now, she believes Ann Arbor should still pursue broad-scale goals.
“It’s okay to defer a little bit of long-term maintenance that we’re committed to doing as a city to preserve our infrastructure, but we don’t have to be doing it immediately,” Disch said. “The important thing is that we attend to these basics, we secure the things that people count on government for, but we don’t lose sight of our aspirational goals.”
Both candidates said they wanted more Black representation in City Council when asked about the local government’s role in advancing racial justice. Aside from reforming Ann Arbor policing, Bannister wants the council itself to represent a more diverse community.
“The council is composed of 10 white folks and Ali Ramlawi,” Bannister said. “I try to encourage other people (of color) to run. I’m delighted that Tony Brown, a local African-American man from Ann Arbor, is running in Ward 3 because I think we need that diversity on council.”
Disch added that city government has more power than commonly acknowledged in handling racial injustices on a local level.
“Racial justice is also not just about denouncing racial attitudes and slurs, although that’s really important to do, but where city government really has a lot of leverage is in using policy to open up opportunity and dismantle privilege,” Disch said. “I am shaping my policy priorities in response to concerns I’ve heard from students and community members about harassment that they’ve faced in the streets of Ann Arbor and at the hands of Ann Arbor residents as well as at the hands of the police.”
Both candidates also vowed to strengthen the oversight powers of the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission.
Bannister closed by reiterating she hopes to win re-election and build on her previous success in connecting community members to the council.
“I would like to ask for people to vote to re-elect me so that we can continue on the work that we have done, and the relationships and networks that we built,” Bannister said. “I am a listener and a problem solver.”
Disch said she believes a vote for her would mean improved communication between Ann Arbor residents and City Council.
“One of the things that I’m very committed to in my work at the University is giving students the skills they need to figure out where they stand in politics, and the tools that they need to deliberate and dialogue with people with whom they disagree,” Disch said. “Many of the people that I’ve been speaking to feel that there could be more communication between council and the residents of Ward 1, and the city at large.”
Daily Staff Reporter Megan Shohfi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.