By Emma Kerr, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 27, 2014
With two new Ann Arbor City Council members slated to assume office and the upcoming election of Ann Arbor’s first new mayor in 14 years, times are changing. But when it comes to mayoral priorities, these changes might not be so drastic.
The local Democratic primary resulted in a near majority victory for mayoral candidate Christopher Taylor, who currently serves on the Council representing the third ward. While Taylor was not publicly endorsed by current Mayor John Hieftje (D), his campaign focused heavily on maintaining a council that is a continuation of the current Council and embodies the ideals and goals set under Hieftje’s leadership.
Development has been one of the most divisive issues among councilmembers in recent years and was also a hot topic during the mayoral primary. Hieftje has been a more ardent supporter of downtown development programs compared to other Council factions which have been more hesitant to allow new building projects and have advocated for a focus instead on the city’s neighborhoods.
Julie Grand (D–Ward 3), Kirk Westphal (D–Ward 2) and incumbent Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5), who will all serve on Council in 2015 due to being uncontested candidates, each have associations with Taylor and Hieftje. During her campaign for her Council seat, Grand endorsed Taylor for mayor over councilmembers Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), Steve Kunselman (D–Ward 3) and Sally Petersen (D–Ward 2). Warpehoski and Westphal were both publicly endorsed by Hieftje.
Taylor said throughout his campaign that he believes Ann Arbor is headed in the right direction, and Grand and Westphal have also applauded much of the current Council’s work under Hieftje.
Grand would not explicitly say whether she supports Hieftje, but said because Taylor won the primary with a platform of continuing Hieftje’s work, it is clear the public feels confident that the city has been in good hands with the incumbent mayor and will be with Taylor as well. Taylor’s record reflects a voting history similar to that of Hieftje’s.
“I’m not saying that I am or that I’m not an ally (of Hieftje),” Grand said. “I’m very pleased with the job that the mayor has done. And if you look at Chris Taylor’s victory, that is reflective of that. I supported our presumptive mayor. Does that mean that I don’t have my own mind? Absolutely not.”
There are two other new members who will take their seats on the Council in 2015: Westphal, who ran against Nancy Kaplan, a member of the Ann Arbor District Library Board, for the seat vacated by Petersen; and Graydon Krapohl, who ran uncontested for the open fourth ward seat following the retirement of Margie Teall (D–Ward 4).
“I have become acquainted with the incoming new councilmembers,” Westphal said. “I’ve had some interactions with Christopher in the past in his duties as a councilmember in the past, and I am hoping it will be the case that everyone continues to be civil on Council and works for the best of the community.”
Following the mayoral primary, which included four current councilmembers, some see the possibility for tension between those members who will continue to serve on Council. If elected mayor in the general election, Taylor, who won the primary with 47.57 percent of the vote, will serve alongside former primary opponents Briere and Kunselman.
Kunselman, who received 16.46 percent of the vote, said following the primary that he looks forward to working with Taylor and fellow councilmembers in the future. Kunselman and Taylor have served together on Council since 2009, though in the 2008 election, Kunselman lost his seat to Taylor. Kunselman ran again in 2009 and has been on Council since.
“There’s no sense of dread,” Kunselman said. “I’m keeping a very open mind and I think Council dynamics are going to continue very much how they have been, where there are issues that are more important to some members than others that eventually results in compromise.”
In a mayoral debate earlier this year, Briere said she does not consider herself aligned with anyone in particular on Council, including Hieftje.
“I don’t belong to a faction,” Briere said. “John is gone and we should get over it. Now we look at the future. As much as we may like John or agree with his policies, I’m not running against John and I’m not running to beat John.”
However, the question on voters’ minds may not have been whether Briere was running against Hieftje, but rather whether she was going to make decisions similar to Hieftje’s. Taylor has aligned himself indirectly with the former mayor since the beginning of his mayoral campaign, and his near-majority victory illustrated that a desire for change was not driving voters’ decisions.
“I don’t expect our government to change much, I expect it to fine-tune around the edges,” Kunselman said. “The biggest change is that when you no longer have the longest-serving mayor presiding over, there’s going to be a learning curve for everyone, even for Chris Taylor, assuming he is the next mayor. We are going to have to learn how to identify others’ positions within Council.”
Though new to the Council, Grand served with Taylor on the Park Advisory Commission and said she is not concerned that there will be any lingering tensions following election season.
“I’m not really concerned about the councilmembers that ran for mayor; I don’t think that’s what is driving the dynamic,” Grand said. “I’m hoping with a new mayor and some new councilmembers that we can try to get rid of some of these old divisions. I’m not naïve about that, but I certainly want to do my best to compromise.”