LSA senior Zachary Ackerman secured a seat on Ann Arbor’s City Council in an uncontested race Tuesday night, with 90.68 percent of the vote. With all precincts reporting, Ackerman garnered 730 votes from the 3rd Ward.
It has been more than two decades since someone in Ackerman’s age range has been elected to City Council. Ackerman, who is a Daily columnist, is 22 and spending an extra semester at the University as a fifth-year senior due to taking time off to work on campaigns.
The low frequency of students holding elected office in Ann Arbor isn’t due to a lack of trying. University alum Peter Nicolas was elected to City Council in 1992 at the age of 21, and since then, a number of students have attempted to run for the position. Ackerman was the first in a while to succeed.
Ackerman was chosen as the Democratic candidate in the city’s August primary, in which he unseated long-time Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3).
At a watch party Tuesday evening attended by both Ackerman and fellow newly elected councilmember Chip Smith, attendees expressed support for both candidates.
In an interview during the watch party, Ackerman discussed the disadvantage faced by many University students in the community who would like to voice their opinions.
In particular, he cited the fact that with primary elections in August, few students are on campus to participate in elections.
“Most of the deciding votes of the city happen in August when only one-tenth of the student body is enrolled in classes,” Ackerman said. “That’s not to say that I think the city should be run by representatives of the student body. I think there has to be a critical balance because no temporary resident should dictate policy for the next 20 years.”
LSA junior Samuel McMullen, who ran for City Council as a freshman but was defeated, said it is refreshing to see younger members elected. He said though the city is largely composed of students, the demographic is underrepresented in local government.
“We have a pretty big imbalance in terms of policy, where the source of the policy doesn’t match up with the people that it’s affecting,” McMullen said.
Ackerman said he focused on running an active and personal campaign in connecting to residents across the city, knocking on more than 4,000 doors.
After campaign season, Ackerman said he plans to hold two coffee hours per week, providing Ann Arbor residents with the opportunity to share concerns. He also aims to attend a variety of community events to foster collaboration with citizens and continue to strengthen connections with them.
“I think we often times have high level conversations that ignore what people want,” Ackerman said. “I ran to be a responsive leader, and I am committed fully to that.”
Along with limited student representation on City Council, student turnout in city elections has also typically been low, though student organizations this year cited Ackerman’s candidacy as a potential path to higher turnout.
LSA sophomore Sara Lebow, chair of the Central Student Government commission Voice Your Vote, was out on the Diag on Tuesday encouraging students to vote.
Though student turnout is usually highest in years when presidential or state elections are on the ballot, Lebow said council elections are important for students, too.
“I guess young people a lot of times have pretty low turnouts, which means the elections tend to represent the votes of the older populations,” Lebow said. “But, in a city like Ann Arbor, where so much of the population is people between 18 and 30, you need people voting in the local elections, which is going to affect them directly.”
Turnout this year remained significantly low in student-dominated precincts, though it’s difficult to fully discern the impact of the student vote because voting wards are drawn from the center of downtown — meaning students are divided among the wards. Turnout was also low across the city, since the majority of council races were uncontested.
The Michigan Union reported a voter turnout of 0.81 percent of those registered in Ward 1’s first and second precinct and a voter turnout of 1.15 percent for Ward 4’s first precinct. The Michigan League, which was assigned Ward 3 precincts 1 and 2, had a voter turnout of 1.20 percent. Seven ballots were cast at Palmer Commons, five for Sally Petersen and two for Jane Lumm. At Pierpont Commons, six ballots were cast with a voter turnout of 0.45 percent.
Lebow cited Ackerman’s campaign as an opportunity to mitigate the underrepresentation of students in Ann Arbor city government because his candidacy represents an increase in student involvement. That involvement, she said, begins with getting more students to vote.
The University’s Chapter of College Democrats also encouraged students to vote throughout the week, holding a forum last week and going door to door for candidates running as Democrats in the city election. They also encouraged a competition between students living on campus in East Quad Residence Hall, West Quad Residence Hall, on the Hill and on North Campus who vote at the Michigan League, the Michigan Union, Palmer Commons and Pierpont Commons respectively.
In campaigning, Ackerman said he sought to hear the voices of a broad range of residents, adding that his agenda and outreach focused on all residents, including but not limited to students. He said thought hearing from a diverse array of citizens in all forms of civic engagement was important for elected officials.
“I think too often, especially at the local level, we only get to hear from one segment of the population,” Ackerman said. “We’re a diverse city of age, socioeconomic class and race, and I think hearing every side of the story is critical to making policy decisions.”