Students to campaign for seats on city council

By Taylor Wizner, Daily News Editor
Published April 9, 2013

In a largely unprecedented move, a group of University students are forming a party to run for Ann Arbor City Council seats opening up in the fall.

The party, called the Mixed Use Party, it is looking to provide equal opportunities for students living in off-campus housing. To do this, the group wants to reform and simplify city zoning regulations and ordinances. The party platform states that the group is looking to create a new zoning code, abolish tax increment financing and legalize victimless crimes.

Seats currently held by City Council members Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), Jane Lumm (D–Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (D–Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) are up for re-election in the fall.

Law student Shang Kong, chairman of the party, said a platform is still in the conceptualization process, and candidates have not yet been selected.

The party — which formed in January — will try to run candidates in ward 1, 2, 3 and 4, where most student housing exists. Kong said many of the party’s members grew up in Ann Arbor, and argued that student turnout will increase if students notice that their peers are running to support their interests.

“We think we can get several thousand votes in each ward, which is more than enough to win,” Kong said. “It is in students’ interests to end legal discrimination against students.”

Kong said the party will appeal to students by removing a zoning restriction that allows only four non-familial tenants per house and lifting the restrictions on student cooperatives.

Kong said the party is currently campaigning through its website and meeting with student organizations.

“We do walks around the city and teach people about zoning by analyzing properties in Ann Arbor,” Kong said. “Next fall we plan to do voter registration drives and large events.”

Kong said there has been interest from students in running for office, and the party — which is especially looking for candidates to run for Ward 4.

Though they stand to greatly benefit from the party's goals, the group is not exclusive to Greek life members or students living in co-ops, Kong said.

Michael Freedman, the president of the Interfraternity Council, wrote in an e-mail interview that a speaker came to talk to chapter presidents regarding running for the open spots on the council. Freedman forwarded information regarding the party to a group of students involved in the IFC.

Freedman wrote that IFC is not affiliated with the Mixed Use Party, but notes there are benefits to having Greek students represented on the council.

An e-mail sent to some IFC members claimed that the city's zoning laws unfairly discriminate against fraternities and sororities, using language that does not apply to off-campus residents. The group cited restrictions on lot sizes for fraternity and sorority housing as one example.

The City Code of Ann Arbor states that fraternities and sororities are not allowed in the R1, R2A and R3 districts, which make up a large part of student housing areas surrounding campus. The Mixed Use Party takes issue with this.

“These restrictions prevent fraternities and sororities from using medium and small buildings,” the e-mail stated. “Delta Chi fraternity has only 4,990 square feet, and would not be allowed today. Houses like Tau Kappa Epsilon, Zeta Psi, and Kappa Sigma are smaller. This limits the options of fraternities and sororities looking for houses and makes housing more expensive.”

Students have been dissuaded in the past from running for seats on the City Council considering the limited time they will be living in the city. The recent redistricting of the wards — dividing the downtown and campus areas where students housing is usually located — has also caused problems for student candidates who will have a harder time gaining the majority of votes.

Kong said he thinks the divisions open more opportunities for students.

“The ward system spreads out students and makes it difficult for students to gain a seat without a large effort, but for the same reason, if we do a particularly good job organizing, we can win in multiple wards,” Kong said.

Kunselman — whose seat may be challenged by the party — said he thinks candidates for council should care about a variety of issues in the city.

“I believe council members should care about a wide variety of issues engaging in the community including students,” Kunselman said. “That said, I think the political process is a public good and I would encourage them to do so.”

Students won seats on the Ann Arbor City Council in the mid-1970s, running with the Human Rights Party, which was largely supported by students.

Kong said the party is hoping to settle on candidates by May. Those running for a seat on the council must turn in their petition with 100 signatures by May 14.