Incumbent City Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1) has won the Democratic primary election for Ann Arbor City Council’s First Ward, defeating her challengers Jason Frenzel and Will Leaf in a closely contested election. Because no candidate is running as a Republican for the council seat, Kailasapathy will be the most likely winner of the November general election.
The final results of the First Ward’s election yielded 913 votes for Kailasapathy, 782 for Frenzel and 348 for Leaf. Kailasapathy won the election with 44.6% of the ward’s vote.
Kailasapathy has held her Council seat since 2012 and has described herself as a fiscally responsible pragmatist. Working as a CPA by day, she has been a vocal proponent of balanced budgets and government accountability on the council.
Jason Frenzel, the volunteer and stewardship coordinator of the Huron River Watershed Council, is a staunch environmentalist. During his campaign, Frenzel has argued that he has a better ability to bring people together on issues than Kailasapathy does because of his experience working with many residents through community initiatives. Frenzel received the endorsement of Mayor Christopher Taylor last week.
Will Leaf is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the co-founder of Neutral Skin and Hair, an online sunscreen company. His central platform has revolved around reforming zoning policy, pushing for mixed-used zones as a way to lower rent and making more efficient use of land downtown.
In an interview after the final precints reported, Kailasapthy attributed her victory to her fight for transparency in city government, referring to the Amtrak station scandal.
“This whole issue about the transparency, which erupted a couple of months ago, really made people worried. Why should local government be secretive on an issue that should be publicly discussed and publicly debated?” she said. “I really cared about checks and balances, I really cared about transparency. I strongly believe in these values too… just that one issue of transparency tipped the scale for us.”
Kailasapathy said she would like to continue focusing on transparency issues in government.
“I think one of the most important issues and top of my priorities is to make sure we set up a police review board that’s not just a showpiece, that really has teeth, and does meaningful work to make sure that we have checks and balances built into Ann Arbor and I want to be number one on that,” she said. “I want Ann Arbor to be the model city in terms of police oversight.”
City Councilmember Jack Eaton (D-Ward 4) — who endorsed her candidacy — praised Sumi on her connection with voters and wished her well on her third term.
“I’m delighted that Sumi was re-elected. I think that she’s quite deserving of the support of her voters and she gets it, so I’m quite pleased,” he said.
Frenzel hosted an election party at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company attended by family, friends, and supporters. Tense with excitement, the event was graced with the presence of Mayor Chris Taylor (D) and Councilmember Kirk Westphal (D-Ward 2).
Taylor and Westphal agreed that although Frenzel lost, he deserves recognition for the amount of support he received in spite of being new to the game.
“I think (Frenzel) ran a really ambitious campaign, and by all accounts incredibly successful for a first run,” Westphal said.
“Jason (Frenzel) has a wonderful mix of optimism and expertise, and a deep commitment to resident engagement and doing it the right way,” Taylor said. “Jason ran an outstanding race and has a compelling vision for the city and I hope he stays involved.”
Frenzel himself also said that his campaign was affected by what he called “newcomer syndrome,” but he hoped to use the insight he gained this summer towards his future goals.
“I learned a lot about what’s important to the city and how those things intersect with the work that I’m already doing,” Frenzel said.
He said through visiting residents’ homes, he found out that many people – much more than he expected – felt disenfranchised because their voices did not have the right outlet.
“I think that my place will still be able to leverage some of those conversations in a more meaningful way now that I see the connections more personally,” Frenzel said. “I think I’ll be able to do that because I did talk to 1500 people this summer.”
Although Frenzel said it would be premature of him to make a decision whether to run for next Council elections, his close race with Sumi showed that many voters want something new in Ann Arbor politics.
Ward 5 resident and Frenzel supporter John Kotarski said although he could not vote for Ward 1, he had a great interest in how the dynamics of Council would have changed if Frenzel was elected.
“What I like specifically about Jason (Frenzel) is his enthusiasm, his commitment, and his age,” he said. “I really think we need more young voices on Council.”
Will Leaf did not have an election party. In an interview with the Daily, he said what was important in this race was that he sowed his ideas to the consciousness of Ann Arbor residents. He ultimately plans to reap the plants someday in the future.
“I think I got my ideas out to the public with (my campaign) booklet and my website, and I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I’m just thankful to everyone who spent time to me at their front door.”
Leaf said that although he did not expect to win, he said his accruing 17% of the vote was on the higher end of his expectations.
“I think the people who voted for me either talked to me personally or read my campaign literature,” he said. “I’m not well connected, I don’t have people working for me. I’m just grateful there were people willing to give me a chance and I appreciate that.”
Kailasapathy raised $5,485 for her re-election campaign. Frenzel raised $8,390 and Leaf $6,350, with $4,300 coming from himself.