Democratic primary yields new balance on City Council

Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor at a City Council Meeting at Larcom City Hall in May 2017.

Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor at a City Council Meeting at Larcom City Hall in May 2017.
Ceren Burcak Dag/Daily

 

Monday, August 7, 2017 - 12:51am

Ann Arbor residents voted Tuesday in the Democratic primary election for City Council.

In Ward 1, challenger Anne Bannister defeated incumbent Jason Frenzel with 944 votes to Frenzel's 829. Bannister was the only challenger to win on Tuesday — in Ward 3, Councilmember Zachary Ackerman won with 1,283 votes to opponent Stephen Kunselman's 1,098. In Ward 4, Councilmember Jack Eaton won with 1,256 votes to opponent Jaime Magiera's 963, and in Ward 5, Councilmember Chip Smith won with 1,948 votes to opponent David Silkworth's 1,749.

Though the city is divided into five electoral wards — each of which has two representatives on the council who alternate election years — there were only four contests in this primary, as Jared Hoffert (D–Ward 2) ran unopposed, but will face incumbent Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) in the general election in November.

This will be the last City Council election held in an odd year. Residents voted last November to extend council member's terms from two to four years, but the council members elected in this cycle will serve three year terms, making their next election year even.

The election was in many ways a referendum on the city's position on development. Many residents were upset in April when the council voted 8-3 to sell the publicly-owned Library Lot to Chicago-based developer Core Spaces, unhappy with what a new skyscraper would mean for Ann Arbor.

The three council members that voted against the sale of the Library Lot — Lumm, Eaton and Kailasapathy — have also opposed the other eight members of the council, including Mayor Chris Taylor, on a number of issues regarding development and taxes. Those three will gain a fourth in Bannister, who ran her campaign against Frenzel's Library Lot vote.

"I think that with my personal finance and my financial planning background and fiscal responsibility and conservation of resources, I think that resonates with people because we pay a lot of property taxes here in town," Bannister said. "It was also important that now we have the 7-4 ratio. Knocking on doors, that was really important to voters, even if they were ambivalent about development issues, the idea of more debate on council was important to them."

The shift from the de facto 8-3 to 7-4 balance is significant — though passage of any law or resolution requires a six-vote majority and mayoral approval, eight is the number of votes required to override a mayoral veto, create a new city office, take private property for a public use or transfer any unencumbered budget funds from one operating fund to another.

Though she said she had not heard from Frenzel or the mayor's office as of Wednesday night, Bannister said she hoped to do away with any ill will the campaign had dredged up and focus on working together and governing effectively with her colleagues.

Ackerman, who spoke with his opponent Kunselman once the election results were out, said they exchanged their mutual respect and shared Bannister's opinion on moving forward.

"Two years ago I ran on an approach for representation that first takes guidance and solicits guidance from the community, but also strives to work together with colleagues and staff to find solutions to that community input," Ackerman said. "I think, over the course of the last two years, we've worked very hard and very well together to get a lot of things done, and a lot of things done that have been approved unanimously. I think if we continue that and if we continue to work in an environment of mutual respect and dignity, I think we're gonna be in good shape."

He stood by his endorsement of Bannister's opponent, however, saying the community lost an incredible resource in Jason Frenzel's electoral loss.

"His depth of knowledge, his diligence, his dedication, his passion for all this work and his commitment to his neighbors made him an incredible council member," he said. "And I really can't stress the depth of knowledge enough — he's an environmental professional and has been his entire career, and his work on the energy commission and environmental commission were invaluable over the course of the last few months."

Read on for the Daily's coverage of all the candidates in its election preview. 

Ann Arbor residents will vote Tuesday in the Democratic primary election for City Council.

Though the city is divided into five electoral wards — each of which has two representatives on the council who alternate election years — there are only four contests in this primary, as Ward 2 Democrat Jared Hoffert is running unopposed, but will face independent incumbent Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) in the general election in November.

This will be the last City Council election held in an odd year. Residents voted last November to extend council member's terms from two to four years, but the council members elected in this cycle will serve three year terms, making their next election year even.

Ward 1

In Ward 1, incumbent Councilmember Jason Frenzel (D–Ward 1) is running against Democratic candidate Anne Bannister, who is also a University alum. In his first election last year, Frenzel lost by six percent of the vote to Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1), but he gained a seat on council in December when then-Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) abruptly resigned.

Frenzel has served in local government for the majority of his career but had never held office until last year. He served as stewardship coordinator for the Huron River Watershed Council and citizen representative on the City's Environmental Commission, where he assisted in crafting an anti-idling ordinance just recently passed by City Council.

Bannister, a 1986 graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in psychology, has been in finance for her entire career. Starting out as a bank teller in college, Bannister later became a personal finance educator and Certified Financial Planner. Bannister has touted her CFP designation as a sign of ethics, pointing out that CFPs are required to take ethics courses every two years and running on a promise of "budgeting tax dollars in response to citizen priorities." Bannister has also served in various executive roles in the Ann Arbor Democratic Party since 2009.

A major point of contention for Frenzel and Bannister — and a major point of contention in every race — is the sale of the so-called "Library Lot," a lot across from the downtown library on Fifth Avenue currently used for surface-level and underground parking, to the Chicago-based developer Core Spaces. Frenzel was one of the eight council members who voted to sell the lot in April, while Kailasapathy, Lumm and Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) voted against the proposal.

Bannister has made Frenzel's Library Lot vote a point of attack. Residents delivered a petition to City Council in June 2016 with over 5,000 signatures on it, demanding that the sale of the lot be put on the ballot for residents to vote on. However, not enough of those signatures were able to be validated, and the petition stalled.

"That's a public piece of land,” Bannister said in a May interview. “There were petitions; 5,647 people signed that they wanted a bigger voice in creating some sort of different development on that lot. I want to put people first and bring that voice to City Council and make sure that we are represented in these decisions that are forever going to change Ann Arbor."

Frenzel has stood by his vote, saying the increase in housing supply that will result from the 17-story multi-use building that will stand on the Library Lot is critical to creating more affordable housing in Ann Arbor.

In addition to being more pro-development, Frenzel has been vocal on the issue of climate change, saying City Council needs to dedicate $1 million annually to climate action efforts to put a significant dent in the city's goals.

Frenzel is endorsed by former Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, and Bannister is endorsed by Kailasapathy, a current council member.

Ward 3

In Ward 3, incumbent Councilmember Zachary Ackerman (D–Ward 3) is running against former council member Stephen Kunselman. Kunselman served as a council member from 2006 to 2008 and again from 2009 to 2015, before losing to Ackerman in the August 2015 primary. In an April email interview, Kunselman wrote he hadn't planned on running this year, "but it became increasingly clear after talking with downtown business owners, neighbors and supporters, that our City government is going in the wrong direction.”

By "the wrong direction," Kunselman refers to the sale of the Library Lot, which he has also made a central issue of his campaign. Kunselman has raised legal questions over the sale of the lot, saying it could jeopardize the tax-exempt status of the federal bonds used to construct the lot.

However, Ackerman has continuously stated that it puts the city at no financial risk. Dykema Gossett PLLC, the City's outside bond counsel, said in a memo the sale did not put the bonds at risk — and if that advice is incorrect, any financial loss to the city is covered by Dykema's professional insurance.

In addition to raising legal questions around the sale of the lot, Kunselman has opposed it on its merits, saying there is too much focus on housing in City Council during a candidate forum in July.

"When it comes to Ann Arbor gentrification, we have to remember that we are a global city. There's a number of students that come from around the world that will pay top dollar to live in Ann Arbor while they go to the University (of Michigan)," he said. "We are a company town, and the idea that we're going to be able to build our way out by just having more housing and bigger buildings is a mistake. It's not going to happen that way.”

City Council is divided on the issue of the Library Lot — Ackerman is endorsed by Mayor Christopher Taylor and the other six members of the council who voted to sell the lot but not by Lumm, Eaton or Kailasapathy, who back Kunselman. And, though Kunselman has been vocally critical of the city's current administration, saying government was "more transparent in the Hieftje era," Ackerman is also endorsed by Hieftje.

Ackerman, who grew up in Ann Arbor and is a 2015 graduate of the University, works for Denison Consulting, a downtown Ann Arbor management consulting firm.

Kunselman, who also grew up in Ann Arbor received his bachelor's degree from the University in 1986 and two master's degrees in landscape architecture and urban planning from the University in 1990; he has served as the University's Energy Conservation Liaison since 2004.  

Ward 4

In Ward 4, incumbent Eaton is running against University Systems Administrator Jaime Magiera. Eaton first won his seat in November 2013, winning reelection in 2015. As one of the council members who voted against the sale of the Library Lot, Eaton has touted transparency and fiscal responsibility as guiding values of his campaign.

Though he did not vote on the issue, Magiera has supported the sale of the Library Lot, saying in a statement he is in favor of "responsible development" and, like Frenzel and Ackerman, thinks development is necessary for the creation of affordable housing.

"The alternative is to vote against all development, pricing workers out of Ann Arbor," he said. "This forces people to drive into town for work, increasing traffic, pollution, and wear and tear on the roads. Unless we offer affordable housing options, living in Ann Arbor will be out of reach for teachers, artists, retail and service industry workers, and many others of modest or medium incomes."

Magiera, who graduated from the University’s School of Music with a degree in Performing Arts Technology, has worked as a System Administrator for the University of Michigan for the past 13 years and has also taught computer programming at Eastern Michigan University. He is on the executive board of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party and on the Board of Directors of the People's Food Co-op.

Eaton, who received his bachelor's degree from the University and J.D. from Wayne State University, is an attorney practicing union-side labor law. Eaton has touted his union background during the campaign, saying on campaign literature he is pro-union, "unlike his opponent." During the July candidate forum, Eaton brought up Magiera's tenure at the People's Food Co-op, suggesting Magiera was partially responsible for the co-op's hiring of an anti-union lawyer.

"I have the endorsement of the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation because I share their goals of representing working people," Eaton said. "For example, when the Food Co-op Board of Directors voted to hire an anti-union lawyer, I came to them and assisted them in publicizing that action, and I helped them organize their union."

Magiera used his opportunity to respond to correct Eaton, stating the Board of Directors was not responsible for the hiring, and he successfully directed the co-op's general manager to hire a different lawyer.

"So just to correct the record, the Board of Directors at the People's Food Co-op did not hire a lawyer that was anti-union, and I, as an individual, am a supporter of unions," Magiera said.

The two have also debated the role of council members. At the July forum, Eaton said council members are policymakers, and their job is to set priorities, but not "do the reading and the research," while Magiera has advocated a more involved approach, saying it is important to understand what the latest trends are "in terms of urban planning, in terms of science, in terms of the environment, to understand what city staff are saying to us, and put that in context, and put forward some solutions." 

Eaton is endorsed by Lumm, Kailasapathy and current candidates Anne Bannister and University alum David Silkworth. Magiera is endorsed by former Mayor Hieftje and Councilmembers Graydon Krapohl (D–Ward 4), Kirk Westphal (D–Ward 2), Chip Smith (D–Ward 5),Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5), Julie Grand (D–Ward 3) and Frenzel.

Ward 5

In Ward 5, incumbent Smith is running against Silkworth. Smith was elected to his first term in 2015. Silkworth lost his campaign in 2016 as an independent against but is now running as a Democrat. Like Eaton and many of the challengers in other wards, Silkworth is running his campaign against Smith's Library Lot vote.

Making transparency and accountability main tenets of his campaign, Silkworth is a supporter of putting local issues to a resident vote. In addition to supporting the Library Lot petition, Silkworth said in the July candidate forum he thinks downtown zoning decisions should also be put on the ballot — a position Smith said he has never seen adopted in local government in the 20 years he has worked as an urban planner and one that would "make it impossible" to increase development.

After earning his bachelor's degree in history from Macalester College in Minnesota, Smith moved to Ann Arbor to pursue a master's in landscape architecture from the University. He has worked for the last eight years as an urban planner for an engineering firm in Detroit, working mainly with local governments.

Before earning his bachelor's from the University in 1998, Silkworth served in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve. He now works as a claims representative for an insurance company, working with businesses and homeowners.

Silkworth has been a vocal opponent of the deer cull, saying City Council should have attempted using only non-lethal techniques. It was around the issue of the cull that Silkworth attacked Smith on his transparency, speaking during the public comment portion of a May council meeting to oppose a proposed amendment to the annual budget that would defund the deer cull to fund climate action and pedestrian safety initiatives, which was co-sponsored by Smith.

"I'm a longtime opponent of using lethal deer management methods within our city, and I'm a strong supporter of pedestrian safety infrastructure improvements," Silkworth said. "So you're probably wondering why I currently oppose Amendment 5. I oppose it because I see it as nothing more than a disingenuous and irresponsible political maneuver intended to endear its sponsors to both anti-cull activists, ardent cyclists, and anyone concerned about pedestrian safety issues."

Silkworth is endorsed by council members Eaton, Lumm and Kailasapathy. Smith is endorsed by Mayor Taylor, former Mayor Hieftje and council members Ackerman, Grand, Krapohl, Warpehoski and Westphal.