Zachary Ackerman: Only 12 of you know who I am

Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - 4:56pm

I probably need to introduce myself to the student body.

I’m Zach Ackerman. I’m an LSA senior and a townie, and come November, it’s likely I will represent about 25,000 Ann Arbor residents, including 9,000 students, on the City Council. While 9,000 of you live in my ward, based on the poll numbers, it looks like only about 12 of you voted during the August primaries.

Now, I have no intention of taking you on a lengthy guilt trip. There are real institutional barriers keeping young voices out of the process. By way of example, the student population is split amongst all five of Ann Arbor’s wards, diluting the impact of the young vote. And, perhaps most importantly, the deciding vote in Ann Arbor is usually the Democratic primary in August — I’m running unopposed in November’s general election — when only one in 10 students are enrolled in classes at the University.

The result is a much older voting population, one with a median age of 61 years and an incredibly high level of engagement. Government moves really slowly, and most of our peers will only spend four short years living in Ann Arbor. But our alumni tend to move to cities — more than 56,000 in Metro Detroit, 23,000 in Chicago and 13,200 in New York.

So instead of spending these next 500 words trying to convince you to vote next August, I’ll instead encourage you to engage in the local discourse of any community you find yourself in.

While your city council will likely never declare war or pass an international trade deal, cities wield tremendous power and leverage a lot of resources. For example, the United States’ three largest port cities alone dominate a 622.3 million tonnage shipping industry, an industry that, in turn, dominates the American economy.

City governments across the country affect everything from the ease of your commute to the price of a gallon of gas. The returns on investment in local government are the most authentic you will ever see from any type of government. Ten million dollars will pave 17 miles of road, or build an entire neighborhood of mixed-income affordable housing. Whether you’re a state’s-rights libertarian or progressive liberal, there’s a strong case for investment in local government. And, no matter where you live, local government is going to exist.

But for at least four years, you will live here. Your life will impact the community and the community will doubtlessly impact your life. So instead, I will take these last 200 words to try to convince you to vote next August.

Every month, when you cut your rent check, you contribute to the city’s $380 million annual operating budget. That’s a clear financial stake in the health of Ann Arbor if nothing else. I don’t have a student agenda, but I want to help Ann Arbor remain fiscally, economically and environmentally sustainable well into this century. And I believe most students want to see the same, whether they think about it or not.

We are the young of this city and often the heaviest users of our downtown. A vibrant downtown is something we all want. But how do we build it at a price tag accessible to all of us?

Every winter, our roads fall apart, and come April we’re reluctantly repairing bent rims and flat tires. How do we fill our potholes in a state that spends less per capita on roads than any other in the union?

Each day, tens of thousands of students will hop on a Michigan bus to get to and from class. How can the city and the University build a public transit system that decreases traffic congestion and our surprisingly large negative impact on the environment?

These are only four of the thousands of issues that our municipal government tackles every day. Each issue is incredibly complex and will likely take decades to fully address, but each will only be addressed if there exists a passionate and dedicated citizenry — one made up of all ages.

Whether you’re an Ann Arbor resident for four years or for life, I encourage you to voice your concerns, write your City Council representative, and let me be your friend.

Zachary Ackerman can be reached at zdack@umich.edu.