From The Daily: Who to vote for in Ann Arbor

Wednesday, July 29, 2020 - 10:26pm

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Courtesy of Design team

Daytime sidewalks, usually densely spotted with strollers, dog-leashes, sandals and backpacks, remain barren, reminiscent of late-night walks home from the UGLi or Law Library during the school year. This scarcity of buzzing streets, shops and restaurants is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a formidable presence that has directed residents of countless cities across America into solitude. Americans unsettlingly approach the end of summer, which brings with it primary elections — the presidential election hovering in the not-so-distant future. As stated in the Editorial Board’s endorsement for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in late February, “The 2020 presidential election is a momentous event that will shape the political landscape of the United States for the coming years. This election has major implications for nearly every aspect of American politics and will drastically affect the U.S.’s approach to countless issues, ranging from climate policy to immigration.” Much has changed since February, but the importance and gravity of this election cycle has not faltered. As the Aug. 4 primary draws nearer, The Michigan Daily Editorial Board has made an effort to compile a list of the Ann Arbor City Council candidates whom we believe are best fit to serve our community. 

While deliberating which candidates to endorse, the Editorial Board analyzed public platforms, virtual candidate forums provided by the League of Women Voters in Ann Arbor and focused on the topics we thought to be crucial and relevant to college students and other vulnerable communities. As an editorial board comprised entirely of undergraduate student journalists from diverse socioeconomic and academic backgrounds — all championing passionate interests in democratic freedoms and voting rights — we understand our responsibility to use this platform as an educational space: one that can enhance accessibility and deliver consequential information to the community all of us call home for more than half the year. With that being said, the Editorial Board is pleased to endorse Lisa Disch, Linh Song, Evan Redmond, Jen Eyer and Dan Michniewicz for each respective ward of the city of Ann Arbor. 

Ward 1: Lisa Disch

The Editorial Board recommends Lisa Disch for Ward 1 based on her policies supporting affordable housing, environmental sustainability and combating police brutality. Disch is a University of Michigan Political Science and Women’s Studies professor, and her fields of study are democratic theory, feminist theory, gender and politics and political ecology. She is challenging incumbent Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, who has historically opposed development in Ann Arbor. Disch, alternatively, pledges to support the funding and building of affordable housing units and proposes creating a Renters’ Commission. Her plan for environmental stewardship includes restoring Ann Arbor’s Materials Recovery Facility, subsidizing energy-efficient upgrades for low-income senior residences and moving forward with the city’s landfill solar project.

Disch also supports strengthening the power of the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission and reallocating the Ann Arbor Police Department budget. Citing the fear that residents may have on reporting instances of racial harassment and a desire to ensure the safety of those stopped by law enforcement without cause, she supports the prevention of biased crime reporting and hopes to implement more reformative actions such as implicit bias training. As our Editorial Board has discussed before, divesting funds from policing or surveillance budgets is a crucial part of fighting racial injustice in local communities in both individual and systemic forms. In the virtual candidate forum, Disch addressed the importance of policies that open up opportunities and dismantle inherent systems of privilege in the community. Using the phrase “unbundling,” she wants to initiate conversations about directing resources and funding toward alternatives for criminal justice courts, including the Veterans’ court, drug and alcohol court and mental health court. Diverting funds away from the police and toward agencies that are better equipped and specialized to handle situations such as homelessness, substance abuse and mental health disorders, among others, is essential to ensuring a more inclusive and equitable form of public safety. 

Ward 2: Linh Song

For Ward 2, the Editorial Board endorses Linh Song because of her enthusiastic leadership roles in the community, including her position as chair of the Ann Arbor District Library Board of Trustees, director of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation and as a lecturer at the University’s School of Social Work. Song additionally serves on the Board of Directors for Avalon, an organization that provides supportive housing in the Ann Arbor community. In the past, she served on the boards of Neutral Zone, CivCity Initiative, the University Musical Society and Orchard Hills Athletic Club, as well as being involved with the University’s Health Asian Americans Project and a program called Nonprofit Enterprise at Work, a capacity-building organization in Ann Arbor. This obvious and hardworking dedication and engagement with the community shines a bright light on Song’s character and drive to improve the city. 

Additionally, we recommend Song based on her acknowledgment of and plans to improve the affordable housing crisis, environmental pollution and socioeconomic segregation. In the virtual candidate forum, Song stated, “There’s a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of work to look back on and hopefully plan forward from so that we can work out of being the eighth most economically segregated community in the entire country.” From her 20 years of residency in Ann Arbor, she understands that, too often, there are critical voices missing from conversations regarding racial injustices and oppression. In her “Good Governance” platform, she advocates for transparency within the community, ensuring equitable access to services and pursuing a Servant Leadership model designed to aid in empowering, engaging and uplifting the community. 

Song readily advocates for activating plans to expand affordable housing that would ensure essential workers and city staff can live closer to where they work, among many other critical topics. She is also a big advocate for improving public transportation and bus routes in the city in hopes to better serve students, seniors and other residents who depend on bus systems. While she covers a variety of impressive talking points, the Editorial Board hopes to see discussion of Song’s opinions on policing and reform incorporated more into her platform. Nevertheless, we appreciate her acknowledgment of problematic areas within the city that can be best understood by contextualizing harmful, oppressive pasts in order to improve future policies. In the virtual candidate forum, she affirmed: 

“There are ways to be inclusive in the zoning, the housing, the programs that we provide to the community. But it also requires a lot of introspection and I think really revisiting our history — I’ve looked at housing covenants in our community, there are racial covenants that are still on record. And if you speak to two generations of African-American community members, this is a reality in the history that we haven’t yet reckoned with. I think that if we revisit that, then we have a better way of seeing ourselves come to a better future, a more equitable future.” 

With her background in implementing social justice reforms within her own organizations, including the District Library and Educational Foundation, we are eager to see the progress she will make as a hopeful City Council member. 

Ward 3: Evan Redmond

The Editorial Board endorses Evan Redmond for Ward 3 based on his consideration and articulation on issues such as climate change, public transportation, socioeconomic divides and reallocation of police department funds. Redmond believes climate change to be the most pressing issue facing our community, as many residents have dealt with property damage due to instances of flooding and the fact that Ann Arbor is under a declaration of climate emergency. He also addresses the issues caused by the DTE monopoly over energy in the city, stating that their “climate change plans are incompatible with staving off global disaster.” In hopes to convert the city to more sustainable methods, he concedes that he will have to deal with the corporate giant. 

Redmond understands that Ann Arbor must be powered entirely by renewable energy. He also wants to reduce the mileage people travel in their cars by over 50 percent. While this policy sounds extreme, it is absolutely necessary to slow carbon emissions. Moreover, Redmond understands that many of these car miles traveled are people commuting to work, so he has also proposed expanding access to public buses by making them free to all and increasing the number of bike lanes in the city. As students, we already have free access to Ann Arbor buses, and we think everyone should be offered the same resource. 

Redmond also shares our opinion that as income inequality increases, the only solution is collectively dismantling oppressive institutions. He wants to work cooperatively with the governments of both Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to oppose and resolve the overlapping problems created by climate and housing crises. He states, “In order to lower the market costs and stem the negative effects of gentrification felt by working class people in Ann Arbor, (we must propose) a massive expansion of city owned public housing.” In a time where there are record numbers of new housing establishments reaching toward the sky in the community, many long-time residents have been forced to move, no longer able to afford the skyrocketing prices of housing and other basic necessities within the city. 

Ward 4: Jen Eyer

For Ward 4, the Editorial Board supports Jen Eyer, someone we believe has the perceptive and analytical skills necessary to represent her constituents. Working for over two decades as a local journalist for both Ann Arbor News and MLive, Eyer asserts, “A journalist is trained to listen to all sides of an issue to understand that there are multiple viewpoints and to seek out the facts. When I agree with issues, I always ask what’s missing? What information is missing from this picture? Or whose voice is missing from this conversation? And that’s exactly how I will serve on council.” Apart from her experience as a professional communicator and longtime Ann Arbor resident, we also appreciate the transparency and articulation of her viewpoints that are outlined on her platform website. 

Under her platform subcategory titled “Leading Inclusively,” Eyer outlines how she plans to promote diversity within the community. She declares, “Diversity is in our city’s mission statement because it’s a core Ann Arbor value. Promoting diversity should be a part of everything we do, and is supported throughout my platform, in housing, transit and more.” While not explicitly making reference to police brutality or potential reformative actions similar to other candidates, she does maintain a more progressive stance, asserting she will “reject attempts to add officers for ‘proactive policing,’ champion efforts to divert people from jail and into necessary social services programs, advocate for new training to reduce potentially hostile interactions between officers and citizens,” and, lastly, she plans to “maintain the city’s refusal to cooperate with ICE and increase protections for undocumented immigrants.” The Editorial Board appreciates her direct plans of action for so many pressing issues in our community, including affordable housing, renters’ rights, collaborative partnerships, safeguarding clean water access, responding to COVID-19 and advancing green transit. 

Similarly to Song, Eyer also addresses the importance of acknowledging damaging histories in order to ensure a more progressive and equitable future. She included, “The local government has a very big role to play in promoting racial justice. Local government historically has played a role in creating racial injustice, and now must take steps to remedy that. And over the years has taken many steps, but we have so much more work to do. I said earlier, diversity is in our city’s mission statement, and it’s a core value. I believe we have to protect and pursue diversity in every aspect of what we do.” She believes that policies ensuring equal opportunities, equal housing and equal transportation are critical steps to moving forward in reparations for racial injustices. 

Ward 5: Dan Michniewicz

For Ward 5, the Editorial Board recommends Dan Michniewicz because of his insightfulness and relatability to the general public that he hopes to represent. Michniewicz, a Zingerman’s Bakehouse baker, states, “You don’t have to work in a kitchen like me to know that we all lose out in a system that features the exploitation of nature for profit, extreme economic inequality, and skyrocketing housing costs. We should be using local government to address these issues, but often our leaders make decisions that worsen them.” His platform outlines his passions for ecological action, economic fairness and defunding the police, while also asserting that housing is a human right. 

Ideologically, the Editorial Board aligns itself most closely with Michniewicz’s stance on policing agencies. It is essential to analyze historical contexts of police evolution and origination, which he recognized in the virtual candidate forum: “In the past, there were slave catchers. Now what we often see is the police protecting private property. I’d like to address that as a community and demilitarize the police.” In an earlier interview with The Daily that focused primarily on the protests against police brutality, defunding the police and taking a stand against systemic racism, he added, “We have the police doing way too much. We don’t need somebody with a gun pulling people over, making traffic stops or responding to domestic disturbances all the time.” Michniewicz absolutely believes that funding should be diverted away from police departments and instead, toward programs that assist people in meeting their basic needs, such as housing, social services and mental health services. Decreasing police responsibility, funding and working to demilitarize the police are all on his agenda, all relating back to creating new programs that specialize in addressing potentially concerning situations without needless violence or armed individuals. 

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Ballots must be received by Aug. 4 at 8 p.m. If you have not yet mailed your absentee ballot, please consider delivering it by hand to the City Clerk’s Office on the 2nd floor of City Hall, or by using the ballot drop boxes in either the north or south vestibules of City Hall. The ballot boxes are accessible to residents constantly and hand-delivery is recommended during the last week prior to the election to ensure proper deliverance and reception.