With the Democratic primary for the Ann Arbor City Council occurring Aug. 6, it’s election season once again in Ann Arbor. Though the fact that this election is occurring almost a month prior to when most students arrive for fall classes is extremely regrettable, that shouldn’t make students any less important in the eyes of the candidates. Students are a large segment of the city’s population and inhabit every ward in the city, and our interests — such as affordable housing, public safety and a quality transportation system — deserve the council’s attention. The Michigan Daily’s endorsement has been granted to those candidates who we feel will best represent students’ concerns on city council and who possess the skills necessary to make their goals a reality.
Only the races in Wards 3 and 4 are contested Tuesday. In Ward 3, Julie Grand is running against incumbent Stephen Kunselman (D-Ward 3). Grand currently chairs the city’s Park Advisory Commission and is a lecturer at the University’s Dearborn campus, having earned both a master’s degree and a PhD from the University’s School of Public Health. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Grand emphasized a communicative and procedural process for addressing challenges the city faces, as well as public service in her current capacity as the Park Commission chair. She also identified downtown development with an eye toward the long term as being important to students, envisioning that empty spaces will soon be developed. While she mentioned core city services as one of her priorities, her knowledge of city issues pertaining to students — such as the provision requiring landlords to wait 70 days before showing their properties to people seeking a place to live next year — left something to be desired.
Kunselman has served three terms on the council in Ward 3 and holds a master’s degree in urban planning from the University. When asked about what he perceived to be the most important issues for students, his immediate response was safety. Though he supported many of the student-focused apartment complexes and opposed height caps on the buildings he does not support large developments, such as the 413 E. Huron development. He placed little emphasis on engaging the community when making decisions.
While Grand clearly has a strong desire to serve the public and her communicative style is promising, The Michigan Daily endorses STEPHEN KUNSELMAN for Ward 3 because of his extensive experience in city government and grasp of student priorities — but strongly encourages him to reach out to his constituents for their input on city matters.
In Ward 4, incumbent Marcia Higgins (D- Ward 4) faces challenger Jack Eaton. Higgins has served on the council for 14 years and has played a key role in the Ann Arbor Developing Downtown initiative. She wants to continue developing the downtown area and sees increasing density there as a way to reduce housing prices citywide. While talking with The Daily, she placed much importance on building a public transit station linking Ann Arbor to surrounding cities on Fuller Road — despite the setbacks over the project in 2012 — stressing the availability of federal matching funds as a great opportunity for the city. Such a project would greatly benefit students — as many don’t have access to cars — and her professed desire to connect Ann Arbor to both Detroit and Chicago deserves considerable praise. She also acknowledged existing flaws in the city’s storm drain system — which has recently flooded streets in a significant portion of the city — and expressed her support for a careful overview of the system.
Eaton is a labor attorney who represents many transit workers across the state and has been quite active in the Ann Arbor community, starting the Neighborhood Alliance and helping other neighborhoods organize. While talking to The Daily he repeatedly lamented students’ lack of engagement in city politics and encouraged them to bring their concerns to him, rather than emphasizing a more proactive approach on his part. He displayed a strong grasp of public safety issues, and though supportive of improved public transit he believes that expanding the existing train station on Depot Street would be a better idea than building a new station on Fuller Road. However, his idea for the scale of this project was mostly limited to linking suburbs to the city.
While Eaton’s desire for the student body to connect with him is admirable, The Michigan Daily endorses MARCIA HIGGINS for Ward 4 because of her attentiveness to the needs of students and young professionals in Ann Arbor.