Just because Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, a six-term Democrat, may not have a Republican challenger, it doesn’t mean he’s running unopposed.
Hieftje is running Albert Howard, a pastor at Ann Arbor Different Church and an independent candidate.
Though Howard refused a formal interview request from The Michigan Daily, the church’s website refers to Howard as a prophet and lists several of his premonitions. Howard’s campaign site, which is linked on his church’s page, also indicates Howard’s beginnings in politics, including a presidential run in 2008.
Howard has no policy positions listed on his website, but in a debate he said he would like to improve relations between the University and the city, according to the Ann Arbor Chronicle. Because the University currently doesn’t pay taxes, Howard said it should engage in a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT program.
Howard also noted that the city needs a more transparent and approachable mayor.
“This mayor has not had any town hall meetings — he always sends other people,” Howard said at the debate.
Hieftje said Howard’s criticisms of him in debates are unfounded, noting that government data shows Ann Arbor has a good safety record, despite a report conducted by the International City/County Management Association last year that found the fire department was responding to fires too slowly.
“My opponent is free to say whatever he wants,” Heiftje said. “However, when it comes particularly to crime, those statistics are reported to the FBI, it is a very serious thing.”
Hieftje said the AAFD has been expanding its relationships with other departments so surrounding cities would be able to better respond to an incident. He also justified the cuts to the fire department, noting that there have been fewer fires in the city recently.
“In fact, in the state of Michigan, there are 4,000 fewer firefighters and police officers than there were in 2001,” Hieftje said. “In Ann Arbor we were able to prioritize 41 percent of our budget to 49 percent of our budget. I think we are doing everything we can to maintain a safe city.”
Hieftje also said Ann Arbor City Council has been very focused on maintaining the budget, contrary to Howard’s statements.
“I will be continuing with prudent budget practices,” Hieftje said. “We have made it through this great recession without a tax increase. There was a minor one in which the voters approved the maintenance of sidewalks, a small millage.”
Hieftje said his goals for the next two years include continuing to keep Ann Arbor environmentally friendly and concentrating on transit improvements.
“If we are going to continue to grow jobs, are we going to build more parking structures, have more congestion, more traffic, more air pollution, or are we going to expand transit in buses?” Hieftje said.” I am very hopeful we are going to have more train service. Possibly, bring thousands of people to our city every day — in a train or in a bus, rather than in a car.”
The next mayor will be working with a new council, as some current members were either edged out in the primary or are retiring. The only contested race in the general city council election is between Republican Stuart Berry and Democrat Chuck Warpehoski, who are running in Ward 5.
Heiftje said he would be happy to work with all members of the council, no matter their party affiliation.
“I’ve never had a problem working with people who may disagree with me,” Heiftje said. “We all have the best intentions for what is good for the city.”
The mayor added that residents should consider each candidate’s record of service before voting.
“They just have to look at experience, the work they have accomplished through the years and make their decision from that,” Heiftje said.