As both the only non-City Council member and non-Democrat running for mayor, Bryan Kelly has already begun generating conversation and debate after announcing his candidacy for mayor of Ann Arbor as an independent.
“Primarily what got me into the race was a commitment to the democratic ideal of at least having two options in an election,” Kelly said. “I didn’t like the idea that in a town that sort of prides itself on political activism, you were having someone run unopposed out of a primary that a lot of students couldn’t participate even if they wanted to.”
As a University alum with a degree in English, Kelly is not a politician, but a novelist, as self-described on his website.
He said while his initial exposure to the public has been focused on accusations of an extreme anti-development position and being a babysitter who can’t seem to hold down a job, he wants to be seen as the kind of mayor who understands young professionals — the struggles they face and the careers and dreams they aspire to.
“I want to run a campaign that I would want to vote for,” he said. “In this kind of time where talented people can’t find a job, whether that’s because of laziness or because they lack the initiative and the capital to fund their own initiative, I want to give people a real choice.”
He said his main goal is to continue talking about the issues that be believes haven’t been properly addressed by the four Democratic candidates for the position.
“There’s a lot to be talked about,” Kelly said. “The town is changing fast, and it’s going to be a big strain on the infrastructure and there are going to be a lot of people moving in there. It’s just a dramatic shift in how town looks and in my opinion, it’s being undertaking without a vetting by city council and the populous.”
His cautionary stance on downtown development originates from his experience watching the debate and approval of the 413 E. Huron high-rise as well as his own experience living in Ann Arbor as a student in a house on E. Ann St.
“In my opinion, as a student, you live in a house that’s falling apart,” he said. “You don’t live in this sterile environment where you don’t know your neighbors unless you smell them smoking marijuana or hear them having sex — I don’t know how people get to meet their neighbors in a high rise. To me that’s not communal living — too many people stacked on top of each other.”
Because of his self-described profession of a struggling writer, he added that he feels he is the only candidate who is committed to understanding and living a difficult life, one with few luxuries but a genuine sense of empathy.
While Democratic candidates have raised thousands of dollars to fund their campaigns, Kelly said he is relying on small donations and is refusing to participate in spending those donations on environmentally unsound practices, such as flyers and lawn signs, or taking huge donations that might begin to bias his decisions as mayor.
“The truth is, the more money you raise, the more people you are beholden to,” he said.
According to Kelly, there are ways to grow as a city without strip malls, identical houses and high-rises, and he wants to refocus this election back on what he believes a campaign and election should be about.
“If you don’t have your zoning code figured out, you’re going to lose control of your city, and I think that’s what’s happening here,” Kelly said. “What developers talk about building are very interesting things but what they end up building are cubes that maximize space and are drab. Let’s stop making a concrete jungle into downtown and start getting some culture into the neighborhoods.”
Kelly’s opponent in the November general election will be decided in the Democratic primary on Aug. 5.