There is an election in Ann Arbor today, but most students wouldn’t know that. Busy though we may be championing presidential candidates and faraway causes, most of us tend to ignore local elections. Indeed, not many students even bother to register to vote in Ann Arbor or even know that that’s an option. It is easy to criticize students for being oblivious of the politics of the city that they call home for most of the year, but the problem is bigger than that. Not a single Ann Arbor City Council seat up for election is being seriously contested. This election is literally a foregone conclusion, and that is never acceptable under any conception of democracy.
One of the two City Council seats in every one of Ann Arbor’s five wards will be filled in today’s election. With no Republicans running and only the long-shot write-in campaign of Edwin Amonsen in their way, Democrats will almost certainly once again take every seat.
Sabra Briere, who handily beat out former councilman John Roberts and University employee Richard Wickboldt in the Democratic primary in August, will win the open seat in Ward 1. Incumbent Stephen Rapundalo (who was not challenged in the primary) will overwhelm Amonsen to keep his seat. Incumbent Leigh Greden, who fought off a challenge from LuAnne Bullington in August, will keep his seat in Ward 3. Incumbent Marcia Higgins, who was not challenged in the primary and won’t be challenged today, will keep her seat in Ward 4. Finally, Mike Anglin, who beat incumbent Wendy Woods in the August primary, will take the open seat in Ward 5.
The fact that we know before the election exactly who the winners will be is ridiculous. Ann Arbor is hardly a slice of heaven where everything is perfect and everyone agrees; there are plenty of points of contention. There are many important issues that the City Council will decide this year, including the lack of affordable housing, green space, commuter rails and parking. Because there are no differing views in today’s election to consider and vote upon, the people of Ann Arbor have been unfairly robbed of a chance to voice dissent.
City elections are most directly affected by residents who choose to rise up and be the voices of dissent themselves. This was what Wickboldt did, and though his platform left much to be desired, he did at least take a stand against the policies that he disliked. It is the job of Ann Arbor residents to speak up and bring differing viewpoints to City Council. The city may be overwhelmingly liberal, but there should at least be some independent and third-party candidates raising hell in the general elections. Such campaigns are not as unlikely as one might think; no one gave Anglin a chance against Woods in the primary, and yet Anglin won the old-fashioned way, by knocking on doors and speaking to voters.
Students themselves must play a larger role in City Council. We gripe when City Council drags its feet on installing proper streetlights in our neighborhoods and when it restricts parking in student neighborhoods, but we are always too complacent to actually do something about it. Eugene Kang, then a University student, ran for City Council two years ago and almost won. Other students must follow in his way. Students, along with Ann Arbor’s other residents, have a responsibility to ensure that future elections are more contested and that no one person or viewpoint get a free ride in Ann Arbor politics.