With such a small population going to the polls, every vote can tip the balance in tomorrow’s Ann Arbor City Council Primary elections. The Republican candidates are running unopposed, but for those who are planning on voting Democrat, there is a diverse pool of candidates to choose from. Ann Arbor, like many cities in the country, has faced tough economic decisions, and will likely face even more difficult decisions in the future. It’s important, maybe now more than ever, that the city has the right people sitting on council as it trudges through the hard times ahead.
In Ward 2, incumbent Stephen Rapundalo is being challenged by Tim Hull, a programmer at the University’s Center for Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics and the current head of the city council’s taxicab board. Hull, a 26-year old who holds a master’s degree from the University, empathizes with a community that has a large college population. He is earnest in his desire to scrutinize the city’s budget and cut areas that aren’t personnel or employees. While this platform is noble and deserves attention, the unfortunate reality of city finances and his lack of public experience may prevent him from effectively making the changes to which he is committed.
Rapundalo has been on the City Council for years and has an extensive knowledge of city finances and governance. Recently, though, Rapundalo was in the minority of city council dissenters on the long awaited mandate of the local medical marijuana ordinances, but his desires for a perfect plan may have hampered a solution that was well overdue. This, along with his endorsement of the couch ban, are actions that reveal some of the poor policy decisions he should avoid revisiting. Despite these shortcomings, Rapundalo’s experience in the coming years will be a stronger asset than Hull’s good will. The incumbent is similarly committed to cutting expenditures and wants to go about it in the least painful way possible. If he is elected, he would do well to remember that cutting employees is the most painful way to balance the budget. The Michigan Daily endorses Stephen Rapundalo for Ward 2.
Neal Elyakin, supervisor of young adult programs for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and a member of the Ann Arbor Human Rights commission, is challenging incumbent Mike Anglin in Ward 5. Elyakin has a vision of Ann Arbor where all branches of government and governmental organizations work congruently while looking twenty years down the road. He goes to great lengths to emphasize this goal, but he needs specific plans to coincide with the visions of a greater Ann Arbor years down the road. Elyakin also proposes the experimentation of property taxes on the University, which could spell trouble for an institution that is already strapped for cash. This measure could lead to higher tuition, less growth within the city and even less amicable interaction between Ann Arbor and its biggest financial wellspring. Elyakin wants to take a very moderate and pragmatic approach to each issue, which is commendable, but there should be some areas where one has conviction and wants to push projects to fruition. He has a lot of ideas and a lot of questions, but Elyakin seems to lack the answers.
On the other side of Ward 5’s ballot, Anglin wants to bring the Ann Arbor community together on decisions that occur in the present. He wants to improve the council’s transparency by creating a committee that would take in public perspective and input before various items reach City Council. He also favors bringing students and the City Council together and looks for a broader dialogue with all residents of Ann Arbor. He wishes to focus on safety, though with recent laws like the city’s ban on porch couches, he may be taking his concerns too far. Elyakin has some laudable qualities that should be present in a city councilmen, but his proposed platform doesn’t bring enough concrete ideas to the table. The Michigan Daily endorses Mike Anglin for Ward 5.
In the third ward, there are two challengers to the incumbent Stephen Kunselman. Running for his third term, Kunselman wants to focus on what he believes are the chief roles of city council: utility, safety and well-being. He doesn’t believe City Council should be a force for generating business and instead wants to keep the focus simpler. While all of his outlined priorities should be primary concerns of the council, the importance of business and development in Ann Arbor should not be forgotten. Ingrid Ault, executive director of Think Local First, differs greatly from Kunselman’s view and wants to flex the council’s ability to rescue business within the city. One of her primary concerns is raising the amount of affordable housing, something the city desperately needs more of. Housing prices gouge students, and while many candidates simply defer to market forces, Ault is committed to bringing more housing options to the table. She believes in engaging with students actively and thoroughly, something other city councilmen have neglected in the past. However, she is not without her shortcomings. Her lack of knowledge on the medical marijuana ordinances and a paucity of attention on issues other than city economics obscures many future policies she may vote on as a councilwomen.
Marwan Issa, technology director at Global Education Excellence and a longtime resident of Ann Arbor who holds a master’s degree from the University, has the most commendable policy platform for his City Council candidacy. He endorses the long overdue medical marijuana ordinances and is extremely critical of personnel cuts in the police and fire departments. Marwan has a liberal view of personal freedom and also strives to make citizens safer — not with parental measures like the couch ban, but by maintaining strong police and fire forces in Ann Arbor. Issa may find the current economic situation is tougher when he is at the helm than when he is campaigning (as he will have to clash with hard bargaining unions), but with a little leeway from the unions and some other clever measures, he may be able to do what other councilman have not. A new face on the council and a new point of view may be just what the council needs to act on some previously unexplored options. The Michigan Daily endorses Marwan Issa for the Ward 5.
A familiarity with the current budget and government process is important, but a new candidate is necessary to break the current status quo. There should be more than austerity in Ann Arbor’s future, and new faces and ideas will be what pushes the city in a new direction.