In a 90 percent Democratic Ann Arbor City Council, two of the five represented wards will be contested in the August 6th primary.

Julie Grand, who currently serves as the chair of the city’s Parks Advisory Commission, is challenging incumbent Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3). Jack Eaton, a longtime neighborhood activist and labor attorney, is seeking to unseat Marcia Higgins (D–Ward 4).

While Grand said she has been focusing her efforts on personally connecting with voters by knocking on doors, Kunselman said he is relying on the strength of his record on City Council to carry him through the primary.

Kunselman was first elected to the council in 2006 and has held his seat since, apart from one year in 2008. He said his defeat resulted from distancing himself from Mayor John Hieftje and his supporters.

“(Wanting to be a better communicator is) how I distinguish myself from my opponent,” Grand said. “I know that my opponent hasn’t made really thoughtful decisions on council — he’s just been very divisive … If you’re really listening to your constituents then you have a better idea of what the real issues are in the ward.”

Grand said her focus on availability to constituents — she plans to hold weekly office hours if elected — stems from the fact that she said it’s hard to predict the exact issues that will come up within the next two years.

Grand said she has been able to gain support from numerous Republican residents who agree with her local policy stances regardless of her personal opinions of national-level politics.

“I feel there are very fundamental differences between the two of us (Kunselman and myself),” Grand said. “You don’t pick on an incumbent unless you think you’re presenting a very different approach and vision for the city … he flat-out just said he doesn’t think it’s his job to proactively communicate with his constituents.”

Throughout the race, Kunselman has said Grand’s focus on communication is a sign that she is weaker on the issues.

“I run on issues — I’m a very strong candidate when it comes to a record because I have a record of achievement on City Council,” Kunselman said.

Kunselman said criticisms illustrating him as divisive are counterproductive and unfounded, citing his strong base of supporters who have consistently re-elected him.

In addition, he said Grand’s decision to run was based more on requital than a commitment to the issues, given that her husband has previously worked with Leigh Greden, whom Kunselman unseated in 2009.

“She was basically recruited by them,” Kunselman said. “It’s not about running on issues, it’s about running revenge.”

In addition to “running on issues,” which he says has been central to both his races and service on the council, Kunselman said he wants city government to be more transparent to instill trust in his constituents.

One issue over which Grand and Kunselman appear to see more eye-to-eye on is in their hesitation in encouraging University student candidates to run for City Council.

“(Students are) a vital part of the community but at the same time … are here for the short term and much of what the council does in terms of decisions doesn’t always have the greatest impact on students,” Grand said.

Though Grand added that she wanted the council to be accessible to students.

Kunselman said the fact that students don’t consistently vote is a telling sign that it would be difficult for him to see a student being a representative of the entire city.

“The problem with that whole (issue) is that why do students think they have a right as a special interest group any more so than any other special interest group?” he said. “Do students really interact with the city at large? From my experience, not really.”

Hieftje said he is not willing to endorse either candidate in the Ward 3 race and has a general policy of not endorsing candidates who are challenging incumbents.

Regent Mark Bernstein (D–Ann Arbor) has endorsed Grand.

For the Ward 4 race, Eaton said, like Grand, he decided to run in order to provide better representation for constituents. Last year, he lost in a close race to Margie Teall (D–Ward 4) who is not up for re-election.

“I’ve run both these times because I’m concerned about the direction that our city council is taken over the last five or six years and in recent elections I think we’re beginning to turn the tide … to be more responsive to voters,” Eaton said.

Eaton said if elected, his main priorities will be to work on public safety by bolstering the police and fire departments, which he said have had to cutback due to lack of funding. He said he wants the Police Department to return to staff levels where police officers can provide proactive policing.

Another issue Eaton is passionate about is having students serve on City Council. He said he is willing to help student candidates as they attempt to have their voices heard in the local government, but said they must focus on a larger set of issues other than just campus interests in order to appeal to a broader pool of constituents.

“I’m a 60-year-old guy — I’m not going to say that I understand the agenda of University of Michigan students,” Eaton said. “They need to organize and come to me, or organize and run a candidate or do something to have an impact on the politics.”

Hieftje said he is endorsing Higgins, citing the councilwoman as “someone who I’ve worked with for a very long time” and who’s done a “very good job” in her present position.

Incumbent Marcia Higgins (D–Ward 4) did not return requests for comment.

Other seats up for re-election in November are those currently held by City Council members Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), Jane Lumm (D–Ward 2) and Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5).

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