After some decisive races in the city government Tuesday night, the Washtenaw County probate court race and the Washtenaw County circuit court race were close until the end.
Owdziej wins Probate Court seat
Incumbent Julia Owdziej took the race with 52.71 percent of the vote over Tracy Van den Bergh, who carried 46.65 percent of the vote.
Owdziej, who was appointed to her seat by reelected Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, has served for approximately 15 years as juvenile court referee, managing juvenile abuse and neglect cases. Owdziej, a graduate from Detroit College of Law, has primarily focused on a family law-centered docket and has emphasized her experience as a probate judge throughout her campaign.
“It’s overwhelming. I started doing the job in June, so I am excited to get the docket under control and instead of just feeling like I’m putting out fires I can start to make sure that we are really doing the best that we can with each case, especially in the probate world,” Owdziej said.
Owdziej said despite the close election, she was hopeful following the primary that she would win in the general election.”
“Tracy worked really hard and was out there working really hard so I am not surprised that it was close but I’m also not surprised that I won.”
Van den Bergh stressed her campaign has been positive because of the teamwork from volunteers and the support it has received.
“It has been a campaign filled with energy,” Van den Bergh said. “I’ve had a lot of support. I don’t feel like it’s just my campaign. I feel like it’s my team’s campaign.”
However, Van den Bergh said the campaign had to be stopped because she had two briefs for the Michigan Supreme Court. Van den Bergh said the briefs “required a lot of focus,” but they were eventually completed.
Van den Bergh said her campaign, which canvassed and knocked on about 50,000 doors, was focused on educating voters, instead of running a campaign that focused on a name or incumbency.
“We’ve just tried to run a really grassroots campaign that tells voters basically ‘Listen, I just want them to make a choice with all the facts,’” she said.
Throughout her campaign, Van den Bergh garnered public support from Democratic mayoral nominee Chris Taylor (D-Ward 3), City Council member Stephen Kunselman (D-Ward 3) and Chuck Warpehoski (D-Ward 5). She has also been endorsed by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party.
Regardless of the result, Van den Bergh said that if she accomplished educating voters, she was satisfied.
“It really was a big deal for me to educate people about why the probate court was important (and) why they should consider voting the nonpartisan ballot,” Van den Bergh said.
Van den Bergh graduated from Michigan State University College of Law and has been a practicing attorney, primarily focusing on family law and mental illness cases.
Conlin wins Circuit Court seat
Patrick J. Conlin Jr. carried 51.87 percent of the vote to defeat Veronique Liem, who received 47.51 percent of the vote, according to the votes reported as of 2 a.m. Wednesday morning.
“I am so humbled by the trust voters have put in me, and it was an incredibly close race and I’m proud of the work I’ve done and all of the work Veronique has done,” Conlin said.
Since the primary, the circuit court race has been close. Conlin narrowly beat Liem in the primary, with 44.85 percent of the vote over her 41.32 percent. Since those two candidates received the most votes, they both advanced to last night’s general election.
“I am excited about learning how to be a good judge,” Conlin said. “I’ve had a lot of great people working with me and teaching me and I’m looking forward to working with them.”
Conlin, a Wayne State University Law School graduate, said his campaign was well-rounded.
“One of my campaign managers said, ‘We’ve had the smartest board approach where we’ve done everything,’” Conlin said. “We’ve done social media, traditional media, door knocking (and) calling.”
However, Conlin said a campaign can’t be “perfect,” constantly amounting to daily stress, but he said he couldn’t dwell on the negatives.
“I missed a deadline seeking an endorsement from a union” he said. “They’re frustrating but like everything, you got to just move on.”
Overall, Conlin said his campaign went well because he optimized outreach to constituents.
“I don’t have any regrets because we’ve tried everything,” he said.
Liem, who was endorsed by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party, said her campaign went well, but found out along the way that this race was more than winning a seat.
“I’m very grateful to all the people who have supported me and I am grateful for the experience. It’s been a very fulfilling experience,” Liem said. “I feel I’ve grown a lot as an individual.”
“There were parts of certain things that I felt were said about me, which were not true,” Liem said. “That was difficult.”
Sonja Karnovsky, Liem’s campaign manager, said Liem has been working hard by making phone calls and knocking doors to let people know she is experienced for the circuit court seat.
“It’s actually on the back of the ballot,” Karnovsky said. “It’s so important to make sure that people know who the candidates are and that they have some information and they can make the best choice for the seat.”