Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje met his opponent for the upcoming mayoral election for the first time last night — LSA senior Eric Plourde.
Plourde, a Libertarian, and Hieftje, a Democrat, met about 10 minutes before the pair participated in a debate sponsored by the Community Television Network and the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area, a nonpartisan political organization.
The debate, which consisted of five questions drafted by league members, centered on the contenders’ vision for the city and their qualifications for the job — a topic likely raised in light of the 20-year-old Plourde’s candidacy.
Plourde, who admitted that he is not nearly as experienced as the incumbent Hieftje, said has excelled in his academic endeavors. He cited his positions as president of the College Libertarians and on the executive board of the pre-law fraternity Kappa Alpha Pi.
Hieftje, who was first elected in 2000, cited his previous four terms as mayor and a recent leadership award he earned from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
“I feel like Sarah Palin,” Plourde said before the debate began, referencing his lack of experience in government.
Hieftje said Ann Arbor needs a candidate with experience, who understands the budget because of the current economic recession.
“He clearly has more experience than I do,” Plourde said in an interview after the debate. “I’m trying to run a campaign about how his ideas and my ideas differ.”
Both candidates stressed a need for the city to budget efficiently in light of the faltering economy, though the two disagreed over property tax rates.
Plourde said he’d like to see property taxes cut to encourage businesses to come to the area. He said he’d like to evaluate current city services and cut certain programs to cut spending.
Hieftje said the current tax rates were as low as they could be in order to maintain the quality of life Ann Arbor offers. He cited a 20 percent decrease in the number of city employees as one way he’s made the city more efficient during his eight years as mayor.
“We’re very efficient now,” Hieftje said in an interview after the debate. “We’re as well-positioned as a city could be to weather this storm.”
The candidates were also asked about their views on setting a height cap on buildings in the city, in light of resident dismay over the proposed 601 Forest apartment building on the corner of South University Avenue and Forest Street. At one point the complex was planned to be 25 stories high, though the building is now only 14 stories tall under the current proposal.
Hieftje said he supported a 14-story height cap for the South University area. Plourde said he was against imposing a height cap in the city because he would like to shrink the city’s authority over development in Ann Arbor.
Another question centered on the University’s decision to build a parking structure on Wall Street, across the Huron River from the University Hospital.
Plourde said he wouldn’t try to influence the University’s decisions.
Hieftje, who urged the University to reconsider the project during a University Board of Regents meeting last month, said the city doesn’t have jurisdiction over University decisions, but said he would make efforts to discuss city concerns with the regents.