With students’ opinions in mind, the Ann Arbor City Council candidates discussed with The Michigan Daily the important issues surrounding tomorrow’s City Council primary election.
Ward 2 candidates emphasize student outreach
While both Ward 2 candidates said the need for increasing dialogue between the council and the student body is crucial to improving the community, City Council member Stephen Rapundalo (D–Ward 2) said he has a record of facilitating such discourse, particularly due to his past work in student government.
“I have quite a record of supporting students and student issues, part of that goes back to when I was student government president,” Rapundalo said. “I’m a little bit more sensitive to student issues than most of my colleagues.”
He added the city needs to improve the quality of its services, but he defended public safety officials in their handling of recent sexual assaults near campus. He added that the perception that there are not enough police officers patrolling Ann Arbor’s streets following recent layoffs is invalid.
Referring to the recent string of assaults, Rapundalo’s challenger, Tim Hull, a programmer at the University’s Center for Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics and a member of the city’s taxicab board, said now is not a time to cut public safety. Instead, administrative and capital expenses need to be evaluated and reduced, he said.
Hull added an important part of his campaign is ensuring students feel involved in the council’s actions.
“I feel like sometimes students feel left out of the city’s affairs,” Hull said. “I feel like sometimes their concerns are neglected because they’re just students.”
Kunselman says race is all about the Downtown Development Authority
City Council member Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) said he takes a firm stance against the city’s Downtown Development Authority, which he said is “running rampant” with spending and has caused the city to incur $140 million in debt.
“They have been spending more public dollars then they have received in the last four years,” Kunselman said. “(The DDA) is projected to do so again as they’re drawing down their fund reserves to an irresponsible low.”
Kunselman specifically cited the decision to construct an underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue between East William Street and East Liberty Street as a result of poor judgment by the DDA, adding that it financially turned the community “upside down.”
Kunselman accused the DDA of trying to force him out of office, noting three of the endorsements held by one of his challengers — Ingrid Ault, executive director of Think Local First — are DDA board members, including City Council member Sandi Smith (D–Ward 1).
“This election has turned into my calling out the irresponsible spending of the DDA,” Kunselman said. “And they in turn are trying to remove me as an elected official.”
He added because the city is in debt, financial cuts to services like public safety were unavoidable.
“Unfortunately, the cuts are necessary because we don’t have the money,” Kunselman said. “We’ve got a yoke of debt burden around the city financial budget.”
While Ault acknowledged that public safety cuts were essential, she said the unions that represent firefighters and police officers need to make more compromises in their negotiations.
Kunselman’s other challenger, Marwan Issa, technology director at Global Education Excellence, criticized public safety cuts made by the city.
“We shouldn’t be cutting safety,” Issa said. “Our students expect to be safe.”
Issa has proposed the University subsidize education and healthcare for Ann Arbor residents facing “temporary economic hardship.” He added the University Hospital — a non-profit organization — has enough funds to perform healthcare for residents “pro bono.”
Ward 5 council candidates say student involvement is key
Council member Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) said it is critical that students understand council members are always available to them if they need assistance.
Anglin said while the council tries to address student issues, there is not always continual dialogue — something that is important in order for change in the city to occur.
“I need students to know they can contact me,” Anglin said.
When asked about recent student concern over a lack of proper lighting in the Oxford Road area — most notably brought to council by the Greek community and Michigan Student Assembly officials following a string of armed robberies in January — Anglin expressed concern that the council has not taken action to resolve the issue, calling the area “spooky” for residents walking alone at night.
Anglin said the responsibility of lighting the Oxford area, as well as other areas with high student populations, should ultimately fall on landlords.
“If there is student housing or someone’s renting to a student, they should be required to install a light in the street,” Anglin said. “If everybody’s got a light on the street, then the student areas will be much better than they are now.”
Ward 5 challenger Neal Elyakin, supervisor of young adult programs for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and a member of the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission, said he isn’t familiar with the details regarding lighting issues near Oxford. Despite his lack of knowledge on the issue, he said the city should listen to student concerns.
In addition to making it a priority to address student issues, Elyakin said council members must look toward the future and explore opportunities for economic development, mass transit and other ventures.
He added the city should embark upon increased collaborations with the University in an effort to achieve these objectives.
“I think it’s ineffective for us, meaning the city, to say that the University of Michigan is not a good partner,” Elyakin said. “I don’t think that’s an effective way of creating positive relationships with the largest employer (in the city).”