In a city where the City Council wards split Ann Arbor’s student population five ways, LSA senior Zachary Ackerman declared his candidacy Tuesday for a seat on the Ann Arbor City Council.
Ackerman, a Democrat and Ann Arbor native, will run in Ward 3 for a seat currently held by Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3).
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Ackerman said by age 15 he had already found a passion for local government and was inspired by his experience shadowing Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor (D), then a city councilmember.
Ackerman said his interest in civic engagement played a key role in moving him toward running for city council.
Now 21 years old, Ackerman will graduate from the University in December — a semester late due to a brief stint working as a deputy field director for Rep. Debbie Dingell’s campaign during the second half of 2014.
After leading a volunteer group during Taylor’s campaign for mayor last year, Ackerman said his experience working on various campaigns has taught him the importance of dedication to one’s constituents.
“You learn how to really engage in the community and you learn how to really be active and present, and you learn that combination of thoughtfulness, open-mindedness, and a data-driven, progressive approach to governance,” he said.
When deciding whether to run, Ackerman considered what he could offer to the community. He said he aspires to be a leader, but one that promotes civic engagement rather than a personal agenda.
“As a civic leader, I want to make municipal government more accessible and understandable to constituents,” Ackerman said. “We need to invest primarily in our infrastructure and basic services. We can’t do those things well enough. As a community leader, I want to make Ann Arbor more accessible and attractive to residents. To achieve that quality of life, we need to invest in our people.”
Ackerman said the type of people the city caters to and attracts is important, and subsequently he hopes his more youthful perspective will provide insights into how the city can best attract and keep young professionals. He also emphasized that he is interested in collaboration and respecting differing ideas — values he said reflect the spirit of Ann Arbor.
Vying for the seat held by incumbent Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3), Ackerman said he aspires to bring open-mindedness to City Council.
“I find (Kunselman) to be not necessarily the most collaborative person, and I think a lot of people who work in city politics, including city staff, and a lot of residents would agree with that. I don’t think he comes to the table with a sense of open-mindedness that I believe is necessary to help make Ann Arbor fully functional.”
Kunselman did not wish to comment on these remarks at this time, but said he is planning to run a full, competitive campaign for re-election in the coming months.
Ackerman said one issue he has noticed that requires more attention is homelessness and the resources available to create more permanent solutions, including shelters and affordable housing.
“We have to make sure Ann Arbor is accessible to anyone who wants to call Ann Arbor home,” he said.
In addition to considering new locations for possible affordable housing units, Ackerman said the Delonis Center — a shelter that offers temporary housing for those who need it — could be restructured to better serve Washtenaw County residents. The shelter is currently funded in part by the state, which means it has to accept any Michigan resident.
“(The Delonis Center) has become the homeless shelter for the greater southeast area,” Ackerman said. “We need to take a look at how we fund the Delonis Center in a way that allows us to focus on Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor residents so that we can provide not only a temporary shelter for people but also any social support they need while on their way to permanent housing and a place in Ann Arbor’s workforce.”
Ackerman said encouraging an increase in affordable housing — an issue he said he will approach with a unique perspective — is necessary in Ann Arbor.
Amid lengthy debate, City Council has been working to update zoning protocols, an issue Taylor emphasized during the mayoral race and one Ackerman agreed still requires attention. The construction of high-rise apartment buildings has attracted extensive debate in recent years.
Considering both student needs and residential needs, Ackerman said he is prepared to come to the table with fresh ideas and a unique outlook in the conversation about housing and downtown development.
“I think there were some oversights in the zoning process that began in 2007,” Ackerman said. “Zoning can be done better to make sure Ann Arbor stays the historic and attractive skyline we want — like considering a buffer zone between residents and downtown, staggering heights, things like that.”
Ackerman also suggested finding innovative approaches to affordable housing, such as promoting accessory units, or small dwellings attached to single-family homes that are often rented at more affordable rates.
“This is just supplemental, but it’s creative and communal,” he said. “There are a lot of issues at play when you talk about affordability and the student body. “
As an employee of the University’s Information and Technology Services, Ackerman said he hopes his knowledge and perspective will help bring Ann Arbor as a city into the 21st century.
“In terms of road repair, there are a lot more proactive measures that we can take.” he said. “In terms of problem reporting, places like Jackson are experimenting with civic applications for your phones.”
Ackerman said there is a noticeable divide among members of Council, preventing the body from taking more progressive initiatives.
“I would say that AA politics is more factionalized than it has been,” Ackerman said.”There are those that want to take a forward looking lens to municipal government and there are those who want to look at the short term and what will serve their benefit in the immediate.”
Students have struggled to secure a seat on Council for years. The Mixed Use party focused on adopting a more relaxed zoning code, and ran several several University students for Council in the 2013 election. In 2014, LSA freshman Sam McMullen ran for a seat on council as well. These attempts proved unsuccessful.
This year, University alum Will Leaf, a former co-chair of the Mixed Use party, will run also for a seat on council.
According to a Daily analysis last month, 14.72 percent of Ward 3 consists of students who are registered voters. Of the 7,000 students registered to vote, only 1,900 voted in the 2014 Ann Arbor election.
Ackerman, however, said he won’t be relying too heavily on student support at the polls, but rather hopes to reach out to community members in his ward, running a grassroots campaign and going door-to-door.