In preparation for the 2022 midterm election on Nov. 8, The Michigan Daily sat down with candidates in the Ann Arbor City Council race to discuss their background, experience and goals for office. All races are uncontested with the exception of Ward 5. 

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Cynthia Harrison (Ward 1)

The Michigan Daily: Could you talk about what got you interested in running for city council?

Cynthia Harrison: A couple of years ago, I was watching city council meetings on Zoom — basically the start of the pandemic. I was honestly put off by.  the fact that there was not anybody at the table that looked like me. These are individuals that are thinking of policy and procedure, and as a Black woman who was born and raised here, I just found that to be a little bit off putting that there was not anyone at the table that could represent my perspective. So that was the initial thing that got me thinking about it.

TMD: In terms of preparing yourself for this position, are there any previous experiences that motivated you to run for city council?

CH: I have been involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Washtenaw County since 2015. Also, I was part of the community of members that was involved with the development of what, at the time, was a task force back in 2015 for the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission. I am now a commissioner on ICPOC but I will be resigning this week because I can’t serve as a commissioner and also be on city council. There is a bit of history on that … back when I was a community member trying to get the task force developed. My experiences as a Black woman growing up, born and raised in the city of Ann Arbor, seeing the Black community — seeing friends, peers and family members — pushed out of the city of Ann Arbor is problematic for me. 

TMD: Could you talk a bit about the most important points in your platform?

CH: My platform is based around harm reduction. It’s about supporting our most vulnerable citizens, period. Anybody that follows me or paid any attention to my campaign or my platform knows I’m concerned about the folks that we leave behind in this town, folks who suffer from mental illness, folks who have been caught up in the criminal legal system and justice-impacted folks — the people that have a tendency to fall between the cracks here in this town.

TMD: Is there anything specific you want to say to college students as they get ready to vote in the upcoming election?

CH: Housing insecurity is a major concern of mine when it comes to our residents. I recognize that some of the renter issues overlap with the students, but a lot of the renter issues that I’m concerned about kind of apply to the more general population, or the population that I was talking about earlier: justice impacted folks that suffer from mental illness and folks that are most likely to be discriminated against. I recognize that there are a lot of issues when it comes to renting with the students. When students are trying to get their education, it’s crucial that they also have secure housing, and they don’t have to worry about affordable housing and security. I also want for students to be able to afford to live here. 

Black and brown folks (are being) marginalized — those are the folks that have gotten pushed out of this town historically. With the policies that have happened over decades, it can’t be changed in just a four-year term. Everything I can do with the time that I’m given, I certainly will, and with the tools that I’m provided, I definitely will do everything I can. 

I’m also concerned about the criminal legal system and concerned about keeping folks out of the criminal legal system. America uses our jails and prisons to basically care for those who suffer from mental illness, and … we need to deflect them from getting arrested and going to jail. We need to get them to the treatment facilities, we need to get them in front of the right people for the treatment and the help that they need. We really need to be able to treat the root cause of what may be causing this person to make bad decisions. We need to not use mass incarceration to be treating somebody who may suffer from a mental illness or have a disability. This is America, this is how we normally treat this population — by jailing them. I am concerned about harm reduction at the very beginning, which is a police call or a police stop.

TMD: Why do you believe that students should vote for you?

CH: I believe that students should vote for me because I am somebody who is very familiar with this city. I got a lot of scars being a Black woman of my age, and somebody who has been lucky enough to live in a very beautiful town. It’s a beautiful city. It’s filled with beautiful parks. It’s filled with some nice amenities. But there are some things that we need to work on. One thing … (that) is also very important to me, is transit equity. I’m very concerned with making sure that we have multimodal means of transportation and that we have safe transportation. I’m talking about pedestrians being able to walk places, ride bikes and I think I would like to see some policies surrounding safer means of transportation … Students and everyone should be able to get around safely, whether that’s by foot, by bike (or) public transit. I think that’s a major concern of mine and I, as somebody who was born and raised here, I have the experience of riding the bus, using public transportation (and) biking. 

As a parent, here’s the other thing I think about. As a parent, if my child is away at school, I don’t want to have to worry about whether or not they can safely cross the street. As a parent, I don’t want to be miles away from my child who is trying to get their education and worry about whether or not they can get the class safely. So that’s a major concern for me. Housing and transit intersect and these are issues that I would really like to work on for our students for generations to come. Another thing is students, regardless of what degree they get, I would hope that the city of Ann Arbor — if they happen to really like it here — that it would be affordable for them to live here. I recognize that sometimes depending on what degree you get, you may be fortunate enough to have a career that can afford you to live in this city. So affordability and housing is, again, a huge issue for me.

Daily Staff Reporter Sejal Patil can be reached at sejpatil@umich.edu.

Chris Watson (Ward 2)

The Michigan Daily: Why are you interested in running for city council?

Chris Watson: I was inspired to run mostly based on my experience. So growing up here, I got involved in high school with political organizing. I was actually a canvass coordinator in Ward 2. I got involved in community service locally working at the breakfast program with my church, and I continue to be involved in that organization to this day. The final thing is just coming here. As in coming back, making the choice to come back to Ann Arbor. I’ve just seen the difficulty of securing housing firsthand, and I’m inspired to work on issues that will make Ann Arbor more affordable to have a broader section of Ann Arborites. That’ll encourage us to keep and retain the young people that we educate here. 

TMD: Are there any other previous experiences that prepared you for this position?

CW: First and foremost, I work for the American Mathematical Society. I work in Data Management where we’re rebuilding a database called MathSciNet that provides services related to mathematical literature and sells those to universities. My educational background is: I have a degree in economics from Yale University. I worked in politics for Students for a New American Politics, where we worked on fellowships for students who wanted to get involved in congressional campaigns. So there’s a little bit of political experience, there’s experience on the board of St. Andrew’s Church here in Ann Arbor, and then there’s professional experience working with data and working for the nonprofit, the American Mathematical Society.

TMD: Could you talk a little bit about your platform and what are the main, or most important, points?

CW: Yeah, let’s just start off by stating my whole platform. It’s investing in infrastructure and the basic services the city provides to residents, improving the affordability and access to housing in our community and implementing policy to reach our climate goals that the city has set out in our A2ZERO plan.

TMD: And then talking more specifically to college students, is there anything you want to say to college students about the impact that you’re going to have specifically on this community?

CW: When I think about college students, I think about my experiences as an Ann Arborite, think about the difficulty of securing housing. I think about the high rental prices and the challenges of affordability here. I also think about your plans after graduation and the number of students who want to stay and sometimes feel like they have to go to the coast or go to somewhere where they can make a high enough wage job to one day dream of moving back but can’t can’t afford to stay here immediately after graduation. So when I think about how my policies affect students, it’s largely through the lens of affordability, but I also think about the community spaces in Ann Arbor and the vibrant diversity that we want which includes supporting a more thriving local business sector and a place where people can connect and students can come together off campus as well as on campus. So I see the connection broadly. For students to have a good experience at the University, Ann Arbor has to do its part to provide a thriving city that people want to come to.

TMD: Why do you believe that students should vote for you in the upcoming election?

CW: First of all, as the youngest person on council, the issues of students are very close to my heart. When I think about how I got involved in politics, it was working with students on campaigns as organizers, and I’ve also had the opportunity to work with students who worked on my campaign as well. But as young people here, we’re all facing those same issues. We’re facing the issues of housing affordability, we’re thinking about climate change, we’re thinking about a city and an economy that has become less affordable and harder to establish ourselves in when you think about the prices of buying a home and the prospect of renting it at ever higher rates. So the policies that I pursue, I’ll always be thinking of it through that lens which includes equity, diversity and making this community more inclusive and more livable for a broader swath of Ann Arborites.

Daily Staff Reporter Sejal Patil can be reached at sejpatil@umich.edu

Ayesha Ghazi Edwin (Ward 3)

The Michigan Daily: What is your work title, and where are you from? 

Ayesha Ghazi Edwin: I’m a deputy director of the organization Detroit Disability Power, and I’m an adjunct faculty member at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. I grew up in Ann Arbor. My family immigrated here from England. We’re Indian immigrants, but we came via England when I was three years old. I went first to Northside Elementary School and then Logan Elementary School and then Clague Middle School. I graduated from Huron High School in 2003.

TMD: Why are you interested in running for city council?

AGE: I’m interested specifically because I want our city to be an exceptional place to live for everyone, not just some people. I don’t think it should ever be so difficult for working families or non-working people to live and be successful here. My main priorities are affordable housing, making sure our city is accessible for people with disabilities and that we stay really focused on our priorities of racial and economic equity. 

TMD: In terms of your position and platform, how have your previous experiences prepared you for this position?

AGE: I’ve been working in social justice with progressive movements for my entire life. I have a social work degree from the University of Michigan, and the second I graduated I started working for a Native American organization in Detroit called American Indian Health and Family Services. I learned about the forced displacement by the federal government of Native Americans in Michigan for reservations, and that really had a profound impact on me. I then became the clinic director. 

From there, I worked for the AFL-CIO on a ballot initiative to try collective bargaining rights in our state’s constitution, basically, to protect working people. I’ve worked for several other labor campaigns. I’m a current union member now and I’ll actually be the first Lecturers’ Employee Organization Union member in our city council’s history. Then I started working for different Asian American organizations. Like I said, I’m Indian. I think exploring that identity, dispelling the model minority myth and finding other people who relate to my journey of being an immigrant — I’m also from a diverse religious and racial family — was really important. 

I ended up being an executive director of an organization called American Citizens for Justice, which was founded by the family of Vincent Chin who was murdered in Highland Park, Mich. in a horrific hate crime in the ’80s. It was the first federal hate crime case to ever include an Asian American. Initially, they were like ‘Nope, we’re not going to call it a hate crime. We’re just going to find these people.’ Working for that organization, APIA Vote, was really influential on me. I ended up joining as a commissioner on the state’s commission for Asian Americans called Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission. I then became the governor appointed chair, which I currently hold. 

We have the second largest population of Asian Americans in the state. So it’s been really helpful getting to know the equity issues that exist among marginalized populations of Asian Americans who don’t often get heard. Then, on a more big picture scale, I would say growing up and visiting India every two years profoundly shaped my understanding of privilege and economic inequity and just how toxic capitalism is and can be. And that if I had privilege, if I had resources, it was my duty to give back.

TMD: Could you talk about your platform and what you believe to be the most important point of your platform?

AGE: There’s a few most important points, but I think one is economic equity, making sure we’re taking care and building a city that low-wage working people can live in. I want to make sure that we really prioritize and strengthen unions, and make sure that we take workers’ complaints seriously. I think that we need to build more mixed-income, multi-family housing and more dense housing along public transit lines. We need to do away with our zoning policies that are really founded in historic racially discriminatory housing laws that have shaped the landscape and the demographics of who lives where, and who can live where, and it’s really just hurting all of us.

I would say making our city more walkable and bicycle friendly is also important. I work for a disability policy organization, and we’ve researched that when you don’t have bikeable and walkable infrastructure it’s worse for specifically marginalized populations. People who are oppressed, who are poor, or who are people of Color are more likely than others to be victims of car accidents and pedestrian victims. 

Climate change also disproportionately impacts people who are oppressed and marginalized identities and I think all of these issues and my work has really taught me this.

TMD: Is there anything you want to say specifically to college students, about the work you’re doing and how it’s going to directly impact them?

AGE: I hope to be a strong advocate and an ally for our students here at the University. I think that we have not made it easy for students to be able to live here in general. As a LEO member who already works for the University, I want to hear about some of their concerns with how the University can be a better partner with the city and with some of our most vulnerable residents, which include students.  

If I could go back in time and tell myself one thing, it’s get involved in your city, because you can have a huge impact. Here we see advocates who are students who will help to move change on policies. I know the reason why I ended up running is because I joined the Human Rights Commission and I started to learn about the layers of inequity in various places in the city. I would say to get involved in boards and commissions. Apply. You’re not too young, you’re not too inexperienced. Use your knowledge of living here, the lived experience, to hopefully better the lives of others.

TMD: Why do you think students should vote for you? What can you bring to the table that maybe other candidates can’t?

AGE: I think what I bring to the table is experience living here as a student. Being a townie here, I bring multiple perspectives because I’ve been a student and now being a working mom of two kids — a 16 month old and a four year old — and trying to raise a family here. And we’re not rich. I know that populations like students who could be exploited, I know that their voice needs to be central in conversations about policy change. So I guess my message is, I hope to reflect and advocate a lot of the issues that students and community experience and find a better way that their voices are represented in our government and in our policymaking.

Daily Staff Reporter Sejal Patil can be reached at sejpatil@umich.edu

Dharma Akmon (Ward 4)

The following interview was conducted over email.

The Michigan Daily: What are your name, title, pronouns, what are you running for and where are you from?

Dharma Akmon: Dharma Akmon, Assistant Research Scientist at UM-ISR, she/her, Ann Arbor City Council Ward 4. Originally born in Houghton, MI, I grew up in Lake Leelanau and have lived in Ann Arbor for 20 years.

TMD:  Why are you interested in running for this position? 

DA: I care deeply about this community and have long been engaged in public service in Ann Arbor, most recently as a Trustee at the Ann Arbor District Library. I’m running for City Council because the issues I care most about — for example, excellent city services, housing affordability, and safe, accessible transportation — are being decided at the City Council table.

TMD: How have your previous experiences prepared you for this position?

DA: At UM-ICPSR, I’ve been responsible for directing two units comprising almost 40 staff. I’ve established myself as a tenacious problem-solver who can effectively work across differences and use communication to build relationships. As a Trustee at the Ann Arbor District Library, I’ve overseen the development and implementation of a new strategic plan and managed a $17M annual budget, capital improvement, and expansion planning. This experience and set of skills will lend themselves well to serving on City Council.

TMD: Tell me about your platform. What are the most important points?

DA: Two key areas of my platform are housing affordability and transportation. We’re in a housing crisis where too many people who work in Ann Arbor can’t afford to live here, pushing them into surrounding communities where they must commute to earn a living. 

Making a meaningful impact on this problem will require co-equal attention to 3 strategies that I look forward to advancing on City Council:

-the creation of abundant housing of all types, especially through gentle-density approaches which are largely absent from new developments today. 

-Strong tenant protections and their enforcement.

-Assisting people who make below the average median income by subsidizing housing costs. I strongly support the use of city-owned land to build developments that would provide below-market-rate options.

Transportation is a key part of my platform because the options we have for moving around tie directly to carbon emissions reduction efforts, affordability, equity, and accessibility. Speaking personally, my ability to forgo car ownership was critical to my ability to support myself as a first-generation college student and restaurant worker. We’re very fortunate to live in a city with a vibrant, walkable downtown, a solid bus system, and a growing protected bike network, but we can do a better job to create a safer, more sustainable, accessible, and equitable transportation system for everyone. For example, Ann Arbor’s roads are in terrible repair and need to be fixed. As we do so, I want to make sure that we’re implementing engineering designs that address dangerous driving behaviors and advance safety for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike. 

TMD: Is there anything you want to say to college students?

DA: As someone who was not paying much attention to local politics as a graduate student here, I’ve been really impressed with student involvement on local issues such as tenant protections, housing affordability, and climate action. So I would say get and stay involved. Vote in the local primary elections, show up to City Council meetings, and speak up on the issues that impact you, because you’re an important part of this community and your voice matters.

TMD: Why should students vote for you?

DA: Students should vote for me because I have firsthand experience with and I’m ready to get to work on the issues that directly impact them. Issues like housing affordability and tenant protections require leaders who understand the real-world impacts of failing to act and who have the skill and determination to enact meaningful policy reform. If elected, I look forward to continued engagement with students.

Daily News Editor Shannon Stocking can be reached at sstockin@umich.edu.

Jonathan Hoard (Ward 5)

The Michigan Daily:  What are your name, title and pronouns, what are you running for and where are you from?

Jonathan Hoard: So my name is Jonathan Hoard. I’m a producer and a DJ. I’m a guy, so I forgot how you say that — he/him/his. I was born in Pontiac, Michigan. And I moved to Ann Arbor. I grew up around Pontiac and the Detroit suburbs. I moved to Ann Arbor around 2001. I’m running for Ann Arbor City Council Ward 5.

TMD: Why are you interested in running for this position? 

Hoard: I just felt like I needed to do something and this seemed like the best way to do it … Ever since I was a kid — I don’t know why — I’ve been fascinated with macroeconomics, with the financial system, how everything works and why things are going this way and things going that way … It’s a science. That’s the science that I like, so I study and study and study like crazy, read whatever I can read. I have a few favorite economics professors that I follow. Then all of a sudden, it just hit me … Our financial system is, I mean, I don’t even know the word for it, but it’s not secure.

TMD: How have your previous experiences prepared you for this position?

Hoard: I was born in 1968, and I grew up in the ‘70s. Things were pretty good. It felt like you had a foundation under your feet. You felt like you were going somewhere, like the future looked pretty good and you were pretty happy to be an American. I remember that. Especially around Fourth of July, when we had the fireworks downtown and everything on the Detroit River … And the ‘80s just felt pretty patriotic. You’re pretty happy about the country you’re in. So I think through my age … it’s allowed me to see these shifts. Back then, it was totally different than now. Mainly that I’m talking about that sense of hope or optimism is less now.

TMD:  Tell me about your platform. What are the most important points?

Hoard: My headline now is … extreme fiscal responsibility, because the debt base expansion we’ve been living under is just perpetuating the problem … When I started, a lot of people were like, “What are you talking about?” So it took me some time to relate that into local kinds of things. I want to stop inflation … stop inflationary expansion and focus on preserving the community we have. I think we’re growing too quickly. These high rises that they want to pass and all that — it’s just too much. We don’t want to get ourselves into more debt. 

Alright, what else? Secure public safety, clean water, energy and shelter. Maybe explore self-sustaining supply chains, like build ties with farmers around the city, become more self-sufficient, because I don’t think we’re going to be able to rely on the external system. 


What else? Develop independence and teach farming, engineering and how to grow healthy to our kids, teach them how to build stuff and do things. That’s what part of the problem is, those raw skills of being able to make something I think are really important for kids.

My last bullet is to provide city-sponsored disco dance parties once a month … Everyone comes down and hangs out together and it’s a good time. It’s like community building. It doesn’t have to be disco or whatever. You’d have a DJ or music and there’s lights and it’s nice. Just that sense of community.

TMD:  Is there anything you want to say to college students?

Hoard: When I go canvassing, I think about all the people I meet, who I connect with … I just want you guys to stand up and fight back … but it’s very complicated and it’s hard to understand how it all works. The financial system and the banks and the Federal Reserve —  it’s a really difficult entity to wrap your head around and it takes a while to understand it. I think a lot of people don’t know … (that) our wealth in our homes (is) being taken away from us. 

I was canvassing up Spring (Street) yesterday and talking to this guy, and this is what he was telling me. He goes, ‘We’ve been here like 30 years, and we’re not moving … because there’s no way. We moved in here when we graduated, and there’s no way someone’s getting these homes that are like $650,000 or $700,000 up Spring (Street).’ And they’re not mansions. They’re nice, but they’re supposed to be for ordinary citizens, common homes for the common people. But now they’re completely out of reach. And the only way you would be able to get them is if you borrowed a bunch of money. Things aren’t like the way they used to be.

TMD:  Why should students vote for you?

Hoard: Yeah, I don’t know how to do that. I mean, other than the disco dance parties. Let’s see. Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I think red and blue don’t work anymore. I like to think that this is like a purple party, and … my show WCBN used to be called the purple party. I think we need to not blame the other side all the time. Because it’s just dividing us even further. The only way to keep us together is to come together, right? Go purple.

Daily Staff Reporter Brooke Halak can be reached at bhalak@umich.edu.

Jenn Cornell (Ward 5)

TMD: Why are you interested in running for the Ann Arbor City Council?  

Jenn Cornell: I’m running for city council because I believe in Ann Arbor and its potential to be a more welcoming place to people from all backgrounds who share a common vision for a vibrant community. To me, community means neighborhoods with a variety of options for housing and transportation, a strong school system, excellent public services, safe streets and neighbors respecting and helping each other. It means green spaces where people can come together and children can play. It means finding what we have in common and leading with dignity and respect. 

TMD: How have your previous experiences prepared you for this elected position? 

JC: I am proud to have started two businesses in the city — a marketing agency and a weightlifting gym — and the experience of being an entrepreneur is a significant lesson in how to hustle and get things done. From fundraising to managing operations, budgeting to team building, project and budget management to collaboration, starting and running a business taught me a lot of skills that will be valuable on city council. As a mom with kids in elementary, middle school and high school here in Ann Arbor, I also bring that perspective to council. Combined, my previous experiences will benefit my neighbors and the city as I focus on working with my colleagues to make sure city spending and initiatives reflect our shared values, especially in areas related to increasing our housing supply and making sure Ann Arbor is friendly to all commuters.     

TMD: Tell us about your platform. What are the most important points? 

JC: My platform is largely influenced by my concern for the environment. I am supportive of the city’s A2Zero work and efforts to achieve carbon neutrality.  

Housing is one of the most important issues Ann Arbor is currently facing and is absolutely an environmental issue … Bottom line: We simply do not have enough housing to accommodate the demand, and the demand is not going away. Currently, tens of thousands of people who want to live and work in Ann Arbor can’t. Our city has a structural deficit that is a result of the costs of doing business outpacing revenue, and we are behind in advancing infrastructure projects that would make our city more livable. People who work in Ann Arbor and can’t afford to live here and spend their paychecks getting to work. People commuting here for work increases traffic, increases the need for parking, and makes our city less safe for people who want to walk, bike or take transit to get where they need to be. 

Enabling thoughtful development is the key to addressing these problems — creating spaces where more people can live does not decrease property value and, in fact, increases tax revenue available to city government for projects like road improvements, parks, affordable housing and other quality of life initiatives that are universally valuable.  

I am also supportive of the Downtown Development Authority’s work to make downtown more accessible to all commuters versus being car-centric. I would like to see work to repair streets and sidewalks city-wide be accelerated, and am also supportive of the work the city is doing to address traffic calming, which studies have repeatedly shown makes roads safer for everyone.  

TMD: Is there anything you want to say to college students? 

JC: Please vote! Your voice is important and needs to be heard. On a personal note, I believe that my values around housing here in Ann Arbor align with concerns students have related to affordability and sustainability here in the city.  

TMD: Why should students vote for you? 

JC: I care deeply about Ann Arbor being an equitable, diverse and welcoming city for citizens and visitors alike. I recognize that students who might want to stay here after graduating might not see themselves as part of our community in that way because of the lack of housing available to them, and I want to be part of changing that for the future. I also care deeply about our environment and the health of our planet and will work hard to ensure we are thoughtfully and as aggressively as possible reducing our collective carbon footprint by supporting A2Zero.

Daily News Editor Shannon Stocking can be reached at sstockin@umich.edu.