Ann Arbor residents will head to the polls today for the general city election, where they will vote to seat candidates for two-year terms in each of the city’s five wards.

Only two of the five seats are contested, placing the focus of this year’s elections on the 1st Ward, between incumbent Sabra Briere (D-Ward 1) and independent Mitchell Ozog, and the 4th Ward, which features incumbent Marcia Higgins (D-Ward 4) and LSA senior Hatim Elhady.

Elhady, who is running as an independent, said the issues he dealt with as a student at the University — limited transportation and shady landlords, among other things — emphasized to him the need for student representation on the council.

He said he spoke with many Ann Arbor residents about their concerns, which helped him make the ultimate decision to run in the 4th Ward.

“It was not only the feelings of neglect toward me as a student and resident, but neglect for the homeowners,” Elhady said. “We all shared that commonality for issues … and that motivated me to run.”

Elhady believes that because he is intimately involved with the University — as a student and a former member of the Michigan Student Assembly — he has a leg up on his opponent when it comes to representing the constituents of the 4th Ward. The ward extends from East Madison Street southward past Ann Arbor-Saline Road and includes the Fletcher and South Quad Residence Halls and the Michigan Stadium.

“I know what it’s like being a student and a renter as a (University student),” he said. “I feel that being a student gives me an advantage because I know the resources and people to talk to.”

Higgins, Elhady’s opponent in the 4th Ward, said her experience sets her apart in the contest.

“I have spent decades in Ann Arbor — volunteering for local nonprofits, raising my family and working on city government issues,” she said. “City Council is not a game. It’s a serious business that requires a real understanding of our government and our community.”

Higgins said that if elected, her top priorities include fixing the city’s budget issues and re-zoning the city to “encourage reasonable new growth downtown,” saying that Elhady “opposes a sensible strategy for downtown development.”

Briere, a candidate in the 1st Ward, the other contested seat in the elections, said she hopes to get students more involved with the city government, whether they plan on residing in Ann Arbor just during their education at the University or for their entire lives.

“The students forget that they are also residents,” she said. “They focus so much on being residents of the University that they forget they have the rights of residents of the community as well.”

Briere also said she hopes students can look to City Council members to help them learn their rights and understand legal issues common among college students.

“Students don’t think about how they are treated by the police, how they are treated as adults within the community and how to deal with being a resident when they happen to be arrested,” Briere said.

Briere’s opponent, Ozog, said he has special interest in helping the homeless and in public education, noting he has children enrolled in Ann Arbor public schools.

Ozog, who is a Polish native, also emphasized the importance of bringing people from different backgrounds and cultures into the conversation. He said that if elected, he would work to converse daily with people with different perspectives and bring that knowledge to the council discussions.

Apart from the two contested seats, three wards have candidates who are running unopposed — incumbent Stephen Rapundalo is running in the 2nd Ward, former Councilmember Stephen Kunselman in the 3rd Ward and incumbent Mike Anglin in the 5th Ward.

Rapundalo said his biggest focus on the council next term is going to be the city’s budget, making sure the city balances its books “without really impacting city services too much, if at all.”

Kunselman, like Elhady, highlighted the importance of maintaining an open line of discussion between City Council and the University.

“In terms of this era, it brings about the need for greater cooperation,” Kunselman said. “We’ve certainly seen that when the city and the (University) cooperate they can bring about greater efficiencies and services.”

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