For nine months of the year, I reside in Ann Arbor — a city that’s truly thriving, or as thriving as any city can be in this economy. For the other three months of the year, I live in the outskirts of Detroit — a city that’s been locked in a downward spiral for years, but one that I can’t help but feel some affection for. And as I learned the results of the primary elections for the city councils of the two communities I care about, I couldn’t help but notice a hopeful trend toward better government.

In Tuesday’s Democratic primary, incumbent City Council member Leigh Greden (D—Ward 3) failed to secure the Democratic nomination to run for re-election in the Nov. 3 general election, where a severe lack of competition from Republicans would mean a guaranteed win. He lost to former City Council member Stephen Kunselman by just six votes.

I for one expected Greden to easily win the primary. He spent twice as much as his opponents — Kunselman and LuAnne Bullington, both veterans of City Council races — according to AnnArbor.com (Election 2009: Mike Anglin, Leigh Greden lead the pack with campaign fundraising for Ann Arbor City Council races, 07/29/2009). It also seemed likely that Kunselman and Bullington would split the anti-incumbent vote, guaranteeing Greden his margin of victory. Despite these factors, Kunselman still eeked out a six-vote win.

But that’s actually a deceptive margin of victory. If you total Kunselman and Bullington’s votes, the message is clearer — 63 percent of voters opted for a candidate other than the incumbent, Greden. The question, then, is this: What turned everyone against him?

I’m going to go ahead and guess that well-publicized allegations of ethical violations against Greden are what did him in. He sent sensitive emails from his computer during City Council meetings, a violation of public trust that is unethical and possibly even illegal. As AnnArbor.com reported on Tuesday, “Several voters said after leaving polls they were voting Greden out of office because they considered the e-mails unprofessional and rude” (Stephen Kunselman celebrates six-vote victory in Ann Arbor City Council race, Leigh Greden calls for recount, 08/05/2009).

It seems to me that Ann Arbor voters weren’t going to tolerate a public official whom they regarded as corrupt. And as I turned to the results of the Detroit City Council primary, I realized that the same thing had happened there, too.

The goal of Detroit’s Democratic primary was to narrow the field of candidates down to eighteen for the general election. The most noteworthy (and praiseworthy) development was the decisive first place victory of Charles Pugh, a former Fox 2 News anchor and reporter. As a former journalist, Pugh understands better than most the need for Detroit officials to be more open and honest, and he’s an excellent choice to steer City Council to a new era of accountability and competence.

And while Ken Cockrel, the current City Council president, placed second, third place went to Gary Brown, the former deputy police chief who brought ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s felonious antics to light. Current City Council member Martha Reeves, who repeatedly demonstrated that she wasn’t qualified for the office, didn’t even make the top 18 in Tuesday’s primary. As Rochelle Riley wrote in a column in the Detroit Free Press on Tuesday, after the November general election, the new City Council “could have two former journalists and a cop who are used to order and deadlines and public scrutiny” (With field narrowed, time for Detroit to ask, ‘What if?’, 08/04/2009). This is coming just a few months after voters chose Dave Bing — a newcomer to city politics — as their mayor over Cockrel, part of the existing, untrustworthy Detroit political establishment.

It’s encouraging to see these two cities that I love flexing some political muscle and taking on their respective political establishments. Ann Arbor and Detroit might seem worlds apart, but in their city council primaries, both communities showed a similar indication that they aren’t okay with sitting on the sidelines and watching corrupt officials run their cities.

I don’t know if this means anything for other local governments across the state. But in one Michigan city that’s struggling — and in one that’s not — voters are sick of leaders who they can’t trust. Now it’s time for the 88 percent of potential voters in Detroit and Ann Arbor who didn’t vote to start rebelling against the political establishment, too.

Robert Soave is the summer managing editor.

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