The League of Women Voters1 holds debates for candidates running for local and state offices a few weeks before each election. This past week on October 1 and 2, debates between Ann Arbor city council candidates who are running in the November 5 general election were held. Candidates from all the wards are asked the same core questions with a couple questions being more specific for their ward race.
After watching all the debates there were a couple of things that struck me and have stayed with me for a few days. Rather than give a transcript of what was said (other blogs and newspaper articles do that) I am going to give my impressions of what I heard. These debates are typically dry and uneventful and not many voters actually watch them. It is all about the press coverage. The candidates just reiterate their talking points over and over. Even when they don’t have a prepared answer for the topic, they just give an unrelated answer about some idea they are pushing to fill the time. Some questions that are skimmed over or flat out not answered can be forgivable, such as the climate plan question. Not everyone knows about it let alone has read it. It is a more complicated subject. However there was a low ball question asked … “What would you do to ensure that the city remains a great place to raise small children?’…..that most people blew in multiple debates. That they couldn’t answer that question concerns me greatly. It shows their lack of real understanding of what makes a city great.
Most of the candidates kept repeating their negative talking points….the city is an awful place, we need to stop this and prevent that… type of talking points. They obviously hate the city and how it is functioning now. …at least that is how they sound. They think there is high crime, not enough police and that we have crumbling infrastructure that is much worse than the norm. They want no change and appear to want the lifestyle of the past versus moving on to the future. They live in the bubble2 of Ann Arbor and do not understand that there are people and an entire world outside the Ann Arbor area.
Most had a curmudgeonly, “get off my lawn” sort of attitude. Their words just do not match how I think about our city, why I moved here or what I want for the future. You, the residents of Ann Arbor, need to ask yourselves how you actually describe living in Ann Arbor to your friends and family. When you talk about your home, do you give a positive ‘I love it here’ or say that ‘you live in a city that is a dangerous place to live with high crime and failing infrastructure’. Do their negative words match how you feel or how you describe your home to others? Some may say they need to do that to get elected. I just think they sound a lot like Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Ted Cruz and rest of the “sky is falling” Teapublicans in Congress.
I am proud of our city. I LIKE living here because of the vibrant downtown, the small city3 feel with all the big city culture and the many activities that are offered between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro area. We have it all. I am glad I chose to live here. Most of the city candidates appear to live in a different Ann Arbor than I do.
But throughout all that negativity and the ‘can’t do’ attitude there was a bright spot-Kirk Westphal – who was the only candidate who appeared to like living here in the Ann Arbor of today, not in the past or in the Ann Arbor of their childhood. I will get into this in more detail in the debate summary below.
Today, I will cover the Ward 2 debate.
There are three candidates running for the council seat in ward 2.
Kirk Westphal (D) Democrat
Jane Lumm (I) formerly declared Republican and George W. Bush Supporter.
Conrad Brown (I) Mixed use party
Questions/Issues consisted of:
- What is your Platform?
- Thoughts regarding ethics policy for elected officials.
- Position on rail…Connector and rail between A2, DTW and Detroit
- Do you support the Climate Action plan
- Do you favor a regional bus system
- What would you do to ensure that the city remains a great place to raise small children?’
Kirk Westphal was the most positive, realistic sounding candidate. All of his answers spoke of the present, the future, and handling change. He is not afraid to take on the tough topics. There was a striking contrast in how he answered questions and the words he chose to use. It is not just semantics. It is similar to how Obama phrases things, positive and hopeful, rather than how the Teabulicans in congress phrase things–we can’t, we shouldn’t, and over our dead body. Kirk talked about planning while being careful and methodical with the planning. He emphasized that we shouldn’t ignore issues and fail to evaluate them. He is for rail, expanding the bus system in the core and the climate action plan. He volunteered to champion the ethics policy formation if he got elected.
And I have to say that Kirk Westphal had the Best. Closing. Ever. He quotes Ben Franklin4 and refers to Sisyphus5 in regards to planning and unrealistic ideals and then goes on to say that Ann Arborites cannot sit out local elections anymore. He speaks to the fact that the city needs to handle change and plan for change. He ended his statement with this:
“Council is at a tipping point. One seat and one vote is all it takes to go backward instead of forward.” If you believe in planning for the future please vote for me.”
Watch his closing statement here:
Wow…I just loved it. Sisyphus is the perfect example of repeating a never-ending process. How can we ever do anything forward thinking or visionary if you are trying to fill every pothole. He just nailed it.
Needless to say, I fully support Westphal and hope that he wins. It would be nice to have an optimistic and forward thinking member of council to remind everyone that it is ok to be visionary and idealistic while handling the everyday tasks of government. He is wise enough to allow discussion while realizing that everything cannot happen instantly and can only be implemented at the right time.
Jane Lumm on the other hand is only for funding basic services: public safety, such as water and sewer infrastructure, roads, addressing legacy costs such as pension fund liabilities and she added in balancing development and preservation, and parks calling them services that residents value. We all have a value list. The difference is where each item falls on that list. If asked, “Do I value parks?”, I would answer yes. But I would also answer yes to “ Do you want us to invest in a rail?”. And if asked what do I value more? I would say ‘at the present time rail supersedes parks in my mind. We have enough parks, almost too many parks, and I would even be willing to give up a park to support rail. Lumm is cherry-picking the value lists of residents.
It brings to mind what is actually happening right now in Washington DC with the closure of the federal government. The Teabublicans in Congress suggested funding the government in a piecemeal fashion and cherry picking their favorite programs for funding while ignoring the programs they don’t like.6 Jane Lumm is cherry picking out parks, but won’t fund any other transportation initiative because she doesn’t like them.
Personally, I don’t believe parks are a basic service as she is implying. If they were then every city would have a wonderful park system similar to what Ann Arbor has. They don’t because parks are a luxury, an extra.
Balancing development and preservation is not even a service performed by the city except for maybe providing a zoning code. It is really just a made-up issue to appease the NIMBY activist groups. We have historic districts to protect historic preservation from development within its boundaries. What Lumm really wants is to have the historic districts influence all development everywhere in the city. It is a complete overreach. We have boundaries to the historic districts for a reason. These boundaries should be respected, but Lumm doesn’t care. I guess that is why Lumm though it was ok to illegally vote against a by-right project and risk a lawsuit for the city.
She is against rail and thinks we spend too much time on transit issues and should just pick one issue to concentrate on, if at all. She voted for the climate action plan but thinks we need balance. She believes that council meetings get too personalized.
Lumm is the typical Teapublican who laces her comments with claims of misappropriations of funds, conspiracies, and claims of unaccountability. She fails to mention how she would pay for her extra police or other pet projects. She fails to mention that we have one of the best-run city governments in the state. Although not perfect, our city in no way should be characterized by the words that she chooses to use. Needless to say, I am not a big fan of Lunm.
The third candidate Conrad Brown is running as an independent, but represents the Mixed-Use Party. Their party platform is a weird mix of libertarian7 viewpoints mixed in with environmental stances based on zoning changes. If you allow more people to live at the city center then less people will drive cars which leads to less pollution, there will be less sprawl etc. He wants to abolish the DDA TIF, minimize urban sprawl, is against an ethics policy, is anti-train, and is anti-regional bus system.
Although Brown talks about urban density and protecting the environment, be careful in your support of him. He is declared as a Mixed-Use Party candidate, but he is nothing but a pure libertarian. He is a former president of the Young Americans for Liberty at UM which is a group endorsed by Ron Paul.
Many of his views are either so unrealistic such as some of the proposed zoning changes in his party platform, or they already exist such as our Greenbelt that we have had since 1994. I am not really going to devote effort in this column to discuss their platform. Maybe in another column for another day.
Now to finally address the low-ball question about ‘What would you do to ensure that the city remains a great place to raise small children? I was astounded that Kirk Westphal was the only one who mentioned children. Westphal said that he has two small children, he frequently brings them downtown, they love it there, he couldn’t ask for anything more. He said that Ann Arbor wins awards as a place to raise families. He then spoke about other demographics such as young professionals.
Lumm astounded me. Her answer was to first say that we have amenities for young and old but that we need to address the basic services first before anything else. She went on to talk about crime and never even alluded to the question. Really? Really?
She could not come up with something about parks or playgrounds or activities? Something obviously pertaining to children? Our crime rate8 over the past ten years has been trending downward. (She doesn’t want to tell you that though) Lowering crime to attract families was the first thing she though of? Did she not know that Ann Arbor was already a desirable place for families? It shows her disconnect with the community and lack of knowledge about what makes a city great or desirable. That is not an attribute of someone I want sitting on council.
Brown also did not do much better. He spoke about discretionary spending and about density downtown. He never even alluded to children whatsoever.
They both missed the point of the question. It was a positively worded question: “What would you do to ensure that the city REMAINS a great place to raise children”? It was a chance to say something positive about the city, like Wesphal did. He talked about how life for families was great but in order to maintain that you have to work on the other demographics to maintain a vibrant city overall.
Both Lumm and Brown are so focused on cutting expenses, cutting programs and adding police officers that they don’t have a feel for what the community wants, has or needs. People move here because of the vibrant city, school system, employment, and because we have low crime for a diverse city of our size. Economic development and transportation are huge factors in all that. They don’t move here because we have 150 vs. 145 police officers. Lumm and Brown just don’t understand what our community wants or needs. Westphal by far is the better candidate.
Vote Westphal for Ward 2 Ann Arbor City Council!
1 League of Women Voters website
2The bubble of Ann Arbor is a reference to the mentality of some Townie Ann Arborites and transplants who have moved to Ann Arbor and who feel that it is unnecessary to leave the area unless you are flying out of the DTW airport. Everything is here, why leave the area? They are incased in the “bubble” and can’t look beyond it. It is not necessarily a reference to an economic bubble of Ann Arbor.
3I use the term ‘small city’ because that is what we are. A town to me is Chelsea, Saline, or Milan. A small city is more like Ann Arbor, Boulder, and Madison. It irks me when people refer to Ann Arbor as a small town. It is the City of Ann Arbor not the Town of Ann Arbor.
4Ben Franklin quote: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
5In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth) punished for chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus
Kirk Westphal referred to Sisyphus when saying that councilmembers are refusing to invest in the future until you fill every pothole….an action that will be repeated forever.
6Piecemeal funding http://thehill.com/homenews/house/325897-house-gop-to-move-piecemeal-funding-bills
8Ryan Stanton, Ann Arbor, News, New statistics show crime in Ann Arbor may be at lowest levels in a decade. (Feb. 14, 2012) This article is a couple years old, but it is all I could find right now.