Why Ann Arborites Under 50 Won’t Vote on Tuesday

If you’re older and white, congratulations!  Chances are you’ve already got Tuesday, August 8th’s “secret election” in your calendar.  The problem is the rest of you don’t, and we’re here to make you feel guilty!  

Back up. There’s an election this Tuesday?

Yes.  If you live anywhere in the city outside of Ward 2, there is a Democratic primary election at your regular polling place on Tuesday, August 8th.

We still want you to vote in the general election on November 8th, because a couple of seats will be contested by Independent candidates. (We’ll remind you later this fall!) But the point is that in Wards 1, 3, 4, and 5, there are two very different Democrats vying to be one of your ward representatives on City Council, and whoever wins Tuesday’s primary is likely going to win the general election and will have a powerful voice in your daily life and future of Ann Arbor.  What’s worrisome is that studies show that younger, more diverse, and more progressive voters don’t show up for these local races, particularly in odd years.


If you read no further, here’s the deal: 1) put Tuesday, August 8th in your calendar NOW, 2) read up on the candidates (links provided at the end), 3) vote between 7am and 8pm, and 4) post a selfie with your “I Voted” sticker!

There are never lines to vote in this election because turnout in odd-year City Council primaries is frequently less than 10%. Below are the actual results from an Ann Arbor City Council primary race in a typical ward in 2015.  (We’ve removed the names because the candidates aren’t the point.)


Why is turnout so low?

Elections that don’t fall on the usual even-year schedule—and therefore don’t coincide with State or Congressional races—see dramatically lower turnout. Of course, low turnout is bad for democracy in general. But even more disturbing is how different the voters are in odd years and even years. Odd-year voters tend to be significantly older and less diverse. This can cause a disconnect between voters and the policies that affect them. As an example, the only non-Democrat on Ann Arbor’s City Council has been elected twice in an overwhelmingly Democratic ward, almost certainly because her seat is in the low-turnout, odd-year election cycle.

This has been noted as a root cause of strife in other communities. A Washington Post study of Ferguson, MO elections found that African-American voters were almost 3 times less likely to vote than Whites in odd-year municipal elections versus even-year national elections.


So why don’t we get rid of odd-year elections?

Here’s the good news: we did!  After literally decades of debate, Ann Arbor voters finally decided to eliminate odd-year council election cycles last year.  (We were supporters of the betterturnout.org advocacy group, so we’re super happy about this change.)

The bad news is that we’ve still got one more cycle to go before this takes effect, and half of all the council seats are up for grabs this year.  If history repeats itself, this means that the 10% of voters who show up on Tuesday will decide the course of the city for the next three years.  As the Ann Arbor Observer put it, “Odd-year elections gave small, passionate groups an outsize impact. This will be their last chance.”

This is exactly why it’s important to get a more representative group of voters to the polls on August 8th.


But I always vote in the November general election, even in odd years!  Isn’t that enough?

It’s great that you vote in November!  And you should this year too.  But the fact is that for most City Council races, the primary is effectively the decisive election because the Democratic nominee typically wins the general election.


OK, so the primary is the actual “race.”  But it’s just two Democrats competing against each other.  So does the primary really matter after all, since a Democrat is going to win anyway?

We hear this question a lot!  When candidates have “D”s next to their names, it is usually a good indicator of their values on state and national issues. But sometimes it has nothing to do with how they vote on important city issues.  The pairs of Democrats squaring off in Tuesday’s primary have very different views on the future of the city and how it should be run.


How so?

Your city representatives create policies that affect residents every day: how roads get paved, how drinking water is monitored, how police do their jobs, whether new residents have reasonable housing choices, whether we have safe places to walk and bicycle, whether we support environmentally-friendly practices—the list goes on.  While some Democrats may say they favor progressive causes, their voting records show otherwise. As recent examples, some Democrats currently on City Council have consistently voted against accepting federal money for upgrading our AMTRAK station, voted against making pedestrian infrastructure improvements, and even voted against merely accepting an affordable housing needs report, stating that it’s bad for government to “meddle in the free market.” This conservative voting bloc isn’t currently big enough to cause damage to progressive priorities, but everything could change in Tuesday’s election.


OK, I’m on board.  What should I do?

Encourage your progressive friends and neighbors to vote!  We are all frustrated about our state and federal leadership.  If we can get just 5% of the progressives who vote in presidential elections but usually skip odd-year elections to show up at the polls on Tuesday, we can ensure a progressive landslide and have a real impact in our own community. When turnout is this low, the difference between winning and losing has come down to as few as 5 or 10 votes. Again, representatives elected in Tuesday’s primary will likely win the November general election and go on to serve 3-year terms. This can change the entire composition of Ann Arbor’s City Council.


If you want to know our personal opinion, we strongly agree with the opinions expressed by Mayor Taylor and the MGoBlog writers.  The links are below.  There is also excellent non-partisan information at annarborvotes.org and vote411.org, as well as an insightful article by the Observer here: http://annarborobserver.com/articles/the_end_of_independents_full_article.html


MGoBlog endorsements: http://mgoblog.com/content/ann-arbor-city-council-endorsements-part-i

Mayor Taylor’s endorsements: http://hosted-p0.vresp.com/1381223/237d1100db/ARCHIVE


If you don’t want to click around, here’s a handy map with a summary of the endorsements above.



Thanks for reading, and see you at the polls!

August Primary Ward Races

There used to be a cookie commercial on TV where a woman was trying to get her husband to try a new kind of chocolate chip cookie but he kept refusing, saying, “I like the old.” There is a contingent on City Council now that really likes the old, especially the old ideas. In the upcoming primary election on August 5, that contingent could grow, but it also could go back into its cocoon if enough people come out to vote.

First Ward:  (Incumbent) Sumi Kailasapathy vs. Don Adams

Kailasapathy wants to be re-elected to her second term based on what she calls common-sense fiscal decisions. I call them old ideas and this race also gives me the exciting opportunity to use the word “prissy.” Kailasapathy is extremely well-educated and works as a CPA. As I pointed out in my last post concerning Sally Petersen and her business skills, business skills and an understanding of government don’t always go hand-in-hand. If you hire a CPA, you probably want that person to have as a primary goal the objective of saving you money. But it’s a big mistake to think saving money is what governments ought to do. Government is there to spend money – for the public good. Wasting money is bad, and if Kailasapathy used her accounting skills to find areas of wasted funds, that would be helpful. Instead, she gets her prissy CPA on to constantly lecture everyone about spending too much money.

For example, Kailasapathy is absolutely against spending any money on art or economic development. She misleads the public by saying the Percent-for-Art program “diverted” money from sewer funds and her vote to de-fund art will cause more money to be used to prevent sewer overflows.  That is absolutely untrue. The Percent-for-Art program used 1% of money in the reserved portion of a particular public improvement project, so we could have working sewers plus artistic enrichment. Someone who is a CPA should know better. Kailasapathy probably does, but she can’t get beyond her penny-pinching. In a June council meeting where there was a discussion about closing Main Street for football games, she disdainfully stated that neither she nor any of her friends go to football games. Prissy.

Don Adams is a newcomer to city politics. Unlike Kailasapathy, he has a history of real public service and is a leader in the Arrowwood Community and the public schools. He does not have the anti-government outlook that Kailasapathy shows and knows government is more than just police and sewers. While Kailasapathy can be counted on to like the old, Adams is a fresh voice who is likely to be open to change. He is also much less likely to refuse to spend money on anything, even when it’s the federal government’s money. I’m referring to the very necessary new Amtrak station, which Kailasapathy is opposed to. Seems that, in addition to never going to football games, she and her friends never ride trains either, so she would turn down federal money to build a new train station. Adams does not take absolutist, “read-my-lips” views and will be a consensus-builder who is accepting of new ideas.

Inside Scoop on How this Race Intersects with the Mayor’s Race (ISHRIM)

The anti-government, horse-and-buggy types have formed a little coalition that shows up at parades and such to support each other and it’s interesting to see who has turned his or her back on whom. Although Kailasapathy and Sabra Briere both represent the 1st Ward, Kailasapathy is not supporting Briere for Mayor – she’s supporting Steve Kunselman. Jack Eaton and Mike Anglin, who do not have to run this year, are part of the coalition and they also support Kunselman. This group can be counted on to talk about the good old days, advocate referenda on almost every subject, and to bash Mayor John Hieftje, who never lost a single precinct in an election, whenever possible.

Second Ward:  Kirk Westphal vs. Nancy KaplanIMG_20140716_162037874

I am just way too excited because this race gives me another chance to use the word “prissy.” No one could be prissier than Nancy Kaplan. Her emergence into politics started because she was very upset at the thought of anyone interfering with her backyard, which is the Huron Hills Golf Course. Her friend and neighbor, Jane Lumm (who was not a councilmember at the time), started a rumor in the early part of this century that the mean old city council was going to turn the pristine Huron Hills over to some dastardly condo developer. This sounds melodramatic and that is because it was complete fiction. The city council had asked the planning department to come up with dozens of ideas about what the city could do if it was ever strapped for money and development of the rim of the golf course was one idea. No one ever considered it to be realistic and it was like a drawing on a paper napkin but that didn’t stop Lumm, Kaplan, business mogul Ted Annis and others from going ballistic and forming a group to “Save Huron Hills.”

Kaplan now counts as her main accomplishment that she “saved Huron Hills.” Stopping something that was never going to happen is indeed an accomplishment. Adding to her fantasy team of achievements is her leadership with the Allen Creek Greenway. The Greenway is a wonderful idea but may not happen for decades because a) Allen Creek is in an underground pipe and b) the plan is to use the railroad right-of-way, which is currently on tap to be used by a commuter train. To be fair, Kaplan did get elected to the board of the Ann Arbor District Library. It may say a lot about her performance there that none of her fellow board members are supporting her in the City Council race.

Kirk Westphal is a sharp contrast. Westphal lost to Jane Lumm, who was the incumbent, in last year’s election. He chairs the City Planning Commission and has a degree in urban planning. Unlike Kaplan, who is a retired physical therapist, Westphal has the credentials and experience to be valuable public servant. He is a consultant who advises cities on best practices and produces videos about issues such as efficient city management. While Westphal champions transit and insists that both developers and the city itself follow our zoning laws and master planning guidelines, Kaplan opposed the transit millage – because it cost money – and says she would have voted against an apartment building at 413 E. Huron, even though the building fit squarely within the city’s existing zoning. She is against everything, including a proposed development on Nixon Road that actually has less density than the Master Plan recommends. She thinks it is too dense.

There is a clear choice in the 2nd Ward:  Experience and thoughtful consideration versus fake activism and fear-mongering.


Kaplan is part of the Lumm-Anglin-Kailasapathy-Eaton, Pander-to-the-People coalition that is supporting Kunselman for Mayor. Similar to what is going on in the 1st Ward, Jane Lumm is not supporting her fellow councilmember Sally Petersen for Mayor. Petersen is not wedded to the old, so Lumm has jumped on the Kunselman bandwagon. Lummites may generally support Kaplan, but Petersen supporters may realize that her vision of the future is more closely matched with Westphal’s.

Third Ward: Julie Grand vs. Sam McMullen vs. Bob Dascola

There is no prissiness in the 3rd Ward, at least not among the candidates. Julie Grand is former chair of the Parks Advisory Commission, teaches at UM-Dearborn and has a PhD in public health. Sam McMullen is a UM undergraduate, and Bob Dascola is a long-time Ann Arbor barber. As I wrote in a previous post, Dascola caused some excitement when the city clerk turned down his petitions to run for office because he did not meet the city’s residency requirements, having registered to vote in the 3rd Ward only this past February. A federal judge found that Ann Arbor’s residency rules had been stricken in the 1970’s, so Dascola is back on the ballot. As fate would have it, the printer that the county uses to print up the ballots left Dascola’s name off of the ones first mailed out to absentee voters. This has been mostly fixed but there may be a dispute about a handful of incorrect ballots that were already sent in.

McMullen is energetic and sincere but needs a little more experience under his belt before he’s ready for public office. He doesn’t really have an understanding of urban government issues such as tax increment financing, used to fund the Downtown Development Authority and advocates multi-use zoning, which we already have but he just doesn’t know it. He wrongly believes we can increase density by building only buildings that are four stories or under. I will give him credit for the best answer in the League of Women Voters CTN TV debates when asked about Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s concept of “customer service.” McMullen disavowed it and Snyder.

As you drive around the 3rd Ward, you will see Dascola yard signs in the oddest of places, namely in the yards of a few North Burns Park Association homes, where one would think that an intellectual like Julie Grand might be more appealing to the faculty and retired faculty homeowners. But the NoBuPa folks have focused on the “No” aspect and have gone off the deep end regarding turning all vacant property in the city into a park. They went postal over the Landmark student high-rise on Forest Avenue and South University, and we all know how that has absolutely destroyed their quality of life, even though it is about half a mile away from them and has resulted in more neighborhood conversions of homes back to single families. They refuse to support Grand, who wisely led the Parks Commission, and instead will vote for anyone who likes the old enough to shut down development completely.

Would that be Dascola? It’s hard to tell. I have known and liked Bob Dascola for a long time and my men-folk are long time customers of Dascola Barbers. He definitely likes the old and will wax nostalgic over most issues that are brought up. The NoBuPa people have a real hatred for the DDA, though, it being devoted to urbanism and all, and Dascola has touted as one of his qualifications that he has attended many International Downtown Association conferences with the DDA members. He is compassionate and likes to listen to people but he has to be careful about filtering what he hears. In an article in the Ann Arbor News about the CTN debates, for instance, Ryan Stanton did some fact-checking and found that what Dascola said he was hearing about police staffing was just not correct.

Police staffing is a big issue with the coalition that is supporting Dascola, Kailasapathy, and Kaplan. They want more police no matter what, even though crime is not a problem in Ann Arbor. Twenty-first century thinkers like Westphal, Adams, and Grand are more likely to side with the excellent 5th Ward representative, Chuck Warpehoski, in wanting to evaluate issues like police staffing according to data and comparisons with state and national practices rather than anecdotes. The folksy approach of Anglin, Eaton, and Dascola makes for good door-to-door jawboning, but we have a city to run.


Watch the sign war to see what’s happening. Some NoBuPa people are supporting Sabra Briere but many of them have turned on her and it is common to see Dascola and Kunselman signs together. I really don’t know what that is all about except that Briere is not dogmatic and probably has not been willing to promise the all-parks-no-buildings contingent that she would vote down every building over three stories. Christopher Taylor and Julie Grand have similar visions for city government and Taylor has represented the 3rd Ward well, so his signs are prevalent in Ward 3 and it is common to see Taylor and Grand signs side-by-side.

There is no opposition to Graydon Krapohl in the 4th Ward race or Chuck Warpehoski in the 5th Ward, although another candidate in Ward 5 left the race too late for his name to be yanked from the ballot.