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.

Slogging Through the Campaign Rhetoric

I have often lamented the fact that so much in Ann Arbor politics is decided in low-turnout, August primary elections. What that means is that very small but loud interest groups can dominate the conversation and influence politicians who have to pander to them in order to get elected. The upcoming August 5 election may see a higher turnout because there is a competitive race for mayor.City Hall

All of the candidates are either implicitly or explicitly distancing themselves from the current mayor, John Hieftje and that’s not a good thing. John Hieftje was elected because he presented a vision and he won re-election six times because he was consistent in promoting that vision. The criticism of his policies comes from those small interest groups who have been successful in getting their candidates elected to council precisely because of the August primary voter anemia.

It’s time to send those I-hate-everything-new naysayers a message about how backward they really are, but to do so requires slogging through some of the mayoral campaign rhetoric. There have been a number of mayoral forums already and it’s not too hard to distinguish who the candidates are and what they’re all about.

Let me make things easy for you and point out that you can eliminate 3rd Ward Councilmember Steve Kunselman right off the bat.  Kunselman says his main achievement on council has been to restrict the Downtown Development Authority and it’s a good example of his form-over-substance politics. The DDA is a great punching bag for a bully like Kunselman because it can’t fight back. Kunselman can waste countless hours harping on the power of the DDA and it is a very tidy way to divert attention from the fact that as a council representative he has done nothing for his constituents. I am a member of the DDA board, so I have a bias here, but I also have firsthand knowledge of whether Kunselman has actually done anything that matters.

His insistence on pitting the downtown against the “neighborhoods” has resulted in the following changes to the DDA:  The DDA’s total income is now capped – at a figure that it will not reach for many years to come, so it has not put one cent back into the city’s coffers. Moreover, capping the DDA’s money means that eventually money that could be spent in the city of Ann Arbor will go elsewhere. He and his followers on council – Lumm, Eaton, Kaliasapathy, and Anglin – told the DDA to spend more on affordable housing, something the DDA was already doing. They also have now mandated term limits for board members, a change that makes little difference and will have exactly zero impact on anyone who is not using it as a fake campaign claim.

He champions his initiation of the old Y-lot sale, which resulted in a perpetually vacant lot sitting in one of the best locations in the city. He is proud of ending the Percent-for-Art program but what has that done for you? Not one cent of the money that could be spent on artwork that enriches our environment is being spent on anything that will make any difference to the average citizen.

But perhaps his most laughable claim is that he is a champion of the people because of his work on the Taxicab Board. No, that is not an autocorrect error. Lately, the really big problem facing Ann Arbor has been the incursion of non-city-regulated car sharing, with Uber and Lyft. Kunselman  touts his fight against Uber and Lyft as protection of public safety because the other taxi drivers are regulated by the city and therefore certified. As what? Have you ever ridden in an Ann Arbor taxi? The one with the obese, alcoholic, cigar-smoking driver in the car with no seatbelts and torn seats? I think I’ll take my chances with the free market. Again, Kunselman is only talk – form over substance.

That leaves three other candidates for mayor, all of whom are intelligent and capable.

Christopher Taylor is the kind of Renaissance man that many of us like to think is typical of Ann Arbor. He is a lawyer but is also a fine tenor and has several UM degrees. It is a pleasure to hear his articulate answers to questions and occasional literary allusions. He doesn’t beat his chest and repeat meaningless phrases like “public health, safety and welfare.” Instead, he points out that the day-to-day business of the city – fixing roads, removing snow – gets done regardless of who the mayor is. Like Hieftje, Taylor says we need to think about issues that take more planning and thought, such as climate action and transportation.

Taylor talks about his experience and judgment and I think he’s right about how important those are. He is someone who is good at analyzing problems and finding solutions, good at the kind of writing and drafting that makes for sensible legislation, and good at listening to all sides before coming to a conclusion.  Those are the kinds of qualities we want in a leader and in a person who will be the face of the city to many.

Sabra Briere has been involved in Ann Arbor politics for a long time. As the First Ward councilmember, she has built a reputation on championing historic districts and having close constituent relations. She is another person who listens to what people have to say and is not guided by ego but by commitment to public service. She does not shoot from the hip but would rather convene a task force to study a problem before coming to any conclusions. When Ward 2 Councilmembers Lumm and Petersen sought to repeal Ann Arbor’s progressive crosswalk ordinance because their moneyed constituents were miffed at having to slow their SUV’s for pedestrians, Briere was opposed to it and initiated a pedestrian task force that has been meeting and will be very useful. The mayor had to veto the council’s repeal of the crosswalk ordinance, by the way.

Becoming a champion for a particular cause has its drawbacks. Briere is beholden to the often hysterical historic preservation constituency, which has led her to some unfortunate decisions. She was not helpful in the debacle over the potential housing development just south of the Library on Fifth Avenue and that resulted in demolition of the historic homes that were there and some very ugly and mundane buildings instead of an attractive row of apartments. She also voted against the apartment building at 413 E. Huron, a building that fit squarely within the zoning regulations that Briere, along with others, had worked on and approved.

Briere, like others, talks a lot about neighborhoods but I don’t really know what that means. All Ann Arbor politicians have to talk about neighborhoods because people who live here like to pretend it’s a quaint city with lots of little quaint neighborhoods. Maybe that’s true in some places but those neighbors eventually start to fight with each other about dogs or driveways and nobody spends the weekends hoping to pal around with their neighbors anymore. When was the last time you borrowed sugar from a neighbor? I thought so.

The fourth candidate, Sally Petersen, has the least experience, having served almost one term on council. As she will quickly tell you, she has an MBA from Harvard. Her marketing experience means she knows she has to carve out a niche in the campaign and her niche is spearheading economic development. Petersen is definitely smart and capable and her heart is in the right place on this one, but she makes the mistake many business-minded people make when it comes to government. Running a city is not like running a company. All that business experience makes understanding spreadsheets and fancy marketing terms much easier but city government is a different kind of animal.

I haven’t heard any concrete suggestions for how Ann Arbor can encourage economic development. She also talks about better relations with the University of Michigan, which is an easy thing to talk about because it is impossible. Petersen has been cautious as a councilmember, often wanting to consult constituents before making a decision. Sometimes leadership means taking a stand and educating your constituents and she may be working on that with her emphasis on economic development but it’s hard to get a grip on the elements of her plan.

BallotLuckily, there have been numerous opportunities to hear the candidates’ positions. Check out for more information than you could possibly digest. Most important, if you think you may be away on August 5, vote absentee. You can either request a ballot or just go over to City Hall and fill out your absentee ballot right now.