On 2 August 2005, Ann Arbor will have Democratic primaries for City Council in the 2nd and 4th Wards. ArborUpdate asked 9 questions of the candidates in those races: Eugene Kang and Stephen Rapundalo in the 2nd, Marcia Higgins and Eric Lipson in the 4th.
UPDATE, 27 July: Added Eugene Kang’s responses, which we received late.
The questions were:
- There is a wide perception that the only way to get elected in Ann Arbor is to run as a Democrat, and a cynicism towards local elections around lack of competition. How would you address this problem? (Alternately, if you don’t think it’s a problem, what leads to the current make-up of Council?)
- Students are a large demographic within Ann Arbor that is relatively uninformed, uninvolved, and disenfranchised from civic affairs. How can students be engaged and brought into full citizenship in the City?
- What concrete steps would you take to ensure that adequate housing is available for Ann Arborites across their range of social, economic, and educational/professional conditions? (Including those who might currently commute to jobs in Ann Arbor because of an inability to find housing in the city.)
- AATA currently functions primarily to serve those without other transportation options, with other roles, such as serving commuter traffic, clumsy additions on top of this purpose. How can the City support public and non-car transportation options?
- What can Ann Arbor do for the regional challenges facing Washtenaw, Detroit, and Michigan? (e.g. Sprawl, economic condition, etc.) What is our role in even larger issues, such as Palestine’s situation or the Iraq war?
- Should a City Council member be more spokesperson or leader? If citizens feel strongly about an issue and you believe them wrong, would you be more likely to act in the way that best fits the citizenry’s desires, or to act the way you believe best despite their expectations?
- After Proposal C passed with 74% last November, legalizing medical marijuana in Ann Arbor, Police Chief Dan Oates issued a statement instructing police officers to continue to handle all marijuana cases as before. What do you believe to be the proper handling of such a ballot initiative, which is not legally binding, but which clearly expresses the will of citizens?
- New businesses locating downtown in the past few years are almost all chains, making Ann Arbor look more and more like other cities. In addition, many local businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and cannot pay the rent downtown. What would you like to see the Council and City do to increase the chances of success of locally-owned independent businesses, especially downtown?
- Many of the people who work or study in Ann Arbor do not live in the city (for many reasons). What responsibilities does Ann Arbor have towards non-resident members of the community, who are affected by city policy but cannot vote?
|Second Ward||Eugene Kang||Stephen Rapundalo|
|Council all Democrats?||I am a Democrat, and I am proud to be a Democrat. So I am not surprised or bothered by the fact that most Ann Arbor residents choose to support Democratic candidates. The Democratic Party is the party of inclusion and tolerance, and it is encouraging that so many Ann Arbor residents support progressive ideas and progressive candidates. It is unclear whether my opponent shares this dedication to the principles of the Democratic Party. After all, he ran for Mayor of Ann Arbor as a Republican in 2000 and may be a Democrat in name only. It is possible that Mr. Rapundalo switched parties right before this race began because he experienced a sincere conversion to the progressive principles of the Democratic Party although he has yet to make a convincing statement affirming his beliefs in our principles. I can only hope so. Because I think nothing could be more cynical than a candidate who would obscure his true political identity in order to increase his short-term chances at victory.|
|There isn’t a lack of competition – simply note this year’s contests in Wards 2 and 4. Certainly a few years ago, there was stronger competition from Republicans. But people align themselves by party more because of national elections and most people in AA are Democrats, particularly in certain Wards. As a result working towards diversity within the City Democratic party is a key goal in Ann Arbor. The current make-up of Council Democrats is that of 10 individuals with ten different opinions, with no consistent voting blocks – a reflection of that diversity of thought, and as it should be. The current Democrats on Council are by and large a very centrist and pragmatic group focused on the serious issues facing the City – again as it should be and what residents expect.|
|Engage students?||Students are discouraged from participating in Ann Arbor’s local government, as well as in the local governments of college towns across the country. In Ann Arbor, the wards are drawn in a way that dilutes not only student voting strength but also – even more important – student interest in local affairs. The Ann Arbor City Council remains distant in the lives of many students. Many students will cast their first vote ever here in Ann Arbor. At this critical moment in a young person’s voting life, we need to encourage – rather than discourage – student participation.||Students should be encouraged to let their MSA representatives know what issues bother them and work through them. As a former Student Government Association President I’ve had first-hand experience dealing effectively with both municipal and State governments – but this meant working through the mechanisms in place. Those avenues exist in Ann Arbor and should be taken advantage of more. In general, many students do not register to vote here and consider themselves transient. That puts them at odds with the people who live here all the time (homeowners and renters).|
|Ensure adequate housing?||Ann Arbor is a diverse and fascinating place to live. To keep it that way, we need to make sure that all kinds of people can live here. To get there, we need to work more with developers toward exhausting all options of “building out” Ann Arbor. Right now density, as it relates to downtown, is what is getting the most play. But the problem with whatever housing goes downtown is that such development will most likely be upscale and out of reach of many people who desire to live our city. Instead, we need to encourage projects like Broadway Village where we take land that is currently woefully underutilized and make zoning changes and allow mixed-use buildings to come up in one area. By examining options such as these as they may come up in areas like South Industrial, we can create more housing options of various price ranges while allowing for new cultural centers to spring up. And without preexisting neighborhoods in many of these areas, the valid concerns of many neighborhood organizations will not be an impediment toward growth.||Ann Arbor has adequate housing for those in the middle to upper economic groups. What is lacking is truly affordable housing for those making less than 50% of the median income. The only way affordable housing will happen is with government funding on government property, and in conjunction with builders/developers who understand affordable housing and know how to make it happen. We have to build up our affordable housing trust fund through contributions from developers (rather than random units around town), and then leverage those funds with additional dollars from MSHDA, HUD and other governmental sources. Affordable housing units could then be built where those needing them can most afford to live, which is not dowtown Ann Arbor, but out in the residential areas close to shopping, schools, etc. Then we can have an impact.|
|Support transportation options?||As we create new town centers, where clutches of housing and commercial and social neighborhoods can begin to take shape throughout Ann Arbor and into the townships, the incentive to use alternate transportation will naturally arise. Right now we are hoping to totally change people’s routines without offering incentives of convenience that will draw people toward those options. Instead, if we are wiser about development and growth, we won’t have to sell the idea. As people who live, say, on S. Industrial want to link up with the neighborhood like theirs on Broadway, or on Maple, or down by Main Street, then it will just make more sense for them to take a bus together. We can increase the use of the buses if we allow the desire to take them to arise naturally. And the only way to do that is to be smarter, as a city, about growth.||Public mass transit solutions are and must be regional in this day and age. The City is already working with SEMCOG, and other regional agencies to look at alternative solutions such as light rail. A good initial guide locally are the recommendations proposed in the draft NE [Ann Arbor] Area Transportation Plan that highlights future transit, non-motorized and roadway changes.|
|Our role in regional issues?||We need to increase the cooperation between our different local governments. Right now each local government is completely autonomous and so decisions that do impact one another are not considered in a way that takes the other community’s interest into account. I am not saying that we create a large super-local government, but what does need to happen is better cooperation. For instance, residents of Ann Arbor are not pleased with the 1,000 home developments that keep springing up around our city that have serious environmental repercussions. But those developments make good sense for our township neighbors. We must work with them to show them that smarter growth, where town centers can be created with similar unit numbers but within a community that includes cultural and commercial benefits that can be linked with city cultural and commercial centers by alternate transportation would be better for both the townships and for us.||We have to focus on issues where we can have an impact, not issues that are symbolic. The current council has been very active regionally, especially when you look at the Greenbelt, development planning, public safety and services. There is more dialogue than ever with the townships and that must continue. Most residents want Council to be concerned with “end-of-the-driveway” issues, rather than those that are not within their jurisdictional purvue.|
|Role of a Council member?||A good councilmember will achieve the right balance. There is no doubt that any elected officials must be responsive to his or her constituents and I believe that our councilmembers ought to include us in the process more actively. For example, if elected, I plan on organizing planned weekly meetings at schools and homes in the ward to discuss all council business – not just those items up for vote the next Monday, but all matters that the council is considering where the input of the citizens are important. In that regard, I would be a spokesman. But councilmembers have asked for the responsibility to be more active in the community, and have asked for a leadership role. Good councilmembers will use this responsibility to develop new, progressive ideas. ||A councilmember is first and foremost a representative. However, sometimes there is information that’s not available to the constituents that may mandate a vote that is not necessarily the majority viewpoint. At all times, though it is incumbent upon the councilperson to insure that his/her constituents are duly communicated on a variety issues with associated background information so that residents can make more informed opinions.|
|Medical marijuana ballot issue?||Proposal C was supported by a majority of Ann Arbor voters. The proposal should be recognized for all of its legal effect.||The will of the citizens is that the city not prosecute cases where medicinal marijuana is used. The Chief’s instructions are to not go after people using marijuana medicinally. Except for the cases of large-scale sales, city police do not have marijuana high on their enforcement list anyway. In the end though we must stay within the confines of the law, and that is for the City Attorney to seek clarity and interpret prior making recommendations on any course of action.|
|Local, independant businesses?||I hate to sound like a broken record, but I believe the answer here is again, smarter growth. By having more people live downtown and be able to walk to our local businesses then we can ensure that our local businesses can thrive. But if we continue to push people outside of our city’s boundaries, making downtown Ann Arbor accessible only by car and never by foot, I cannot imagine any strategy as being adequate.||Yes—we should encourage locally-owned businesses and not be so quick to bring in developers from out of state who want to eat up downtown property. More importantly though, we must continue to develop a vibrant downtown from a common vision that takes into consideration ideas from local merchants that will in turn create an environment that can sustain locally-owned business for the future. Partly this must come from having a denser urban residential population that can help insure the viability of small businesses.|
|Responsibilities to non-residents?||The City’s first priority is to those who live within our limits and pay the taxes that support it. However, Ann Arbor is just one part of a larger community, and we all need to work together. Finally, I do not believe that a policy that is good for Ann Arbor residents has to be bad for our neighbors. I will strive to benefit the entire community while putting Ann Arbor first.||The safety of non-residents while they are here working or playing in Ann Arbor must be the highest priority. Non-residents certainly have the opportunity to participate in public forums on a number of issues – just like City residents – voice their concerns and perspectives, and perhaps influence the development of city policy. Indeed, this is not an unheard of practice.|
« Previous Article New Public High School: "Environmental Education"?
Next Article DetNews uncritically examines life "beyond the suburbs" »
|Fourth Ward||Marcia Higgins (incumbant)||Eric Lipson|
|Council all Democrats?||I agree that such is the perception. Hence two former Republicans are now running as democrats. I think the answer is that there needs to be new members of the “club” who are not as entrenched and who can bring new perspective to the table. That’s one of the reasons that I’m|
|Engage students?||For starters, at orientation, the University should encourage students to register to vote as soon as they are eligible. I do not know if that is currently a part of the orientation process. In general, the university and the student community need to engage the wider Ann Arbor community and vice versa. The political parties, too, need to reach out to students, for example, throught the michigan daily. The parties need to show students why it is important for them to participate. Students have to take some responsibility as well, but because this is a new community to them, we should welcome them and try to encourage them to|
join the political process.
|Ensure adequate housing?||Ann Arbor city council needs to enact a more comprehensive affordable housing initiative. Right now PUDs require either 15% affordable housing or a cash-in-lieu equivalent. This is not enough to actually make affordable housing work, especially downtown. There needs to be a variety of tools and incentives added to the mix (including potential tax-breaks, transfer of development rights, incentive-based zoning)that will actually encourage developers to include affordable housing on site down town and not just opt to pay cash-in-lieu.|
|Support transportation options?||I participated in the recent Ann Arbor non-motorized transportation planning process. Ann Arbor is not a particularly bike-friendly city. Twice as many people walk to work as bike. That is now changing. Every new road paving and even road re-painting is including a bike lane whenever possible. This is a good step. More needs to be done. More exclusive bikeways would help so people are not alwsys competing with cars(one benefit of the “Greenway” concept.|
AATA has had a notable success with the expansion of the #5 to a fifteen minute frequency and the University’s “free” ride program. I recently rode on the #5 (on Packard) and it was SRO at 10:00 am with University employees and students. Very impressive. More of that cooperation between the university, employers and AATA will go a long way. Continuous innovation is also necessary. The Link was a good idea but somewhere it failed. We need to see what went wrong there and try again with a new route.
|Our role in regional issues?||Michigan is one of the worst states legislatively regarding regional planning. The “home rule” provisions of state law almost discourage regional cooperation. Nonetheless,regional cooperation is essential in battling all of those ills. There are some new initiatives which are encouraging. The city and county now distribute their comprehensive plans to other local jurisdicitions for comments. But more needs to be done. The level of communication with the University needs to be improved for sure. The city should have input on University development plans (such as the Frieze building conversion). The School District did a very good job of communicating with the city and working with the city on the plan for the new high school far beyond any statutory requirements. That voluntary level of cooperation, tho’ not as good as statutorily mandated regional planning, is a good first step that we must encourage. In the legislature, regional planning must be promoted. A major problem is the suburbanites whose constituents have abandoned the large urban areas are now in ascendency. Enlightened self-interest dictates that for Ann Arbor or West Bloomfield to thrive so must Detroit, Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Flint, Grand Rapids, etc. We can’t just pave over every farm in SE Michigan for mc mansions.|
Human rights is a major issue with me. I belong to Amnesty International. But I don’t know how we address all of the problem areas or choose selectively which to address. The list is endless. Issues such as the Israel/Palestine conflict, Zimbabwe’s dictatorship, Saudi Arabia’s totalitarian regime, Russia’s rollback of democracy and free press, reporters being murdered at record rates all over the world,and closer to home, our own government’s policy and involvement in prisoner torture and extra-judicial imprisonment are extremely disturbing. The so called Patriot Act which allows the government to see what books I’m reading (tho’ not what guns I’m buying)is a disturbing trend toward abridging civil rights that I find scary. But I’m not sure that city council is the forum to address these issues. We have our hands full of local issues. There are other forums for those topics that are more appropriate.
|Role of a Council member?||An individual council member has to balance the input of his/her|
constituents with the overall good of the city. This must be taken on a case by case basis. Traffic calming affects only a street and the neighborin streets. Downtown issues involves the near neighborhood but also the whole city. There are different constituencies that need to be represented and acknowledged. There are times when one must take a principled stand even when a group of constituents seem to oppose it. If a majority of constituents think that a vote was wrong, they can address it at the polls at the next election. I personally believe very strongly in affirmative action and people should know that about me before they vote. I also find the modern trend toward corporate governance that considers workers a necessary evil and lays off people without consideration of the human consequences to be offensive. I am also believe that most decisions must be assessed for environmental impact. I consider myself to be a strong environmental advocate. Politics is the art of compromise. But some principles cannot be compromised. There is a line which cannot be crossed no matter how many people are upset with you.
|Medical marijuana ballot issue?||Marijuana possession in small quantities is a civil infraction in Ann Arbor. So possession of marijuana is already de-criminalized here.(if you are caught by a city police officer and not a University DPS or County Sheriff). Minor in possession of alcohol or tobacco is a misdemeanor! Given the minor consequences of marijuana possession and the fact that our current ordinance is contrary to state law, I don’t want to give the very conservative and Repubican state legislature any excuses to do anything hasty that would threaten that already tenuous possession ordinance (which I believe is a reasonable one).|
|Local, independant businesses?||I definitely want to do everything possible to encourage local busineeses. We can’t control the rents landlords charge. But we can help make it easier to establish a business or maintain a business downtown. (Planning Commission, on which I sit, and coucil, recently passed a zoning amendment that made it possible for pizza house (and similarly situated businesses) to expand. Increasing the population downtown through zoning changes will help. I also support simplifying the downtown zoning and encouraging more density downtown (with consideration to historic districts and not by changing the “main street/ state street” character of the downtown) Allowing mixed-use will also help avoid the “One North Main” dead street-scape problem. Better parking (tho’ not necessarily at First and William). Possible use of shuttles and way-finding devices to encourage people to use under-used parking lots such as Ann/Ashley and Talley hall. There are lots of creative ideas out there. Keeping the lines of communication open and innovating are crucial.I’m looking forward to participating in the Calthorpe planning process. |
|Responsibilities to non-residents?||We’re back to regionalism. I’d also ask what responsibilities do non-residents have to the city?|
Scio Township has no parks. (Tho’ there is a new nature area on Liberty that may be in Scio). So where do Scio residents go to play baseball orpicnic? Metro Parks and Ann Arbor parks. I know that there are some who fear the impact of the GreenBelt. I’m not one. I think that it was an excellent idea that will have minimal negative impact on the region and lots of plusses for the whole area. Bottom line: we all have to work together regionally to guarantee that the quality of life that we seek is not damaged by our neighbor’s heedless land use or lack of regional cooperation and planning. We also cannot abandon the major metropolitan areas and think we can just run away from their problems to Washtenaw, Lapeer and Livingston county by hopping on I 94 every morning and evening.