Monday, October 14, 2013

MANN ARBOR - choosing a new mayor

It's fall break, and this means I have time to write stuff.

The mayor of Ann Arbor, John Hieftje, has announced that he won't be seeking reelection. Well, you know, nobody can be mayor forever, and while I've agreed with him on some issues (cough countywide transit), I've disagreed with him on others (cough...RTA obviously...).

Still, it's the end of the era, and I was surprised over the past couple years to discover the virulent hatred this man (whom I've encountered mildly walking his dog through the Arb) inspires in some corners of Ann Arbor. I'm sure it's all tied up in political and social stuff I don't know about or understand, so I won't speculate. My question is: can we get a mayor who advocates progressive social and fiscal policy but who isn't such a lightening rod for disgruntled posts (wait a sec...that website no longer exists. I still type it in and make it redirect to Mlive every time as a personal protest.)?

Without speculating on whether the current candidates fit that bill or not (can you say Councilman Kunselman ten times fast?), I present to you:

(otherwise known as the Mann Arbor) (even if it's a woman) (which it totally has been one time, so)

 1. Consensus-builder with well-established integrity

Okay, this is kind of a silly term. I was on CYO Youth Council, in which we decided everything by consensus, and it's a tear-ridden, multiple-hour, alienating process in which people suggest conference names like Surfing with Jesus and accuse each other of political incorrectness every five minutes. Ann Arbor City Council meetings already last until 2 in the morning, so please let's not require everyone to agree and love each other before adjourning.

But I want to find someone who is known for listening respectfully to those with differing opinions, and who believes in the importance of diligently following a fair and unbiased process. The ends do not justify the means, not in municipal politics that are anything but shortsighted. Process is important for those who feel like they are a minority voice, who feel threatened, because it means they at least have a chance. We can't go with a Mann Arbor who lets their agenda dictate how closely they adhere to the rules - or even who appears to do so. Perception is real, guys.

2. Regional vision

 You folks already know that I'm all about the region. Let's not even talk about specific things I want to happen, like trains and stuff. Cause with all that rigorous following of process and cooperating with detractors, it may or may not happen.

But do you ever get the sense that Ann Arbor politicians don't even think about the fact that they're situated within (or alongside, whatever you want to call it) a major metropolitan region? If any candidate on their campaign website so much as mentioned Ann Arbor's relationship with the city of Detroit, or even western Wayne County, I'd have to vote for them just on principle.

Does the mayor of Ann Arbor ever meet with the mayor of Detroit, like to play a round of golf and take in a movie? Gotta start somewhere.

Even if you're one of those people who is convinced that Ann Arbor is a totally independent entity that can take or leave Detroit, the fact that during the school year a large chunk of Ann Arbor residents come from (and travel back and forth to) Detroit or suburbs thereof should convince you that there's some kind of relevant connection.Speaking of that...

3. Improving city/university, student/townie relationship

Ann Arbor has to get over the fact that it contains the University of Michigan, and the University of Michigan has to get over the fact that it is within Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor, you wouldn't be even a shadow of your current self if you didn't have this huge institution within you, and U-M, seems like you could chip in a little to this municipality's tax base.

But really, I'm more interested in the micro level. Students and young people don't feel appreciated by, or even noticed by, the ruling class in Ann Arbor. Their transience, problematic as it may be, renders them non-citizens in the eyes of many townies. I've heard anecdotes about college grads who move to Ypsi not just because of the less-devastating rent, but because the local political scene actually welcomed them and encouraged their engagement. Meanwhile, Ann Arbor politics tells them to get serious and come back when they're 40 and have advanced degrees.

I know I have a personal bias on this issue, but come on. Ann Arbor is the youngest city in the state, and contains remarkable talent and an unusual spread of experiences, but almost none of that currently makes its way to the high echelons of Ann Arbor influence. 

You're right - those students are going to move on, so they don't care that the city is missing out on their contributions. It's the city, and the people who stay, who lose.


  1. " (even if it's a woman) (which I don't think it ever has been, so)"

    The Mann Arbor immediately before Hieftje was both a woman and a Republican:

  2. Damn! Editing now. He's been mayor so long I've barely even heard a peep about her.