by Patricia Lesko
Ann Arbor’s mayor, Chris Taylor (“Mr. Congeniality” according to a 2015 article in the Ann Arbor Observer), has been singing and dancing around Wards 3 and 5 on behalf of his City Council candidates Zachary Ackerman and Chip Smith. In Ward 5, the challenger David Silkworth reports that he’s having success convincing residents to remove Smith’s yard signs and getting his own placed. Silkworth’s secret? Smith’s voting record. Silkworth and his campaign workers pass out information about Smith’s voting record, including his recent votes to approve the sale of the public-owned downtown Library Lot and Smith’s approval of a DDA-proposed scheme to lease about 360 public-owned parking spaces to the developer for 50 years.
Taylor gets signs placed by, one imagines, being a nice guy and assuring Ward 5 voters Chip is a nice guy. Silkworth’s campaign workers suggest to Ward 5 voters that their Council member needs to answer to the public for his votes. Sound familiar? All that’s missing is a Ward 5 town hall filled with frustrated Democrats holding up poster board pictures of their favorite potholes and waving five-figure property tax bills in Smith’s direction.
Taylor, faced with the prospect of losing his majority on City Council, is going door-to-door with and without Ackerman and Smith. Ackerman, Smith and their council pal (and endorser) Jason Frenzel are all Council newbies, first-term council members who have joined Taylor in identifying climate change and sustainability as their (and the city’s) important priority.
Climate change, not the city’s crumbling roads or the aging sewer system that has, over a dozen times in the past two years alone, discharged thousands and thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the Huron River. Each Council newbie has identified climate change as a principal political issue and priority, not the 1,4 dioxane plume, pedestrian safety, crosswalk lighting near schools, or a pledge to get the six votes necessary to direct the City Administrator to identify a recurring source of funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Yes, climate change is real. Yes, climate change is an environmental challenge of global proportions. However, Taylor, Ackerman, Frenzel and Smith are behaving as though they are leading men on the global stage (they co-sponsored a symbolic resolution in support of the Paris Climate Accord). Ackerman, Frenzel and Smith want to convince voters (by attempting to deceive voters in one notable instance) to put them back in office where they will continue to try to divert millions of local tax dollars to fund Chris Taylor’s climate action plan goals. If that plan is like the city’s other plans, such as the Non-Motorized Transit Plan or the Solid Waste Plan, the taxpayers’ money will be spent and the goals will go unmet year-after-year.
Maybe the four of them could Think Local First and try giving up their cars, switching off the air-conditioning at their homes and in all public-owned buildings. They could stop eating red meat, and work with other members of City Council to implement a program to get solar panels on all city-owned buildings and sponsor a resolution that abolished the city tax on solar panels installed by local homeowners.
Taylor’s predecessor went door-to-door with his candidates. Chris went door-to-door two years ago in Ward 4 on behalf of challenger Jaime Magiera. Magiera, with Taylor’s support, captured 40 percent of the vote. Magiera is back this year without Taylor’s endorsement and is working hard to mislead unsuspecting voters that he’s “cut from a different cloth” and that he doesn’t “align neatly with any existing group on council,” or so he claims on his campaign website. It’s kinda like Sen. Mitch McConnell claiming he doesn’t neatly align with any existing group in the Senate. Reporters wouldn’t know whether to laugh or report that McConnell had suffered some kind of break with reality.
Together with Ward 1 candidate Jason Frenzel, Smith and Ackerman have banded together hoping, perhaps, there is strength in numbers for the three first-term newbies. In July, the trio planned a combined fundraiser which they dubbed “Sustainable Ann Arbor.” This is the description of the event from Zachary Ackerman:
Join Zach Ackerman, Jason Frenzel, and Chip Smith for an evening of food, drinks, and conversation. All three are progressive Democrats running for re-election to Ann Arbor City Council. Together, they have championed policies that will help build a fiscially [sic], economically, and environmentally sustainable Ann Arbor.
In the most recent Ann Arbor National Citizen Survey, 55 percent of residents rated Ann Arbor an excellent place to live. Nonetheless, a majority also responded that they did not find the quality of services provided by the city excellent, only 20 percent of respondents did. Sixteen percent rated the quality of services fair. When asked the question, “What should be City leaders’ top three priorities to maximize the quality of life in Ann Arbor?” survey respondents were clear. They said their top three were: Roads, transportation, traffic, traffic enforcement, bikes, pedestrians (58 percent), Government, taxes, communication (19 percent) and Safety, crime, police (19 percent). Sustainability did not make the top three in terms of what Ann Arbor residents believe City leaders’ top priorities should be.
This survey reveals that Taylor, Ackerman, Frenzel and Smith are ignoring the public in order to focus on their own political and, perhaps, personal agendas. The four of them are free to devote 24 hours a day toward the goals of conservation and sustainability (see suggestions above about giving up their cars and foregoing red meat). However, not only have the three Council newbies repeatedly commandeered the public process to gratify their own whims with symbolic resolutions, they’re trying to divert public funding to their pet project. The three recently sponsored a Council resolution that showed what they would do with money raised by a not-yet-finalized county millage for mental health services and public safety: they would take the money from that millage given over to Ann Arbor and use it to, yes, fund Chris Taylor’s climate action plan goals. This is not only short-sighted, but to the thousands of families in our country who struggle with the poor mental health services available through CMH and the county jail, it’s a proposed diversion that is all at once ignorant, callous and selfish.
The trio of Democrats (Stephen Kunselman, Anne Bannister and David Silkworth) running against Ackerman, Frenzel and Smith in the Aug. 8 primary election have all identified Roads, transportation, traffic, traffic enforcement, bikes, pedestrians; Government, taxes, communication; and Safety, crime, police as their top priorities.
In a recent Facebook post, Zachary Ackerman describes his two years in elected office as “productive and collaborative.” Ackerman goes on to ask: “What’s at stake in this election?” Ackerman’s answer: “For one thing, fact-based policy.”
Welcome, neighbors, to local politics in the Trump era.