The Council Party vs. the Ann Arbor Townies

How often have we heard it?  “Ann Arbor in Amber”  (refers to the fossilized resin, not the fictional kingdom), the place where townies “don’t want to change”.  As we said in our earlier post, What Does It Mean to be an Ann Arbor Townie,  this is really a reflection of two different visions for our town.  Here’s what we said then:

Perhaps this is what is really at the bottom of the current political divide in Ann Arbor.  It’s the townies vs. the economic development visionaries.  Or as a friend recently put it, the Community Party vs. the Council Party.  There is a segment of city movers and shakers who would like to see Ann Arbor become a metropolitan center, with  higher density, intense economic development, and more opportunities for wealth generation.  They openly resent the “neighborhood types” (aka current residents) who oppose change that threatens their own neighborhoods and quality of life.  (As former city councilmember Joan Lowenstein so aptly put it, we get sulky.)

This has been a tough year for the Council Party.  They have learned yet once again that elections are the check on unbridled power.  Here’s the problem: voters are residents who have a vested interest in the circumstances that actually affect life in the city.  But the Council Party is often working on behalf of a future vision that doesn’t include those troublesome residents.  Thus, the CP suffered significant defeats in both the primary and general elections of 2011.  (Links are to Ann Arbor Chronicle roundup of those elections.)

In the primary elections,   the CP mounted challengers to two incumbents (Mike Anglin and Steve Kunselman) who have been a thorn in their side.  As we noted at the time, the Fifth Ward race in particular was a direct contest between two views of how Ann Arbor should be governed. As reported by, challenger Neal Elyakin rang all the CP bells,  with support for the Fuller Road Station, “dense downtown development and a future economy that supports job creation” and, infamously, a reference to “naysayers”.  In the Third Ward, challenger Ingrid Ault also made statements that could be regarded as pro-development and was endorsed by CP stalwarts such as kingmaker Leah Gunn, Joan Lowenstein, and CM Sandi Smith.  Both challengers were qualified, generally well-regarded in the community, and raised a decent amount of money.  But they were both decisively defeated.  Here are the results of those primary elections.

Council Party incumbent Stephen Rapundalo easily defeated a novice political challenger.  But Tim Hull’s determined campaign did serve notice that Rapundalo might be vulnerable, and thus one of the more remarkable chapters in Ann Arbor political history began.  Former councilmember Jane Lumm was persuaded to come out of political retirement to run as an independent in the general election.  Though a Republican, Lumm was supported by many Democrats as well as Republicans in an upwelling of electoral enthusiasm that can only be described as “post-partisan” in its breadth.  Lumm’s positions were antithetical to the Council Party’s on nearly every point.  She won decisively.   Here are the results of the contests of interest in the November 2011 general election.

Incumbents in two wards were scarcely contested. Sabra Briere (not of the Council Party) had no opposition at all and Marcia Higgins (a CP stalwart) faced an opponent who ran as a Republican but who was rather quirky and apparently entirely self-funded. So if we are keeping score, the total for the season is Council Party 1: Community (or townies) 4.

Take That!  And That!

Clearly this year’s elections were going to be disappointing for the group of insiders who have been running the city for the last 10 years.  Now a defender has emerged to score the upstarts.  Former councilmember Joan Lowenstein has written an article that appeared in the December print edition of The Ann, a magazine that is furnished as an insert in several other print vehicles in Ann Arbor.  The article has now been made available online ( thanks to the publisher) though now formatted as a “letter”.  Lowenstein, who served as an enthusiastic Council Party Council Member until stepping down to run as a judge in the 15th District Court (2008) and who now serves as DDA chair, has a long history of “dissing” residents.  I can’t possibly do better than A2Politico’s summary of that history.  But she has really outdone herself with this one.  Her article combines disinformation with outright insults, and is even politically incorrect.  (Since when is it okay to attack people on the basis of age?)  She specifically calls out Lumm, Anglin and Kunselman as “antis”.

In Lowenstein’s current piece, she accuses townies of opposing the pedestrian crosswalk ordinance (it was not a campaign issue as far as I am aware), and the pedestrian path along Washtenaw.    Though some of Lumm’s voters might have been unhappy with that path because it took a swath out of their property and required some assessments, no mention of it is on her website, and it has certainly not been much discussed citywide.  She appears to attribute opposition to the Fuller Road Parking structure to fear of outsiders.

“A transportation center would bring in more people, and people are dangerous if you want to huddle in a corner and hold on to what you have”

Lowenstein goes on to imply that Community voters are against culture because they think government should provide “only” basic services, interested in “shrinking government so that it provides nothing but water, sewers, roads and police” but not in “public art, concert halls,  theaters and libraries”.    This is due to our crabbed age-related tendencies, when we need to “attract young, industrious, intelligent and civic-minded people”.  Yes, the problem is that “people get more conservative as they age”, and she has already explained that the “antis” are “Most…not only in the category of older but in the subset of elderly”.

What this is all about is the “development to bring in young talent”  idea that has been a consistent element of the Council Party’s world view for some years.  (See our post of almost two years ago with a summary of the arguments.)  So if you care about your neighborhood and want a decent quality of life in your city, you are somehow preventing the young from establishing a foothold.  Framing the argument  as a generational war is hurtful and untrue.  Many of the neighborhoods of Ann Arbor are home to young families and even young single people need reliable water and sewer, safety as provided by police and fire protection, roads that can be traveled, and like to visit parks.  Many of the disputed issues (such as the Justice Center that many of us opposed and the Fuller Road Station) would in fact burden a future generation with debt when the “subset of elderly” will be beyond caring.  Using labels like those in Lowenstein’s article to dismiss those who have a different vision of the future is at first laughable, but finally, disturbing because it attacks community cohesion at a basic level.

Disclosure: I both endorsed and contributed to Anglin, Briere, Kunselman, and Lumm in the last election season.

UPDATE: chose to make Lowenstein’s column and this response into a news story.   It elicited many comments, most of them critical of Lowenstein but some supporting her viewpoint.  The poll appeared to be almost evenly divided, though like so many polls the choices were poorly stated.

NOTE: The link to Lowenstein’s column in The Ann is broken.  I cannot identify a source of the original column. (October 16, 2016)


Explore posts in the same categories: Basis, Neighborhoods, politics

18 Comments on “The Council Party vs. the Ann Arbor Townies”

  1. A2Politico Says:

    Vivienne, this is a simply splendid analysis. Just as Lowenstein’s candidate Neil Elyakin was plastered with her insults of 5th Ward folks as “sulkers,” so will any and all candidates she endorses in 2012 be plastered with the particulars of this latest outburst.

    You refer to Leah Gunn as a “kingmaker.” I actually think that one of the more interesting results of the 4 losses is that Gunn, Lowenstein, Bergman and Carlberg could NOT make any kings, or rescue Stephen Rapundalo from the bungled campaign the insiders ran.

    We will see in 2012 if the backs of the insiders have truly been broken. We’ll see if Sandi Smith, Margie Teall, Carsten Honke and Tony Derezinski find themselves challenged and if any number of them are defeated. If two lose their seats, the Council Majority’s 10 year lock will be ended.

  2. Larry Krieg Says:

    Vivienne – and Politico – your rhetoric sounds perilously close to that of Ms. Lowenstein. You speak of the “lock” held by the “council party” and their “unbridled power”, but aren’t they the majority because they were elected? If you’re against the elected majority being able to do what they feel is best, what do you think should happen when those of your own opinion are in the majority? Should they not run the city as they think best?

    Actually, I see the whole “council” vs. “townie” issue as what has been described as “pioneers” vs. “settlers”. America was built by both, and neither group by itself would have enabled our country to succeed as it has.

    There has been one constant that has been with us since the first Europeans came to America: change. Nobody has succeeded in preventing it. The secret of a good quality of life is not to try to prevent change, but to manage it so that, as much as possible, the changes preserve and enhance everybody’s quality of life. Those who try to prevent change tend to be marginalized as the world whirls past.

    I would really hate to see all the lovely neighborhoods in Ann Arbor be destroyed for new development. But is that what is being proposed? Some change, some neighborhoods, certainly. On the other hand, must everything remain as it is now? Have we achieved perfection?

    • varmentrout Says:

      Larry, with all due respect, first of all, you don’t live here, right? And the point of all this is that the Council Party lost in this election. This is a classic political battle where no one “side” remains in power indefinitely.

      As always, I value your enthusiasm and engagement. But I think you are oversimplifying the issues here. Most recently, we had a very valuable near-downtown neighborhood go under the bulldozer to build a cell-block-like apartment complex. This is not “managed” change. And it is not progress toward any kind of perfection.

      BTW, weren’t the pioneers and settlers the same people? We aren’t talking about indigenous populations in either case, right?

    • A2Politico Says:

      @Larry, the name is A2Politico. Politico is, well, those other guys in DC. Let’s get that out of the way.

      Hieftje and the Hive are in power because they run dirty, sleazy, dishonest campaigns. They have tried to trash the people who dared run against them, as opposed to sticking to the issues.

      Rapundalo’s campaign, run by Greden and Lowenstein, was a perfect example. Rapunds lied on his web site about his opponent’s votes. He had been getting a pass from the local media about supporting a Republican for Gov., then running as a Dem. This year, he didn’t get a pass; he got nailed for lying on his web site about his opponent’s record. A2Politico asked the questions, and then so did AAObserver, AAChronicle, Finally.

      If the CP candidates focus on issues, great. They don’t do that for the simple reason that their political credentials are veeeeeery thin.

      A2Politico is a progressive news site. In fact, ProgressMichigan ( just recognized A2Politico as, “A strong progressive voice in Michigan.” They lumped A2P in with some pretty heady company: the Michigan Senate Minority Whip Senator Dem. Gretchen Whitmer, among others.

      The Columbia Journalism review called “Accountability Journalism in Ann Arbor, Mich.”

      We don’t rely on rhetoric. Our writers rely on FOIA, facts and fundamental accountability journalism, and as you astutely pointed out: Nobody can hold back change.

      • Timjbd Says:

        “Politico” is “The Drudge Report” given a mainstream-y veneer of Inside-the-Beltway “respectability” by vast infusions of Joe Albritton’s persuasive $$billions.

        The DC cocktail circuit media organs have happily assimilated (and regularly regurgitate) the disinformation stream provided by big bucks think tank sub-basement dwellers who provide Politico with their story lines.

        So far, A2Politico has resisted that.

      • A2Politico Says:

        Timjbd I am mightily resisting the billions of dollars being thrown at A2Politico. 😉 Why, yesterday, I had to dodge a suitcase full of cash thrown at me. Seriously, A2Politico has no connection to—other than Ben Smith loves our satire column. The site is independently owned, and offers local businesses free advertising. I think a local news site should support local businesses, not suck them dry.

      • Timjbd Says:

        Michigan Messenger just shut down. You guys are the last hope.

  3. Junior Says:

    Tim Hull’s finish with 42% of the primary vote despite having no real campaign was the clear inspiration to Lumm’s running as an independent as her vast political connections easily raised copious amounts of campaign contributions and garnered impressive endorsements that easily overwhelmed Steve Rapundalo.

    The endorsements of Steve by political heavyweights such as John Hieftje, Brian Mackie and Joan Lowenstein were embarassingly ineffectual.

    Jane was the people’s choice.

    • varmentrout Says:

      I wouldn’t agree that Tim Hull had no real campaign. I was not involved but I know that he went door-to-door and turned in excellent performances at debates and interviews. Since I don’t often get over to the Second Ward, I don’t know about literature drops and yard signs, but let us not forget that he actually won two precincts.

    • Mark Koroi Says:

      I was rather impressed at Tim Hull’s neat appearance and answers at the televised debate with Steve Rapundalo. He did have a few endorsements, an attractive campaign website, and did rather well for a first run at public office.

      I remember him and a friend coming to the Mike Anglin victory party on primary election night to celebrate Mike’s landslide victory.

      But I suspect a lot of votes he received were due to an anti-incumbency mood among voters.

  4. cosmonıcan Says:

    Being from town, and educated here, I considered staying after college, but left. I’m back now, but that’s a different story, and I was gone a good 25 years, so I was OUT. One thing I considered when I was at that step, besides career opportunities, was what would that social life be like. It seemed to me that being a young adult, not associated with the biggest pool of young people in town, as a student anymore, and definitely by choice not an employee either would be awkward and creepy, I think the term “manther” is descriptive, but old and creepy works too, and I didn’t want to be that guy, so I git. So, this whole concept of attracting young workers to town eludes me.

    By they way, you have a reply from yourself above that’s timestamped 1/2 hour yet in to the future, you may want to double check some system settings?

    • varmentrout Says:

      Welcome, Cosmonican. Re the timestamp issue: WordPress uses Greenwich time with some divisions that don’t necessarily correspond to our local time.The day here begins at 11:00 p.m the previous night. That’s how I could go back to the future.

      Regarding the youth issue, every community needs continual refreshing and I personally love seeing young faces around, but from an economic development viewpoint, we are looking for all those young creative minds to start new ventures (which apparently around here get sold and moved to a coastal city as soon as they take off).

  5. Jack Eaton Says:

    Thank you for this very interesting commentary.

    I agree with your view that novice candidate Hull’s ability to attract 42% of the primary vote in Ward 2 “did serve notice that Rapundalo might be vulnerable”. Of course, having the well-known and well respected Jane Lumm as the general election candidate meant that the usual CP disparagement and disinformation methodology would not work.

    I would be interested in hearing more about what you think about the Ward 4 general election. Candidate Scheie was a relative newcomer to Ann Arbor and a novice candidate. He was self-financed, a Republican, and posted some very odd comments on his campaign web page. Nonetheless, he received 41% of the vote against a long-term (former Republican) incumbent. This is a few percentage points better than young Mr. Elhady did in 2009 (after CP supporters spread a rumor that he was sympathetic to a group with terrorist connections).

    Admittedly, Council Member Higgins did not campaign in 2011. Still, having an unknown, under-financed, Republican with a “quirky” campaign score that much of the vote against a well known incumbent must mean something. Could it be that 40% of the 4th Ward is Republican? Or might it be that there are 40% who will cast an “anybody-but-Higgins” vote?

  6. varmentrout Says:

    Thanks, Jack – I deliberately avoided much interpretation of the 4th ward race, especially since I paid little attention to it while it was underway. But I agree that receiving less than 60% of the vote against a weak opponent is not a ringing endorsement.

    I’d expect, in general, for a well-liked incumbent to attain at least around 65% of the vote in a two-way race. (There are always disaffected voters.) So receiving less than that was not a show of strength. You mentioned the race in 2009 – Hatim Elhady held Higgins to just over 62%, also not a strong result for the incumbent.

    It is somewhat difficult to compare primary races and general election races because the turnout is different. Note the difference in Second Ward primary and general election turnout. (There were millage issues on the general election ballot, and the school board.)

    And yes, having a strong candidate like Jane Lumm in the race made a huge difference in that contest. People are more likely to vote for a strong candidate than against an incumbent who is merely weak. They need to feel confident that they will be represented well, and at least with the incumbent, they know what to expect.

  7. […] debate between the two sites has in many ways been a proxy debate between, as local blogger Vivienne Armentrout coined it, so-called Townies and so-called Economic […]

  8. […] The Council Party vs. the Ann Arbor Townies […]

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