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 AnnArbor.com, 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: AnnArbor.com 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 AnnArbor.com 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)
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