Affinities and victories

On Tuesday night I went to five victory party locations — starting on the west side of the city, and ending up downtown, where I was able to park and walk to all my destinations. I tried, not completely successfully, to get to each location before the vote totals were known.

I wished each candidate well.  As many of the events were jointly held, in some locations I wished one person well, while in others I saw multiple candidates.  (Water Resources, Judge, State Rep., Council — each person ran well and worked hard.  And I plan to work with each person who takes office in November.)

And then I came home.

As I look back, I’m struck by the messages I take from the results on Council.

The numbers

Right now, here are the percentage totals in the Democratic Primary Council races — the campaign hasn’t been certified, so these are preliminary:

Capital-intensive, acceptable debt


Service-intensive, low debt


















No one received a significant majority (more than 60%).  Sumi Kailasaphathy received the highest percentage (the margin was 235 voters).  Chuck Warpehoski received the next highest percentage (with a margin of 389 votes), while the difference between Margie Teall and Jack Eaton was negligible (18 votes).

I don’t want to suss out why these races were as close as they clearly were.  I also don’t want to get into the lack of participating voters.  At this point, that’s just speculation.

But I am intrigued by the lack of a significant majority (over 60%) represented by these vote tallies.

I’ve divided the candidates into two camps – but they aren’t the Council Party vs. Insurgents (or any other cute name you might have heard).  I intend to highlight the significant differences of the messages.

Capital-intensive, acceptable debt:

Three of these candidates embrace the idea that the City ought to build new infrastructure, and that, in some circumstances, it’s acceptable to take on debt to build that infrastructure.

For reasons of contrast, I’ve placed Chuck Warpehoski in the same column as those who want to build infrastructure, although his support for infrastructure improvements funded through debt is not clear to me.

Service-intensive, low debt:

Four of the candidates focused on the City’s responsibility to provide services to its residents, and that debt should be limited and low.

OK. I know these are simplistic categories, but believe me, they are no more simplistic than ‘Council Party’.  And at least I’m trying to define the differences.

capital-intensive                                                                                                          service-intensive

About these different political leanings

Capital-intensive projects from the past include (but are not limited to) the Wheeler Center, the Courts-Police facility (called by some the Justice Center), the new underground parking structure at Library Lane, the renovated waste-water treatment plant and the Stadium Bridges.  Possible capital-intensive projects include the expansion of AATA into a regional transit system and the construction of a new train station.

Each of the completed projects has been built using funds raised by bond sales (Wheeler, Courts-Police, Library Lane, the WWT) or through a combination of street millage funds, Act 51 (streets) funds from the State of Michigan, and Federal dollars (the Stadium Bridges). Possible ways to pay for a regional transit system and a new train station include – but are not yet guaranteed to use – millage funding and bond sales.

There are some other issues – that don’t involve capital investment – that do involve implicit debt.  The benefits packages for staff and retired staff, coupled with the projected retirement obligations, legitimately affect the City’s financial flexibility.

Much of the community discussion about specific Council decisions has been focused on whether we, as a community, are choosing to spend dollars on capital-intensive projects that require a lot of funding, or whether we should instead be spending for service-intensive programs that require limited additional funding.

This is another way of stating that some folks believe the payments on debt are responsible for staffing cuts and the elimination of on-street leaf pickup, for instance. Even more simply, should we build an underground parking structure or hire more police officers?

If every member of Council favors mass transit – as we’ve all said – we have to think about how to accomplish this goal. Is the best mechanism to change the way we spend our dollars and consider going into debt (and taking funds from some other, potential-but-as-yet-unknown program or project) to pay for transit? Where is transit on the hierarchy of priorities?

If all members of Council favor a thriving downtown, how do we determine and ensure adequate parking? Should it be high on that list of priorities? And is it desirable to risk cutting back services in one area in order to achieve more expansive parking options? How do those considerations tie into mass transit? And for that matter, is it necessary for downtown to thrive by becoming significantly less local?

If every candidate and every member of Council wants to hire more police officers and fire fighters, does the impact to the budget — or inadequate labor negotiations — prevent the City from doing that? And if we spend those dollars on higher staffing levels, where does the money come from? Does the City find an additional source of income, or does it cut other services and programs?

Candidates running for the Democratic Party nomination in the recent primary inevitably were asked which vision they had for Ann Arbor – one that emphasizes services and security over risk of debt, or one that emphasizes opportunities and investment over risk? But did we, as voters, make our decisions based on this dichotomy?

As near as I can determine, the electorate evaluated candidates on a number of criteria:

  1. Is this the better/best of the candidates offered? (education, skills, background, personal knowledge)
  2. Is this the candidate best positioned to represent me?
  3. Do I trust this candidate?
  4. Do I trust this candidate’s supporters?

I think these are fairly standard criteria, and reflect the types of concern I heard from voters – in a variety of wards.

I suspect the people who ran for office – whether they are more inclined to support ‘risk’ in an effort to increase infrastructure, or prefer to limit ‘risk’ but emphasize services – believe that many folks voted for them based on their positions on the issues. After all, when we greet those candidates at the door, we ask them things like “where do you stand on the underground parking structure?” more often than we ask them “why should I trust you?”

Once on Council, a Council member’s political attitude becomes important. I looked for the candidate who was most likely to work hard to understand the complex issues, engage in critical thinking, work without too much reference to others for their ideas, and who could compromise in order to move closer to whatever goal they have. The good news, from my perspective, is that few people who run for office fail to see the complexities once they sit at the big table. They may not support or reject all capital-intensive programs; we all pick and choose. Because these issues aren’t black and white – there’s a range of positions, and we each fit somewhere on that range.

capital-intensive                                                                                                            service-intensive

Where would you fit on this line?

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2 Responses to Affinities and victories

  1. LastTechAge says:

    Sabra, you did not define what you mean by Service Intensive/Low Debt, where you put Vivienne. The issues are much more complex than this simple dichotomy, though.

    Your issues under the Capital Intensive group was a strange collection. Under no possible misconstruction was she against the Stadium Bridge. The Mayor delayed getting around to it, he and his group had 10 years to repair this truly dangerous thing. Against? We had not used the old Stadium Bridge for at least 2 years prior to its closure and repair! Renovation to the Water Projects as an issue for the Mayor’s Group? We live withing a football field length of the water works, we enjoy AA water. We strongly applauded the upgrades several years ago. The real issue is that the Council historically has not done enough for our local water – We have an unremediated dioxane plume under the western half of Ann Arbor and it is *not* recent. Water and the bridge were not issues, but, to me (IMHO), this is close to agreeing with Lowenstein that the challengers were “Tea Partyers.” Parking structures? Yes most everyone agrees that we need these to assure vital traffic into a living downtown, but but did we need a multistory UNDERGROUND one near the flood plain? You did not mention that they do not take cash for parking – plastic only. You forgot to link the parking structure with the conference center, as the Mayor’s group did. That omission was a slip, right?

    So what were the issues that Capital Intensive opponents stood for? You did not say what the your Service Intensive grouping meant. Where was the top-down political control of issues which was Vivienne’s organizing issue? You misplaced Stadium Bridge and Water purification onto Margie and Chuck’s CI side when it ought to have gone straight into the SI side. Transit issues were a BIG DEAL, though. Chuck’s supporters effectively spread the word that Vivienne was completely anti-transit. They did a good job with that nasty-gram. She actually stated for the record that she loved public transit and strongly supported the local system, but we have had many feedbacks from voters that they went for Chuck because his supporters told them she was Anti-Transit. Sorry, local transportation actually goes into SI, too. *IMHO* –It’s the regional transit proposal (such as the extreme case where AA voters would pay for an external transit system to let Livonia or Chelsea residents ride to work in AA) that was under stress. Ann Arbor-centric bus service may be the best it can be with available funds, but actually falls woefully short. Example: Where is the public bus into WCC for night students? (Service ought to run through 10:00 PM to assure safe return, but does not.) Disclosure – WCC is where I work. I also wish the buses stopped at Park & Go spots so that a hybrid strategy would work for all transit across the freeway circle. These are transit needs I know about, but city needs must be dotted with additional poorly served areas.

    Wish we could be categorized this easily. Please note: this is *my* take on recent history, we do share the same surname, but Vivienne and I are independent people – don’t blame her for my statements.
    Charles Armentrout

  2. sbriere says:

    Dear Charlie,
    I’m actually honored that you bothered to read these musing. And I’d never hold Vivienne to account for your thoughts — I don’t expect anyone to hold my spouse to account for my thoughts or deeds, and I certainly want him to be able to think and say what he wants. I believe it’s quite gallant of you to feel you need to comment on these musings of mine.
    I’ll try my best to respond.
    First, I wouldn’t consider attacking Vivienne’s positions — or, for that matter, those of any other candidate who ran for Council. I didn’t see what I wrote as an attack, nor did those who saw it before it was posted. I am sorry that I’ve offended you.
    Then, any time one attempts to categorize politics, one is forced to be simplistic. I acknowledged that in the post. I also didn’t try to hypothesize where exactly anyone might fall on that line I drew, or why they might choose that viewpoint. I did see the candidates as falling on one side of a midpoint of that line — or on the other. I see both viewpoints as equally valid, and, to quote myself,
    “The good news, from my perspective, is that few people who run for office fail to see the complexities once they sit at the big table. They may not support or reject all capital-intensive programs; we all pick and choose.”
    During the campaigns, I listened to each candidate and to all the debates, and drew my own conclusions. I don’t assume anyone has to agree with me — which is why I characterize this blog as an editorial.
    As for the other aspects of your comment:
    Trying to define ‘service-intensive’ positions, for me, ran the risk of attempting to define without examples, or of seeming too critical of one viewpoint or another. It was much more concrete to talk about those capital-intensive projects that I’ve heard some in our community attack or defend.
    It was my intent to NOT discuss Vivienne’s positions — or those of any other candidate — on any given set of issues.
    I didn’t want to characterize anyone’s specific position. It’s so easy to misunderstand where someone else is coming from. But here are some examples of that spectrum between Capital-Intensive and Service-Intensive goals.
    While everyone running for Council supported mass transit, some of those supported regional mass transit, some wanted stronger and better Ann Arbor-centric mass transit, and some wanted a different model for local (or regional) mass transit.
    Everyone running supported hiring more safety service staff. Nearly everyone (as far as I can remember) wanted better streets, better waste services (picking up the leaves was mentioned often), better communication, better services at Larcom. How these things were to be achieved, and what level of priority any given candidate gave them was what separated one group from another.
    Of course, the purpose of that line was to show that these viewpoints are a spectrum. For instance, I might support some capital-intensive project because I believe the risk (a bond) is not sufficient to outweigh the benefit to the community. I also might work on Council to ensure that some capital-intensive project never gets built, and you might not see that work because it doesn’t happen at the Council table. Similarly, I might work on Council to ensure services to neighborhoods are effectively funded, that the streets are fixed, the sidewalks maintained — and much of that work might not show up in Council discussion. I anticipate that everyone on Council would be able to say the same thing — and posit that each candidate running would also be able to support both service- and capital-intensive goals, although not always on the same side.
    Candidates don’t have the luxury of working behind the scenes for better legislation and better budget priorities. In running, they have to be clear about their positions, and often take a position on one side to differentiate themselves from their primary opponent. That’s the nature of competition, and why I observed what I saw as two viewpoints.
    I attempted to keep personalities out of this editorial. But I surmise that you read this as ‘praising’ one side (let’s call them the Capital-Intensive folks) over another (let’s call them the Service-Intensive folks). As I wrote these thoughts out, I believed both positions are valid.
    In fairness to my own viewpoint, I read Vivienne’s own (editorial) blog, and have observed that she raises cautions about capital-intensive projects with undefined or risky funding. (By risky, I mean things for which the City had to raise funds through bonds [which creates debt] or seek grants that can take a lot of time.) She also emphasizes the need for greater governmental accountability (services), better streets (services), and better neighborhood protection (still services). Personally, I agree with her on these concerns.
    Campaigns bring out the worst in candidates and their supporters. I am sorry you appear to believe I’m feeding into that.

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