Wednesday, November 09, 2005

"Dems Sweep City Council"

So claims the Michigan Daily. I said it before and I'll say it again, Democrats and Democratic values had a middling showing in this election; it was the establishment -- and particularly the Democratic machine -- that won out.

Think about it. Stephen Rapundalo and Marcia Higgins, both narrow winners in their wards, were until recently Republicans. What distinguished both of them from their opponents was not their values (nearly indistinguishable), but their experience within city government: Rapundalo has served on several city advisory committees and Higgins has been on council for several years. In contrast, Tom Bourque and Jim Hood were relative newcomers to city politics, having worked as a lawyer and a mortgage lender, respectively, in addition to serving the community in other ways. As Bob Johnson said, responding to some students before the New West Side debate, "You've got to pay your dues" to get elected. What this means is that you have to kiss the ring of the local Democratic party, support the party candidates year in and year out, and schmooze, schmooze, schmooze until its your turn at the front of the line. People who have been following City Council know that decisions are made at caucus, not in Council chambers.

Machine politics ironically arose in the 19th century as a means of organizing immigrants in American cities into voting blocks, to secure positions and patronage within city government. The Irish, Italians, Germans, and Poles all employed this strategy to work their way from the margins into mainstream society. I said "ironically arose" because in Ann Arbor, it is the most privileged in this city who are organized to fight back marginal groups like students. As Johnson indicated, no matter how charismatic or able a citizen might be, not until they have slogged away at cocktail parties and on the Historic District Commission will they get their chance to have their name next to the magical capital D on election day. THAT's why Eugene Kang lost in August.

Well, I think that sucks. I think the way for students and renters to break the middle-of-the-road Democratic and establishment stronghold in the city is to take it on full force. Let's employ the real Democratic strategy and run a student or renter in every ward and for Mayor next year. First we'll run in the Democratic and Republican primaries, and if we can't win there, we'll run independents. The Democrats of Ann Arbor are not serving the interests of a large portion of the city -- perhaps even the majority of Ann Arbor's citizens. It's time for a change.

Send this link around to your friends and relatives who are dissatisfied with the status quo. Send me an email if you're ready to run. There are 9 months until the primaries and 12 months until elections. Who's ready to fight for affordability, accessibility, equity, and progressive values in the city of Ann Arbor?

EDIT: Quotes in title.


Anonymous Murph said...


I don't know if I really think this election showed the establishment keeping the students down. When precincts of maybe a thousand potential voters have turnouts of 12, the establishment doesn't need to waste its time with silencing anybody. I think this was a total failure of mobilization, plain and simple.

Note the quote from Rapundalo in the Daily, saying he met 200 students at Markley, and only a dozen said they were even registered to vote. That's ridiculous. It can't be blamed on "the machine", it can't be blamed on the timing of the primaries.

On the agreement hand, I do think you're right that this election's low turnout was a problem with non-students. As you point out, student-dominated precincts had super-low turnouts, but had the same turnouts as two years ago. I talked to 30-some homeowners in my neighborhood this weekend, and I'd say only half even knew there was going to be an election - I think I only talked to 2 who could name both of our Council candidates.

I think there's a pretty fundamental engagement problem at all levels.

Here's something interesting, though - note the precinct level vote totals for 4-4, 4-9, and 4-11 compared to the rest of the fourth ward. If you try to use that data to guess where Higgins and Hood live, I'm betting you'll stick your pin within a few blocks. (They only live a block apart from each other.) Proximity - > Participation?

11:58 AM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

I was at Markley the same time as Rapundalo (at least once) and was trying to register voters. People were registered, just not in Ann Arbor.

12:47 PM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

Also, I don't mean that the establishment is hostile to newcomers and students in the elections specifically, rather that the whole process is slanted against students, renters, and anyone outside the machine.

Here we have one of the most progressive, liberal, and elite universities in the country and a Democratic supermajority in the city. If all this rhetoric about fighting for liberal values in the city and fighting against conservative right-wingers across the state and country has any meaning, the city machine should be working its ass off to politicize and engage the third of its population it currently ignores, because that student population in large part moves across the country when it graduates either at the undergrad or grad level. That it doesn't I think is telling.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What is it that the current Council has done -- or not done -- that you think demonstrates this Council's lack of "progressive values"?

2:20 PM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

An ongoing problem -- perhaps the most important -- is housing and affordability; I might even call it a crisis. The working class, along with students, are unable/hardly able to afford to live in Ann Arbor -- I'm pointing to the median home price within the city (~$220,000 these days) and the percentage of renters, according to the 2000 census, who pay more than 30 percent of their gross income for their housing (~45% then, which I'm sure has gotten much worse). This ongoing problem reflects the enduring lack of will to make Ann Arbor broadly accessible.

The current Council abandoned the Three Site Plan, caving to political pressure; in making it a two site plan, they have pretty much made any affordable housing component unworkable. And, to reiterate a point, I distinguish between affordable housing for the homeless -- which is necessary but is essentially charity to assuage our guilt -- and broad affordability, which might upset the existing power structure but would keep the city from becoming a retirement community for the wealthy, which is where we're heading.

Want more?

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The median home is now $236,000...

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The students I spoke with were registered back home, in the suburbs of Detroit.

I don't know how electing a couple republican businessmen would have made anything better for anyone, except maybe some more large chain stores to come in, and employ some more people at minimum wage.

Ann Arbor has a very rich political history, just look it up. It doesn't seem very republican to me. Drawing from the past, both in terms of what has happened, as well as the knowledge and experience of those people who were around, will probably bring the greatest returns, enriching what is Ann Arbor, as opposed to a strip mall modular profit maximization.

9:10 PM  
Anonymous JCP2 said...

I think it would be important to make a distinction between students and non-student residents because whil their immediate living conditions may be similar, their long term interests are considerably different. If I had to make a choice, I would focus efforts on affordable housing for the non-students residents, because their financial situation is relatively set, while students have access to financial aid and other resources not available to the non-student residents. In addition, there is a set short term duration for the conditions that a student may have to live in, and then, with a degree in hand, things should start looking a lot brighter. The options for a new college graduate with a U of M degree are certainly much wider than that of the support staff that work at U of M.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Kate said...

Except that an important consideration for the council must be the character of the city, including its downtown. My impression is that
when the majority of students are forced to live at driving distance from their campus, the life of the neighborhood immediate surrounding a university suffers. Students keep the coffeeshops in business and must also be important contributors to the wealth of second hand bookstores we have, etc. I imagine that if they are priced out of living nearby altogether, it will be more difficult for them to wander about in downtown, and the character of the downtown area will change. Many fewer people will hang out at Arbor Brewing or
Thanos, fewer people will go for walks down liberty, etc. and I think this will make the downtown less vibrant, and much less safe, especially in the evening.

I gather that some of the federal funding for affordable housing is granted *because of the students who live here*. It seems reasonable to use at least some of it to help them to continue to live here, no?


1:04 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

In fact Republicans have held majorities on the Ann Arbor city council more than once in the postwar era, and the mayor was a Republican as recently as 2000. It would seem, however, that these have traditionally been the sort of pro-business, socially moderate Republicans you used to find in the pre-Gingrich era, "Rockefeller Republicans" to their detractors. Anyway.

I don't know that Ann Arbor is any "older" than other comparable cities--checking some demographics via Wikipedia, it in fact seems about the same as many cities with large student populations, even with reputations as neat-o places to live. However, let's all agree we probably wouldn't like Ann Arbor to turn into a sleepy retirement suburb.

Now, if society and the market at large decided that's what they wanted to do with Ann Arbor, I guess I wouldn't be opposed to that--I'd just find a different place to live. But one reason why that would be a bad idea is because of the larger region surrounding Ann Arbor. Detroit already has plenty of sleepy, complacent suburbs, and doesn't need another one--indeed, Ann Arbor is one of the handful of real locations I'd say the state has to offer, and it's important to maintain that through what looks to be a rough decade for Michigan. Detroit isn't a destination for anyone right now, and probably remains years away from becoming one. There are a few locations in Oakland county that hold some interest for young workers; but what SE Michigan--and Michigan in general--suffers from is the woeful state of Detroit. Ann Arbor may be the brightest spot in the state--and if unemployment numbers are any indications, it is in fact among the best places to work. That needs to be encouraged by making it a welcoming place to live for new graduates and young professionals. I don't really know if "affordable housing" for graduate students is the necessary response, but I do agree that housing, especially housing near the central city area, needs to be kept inexpensive--let's say for everyone interested in living here, graduate students included.

1:23 PM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

Mike -- I suspect you wouldn't be the only one to hit the road if Ann Arbor chose to become a retirement community.

I've been reading some city documents over the last couple years about affordable housing and a disturbingly common public sentiment goes like this: "We worked for years to buy a house in Ann Arbor and why should anyone else be able to live here when they are young and struggling? Some places are just unaffordable to live in."

I don't care if low income people (or even young professionals) are unable to afford a house in Burns Park. I DO care that someone who wants to or has to be in Ann Arbor for work or school or WHATEVER can find a decent, affordable place to live that makes their work/school place accessible. No one should have to rent in Ypsi or outside Howell or someplace similarly inaccessible because they are priced out of living in a small city in the Midwest.

1:45 PM  

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