Voters in Ypsilanti are used to seeing their candidates run as Democrats. That’s not the case this time around. When the November 6th general election rolls around, voters in the city will find that four of the five candidate options for mayor are running as independents. 89.1 WEMU’s Jorge Avellan wanted to find out why that is. And, along the way, the candidates helped define some of the issues that drove them to run.
"I’m proud to be a Democrat."
Second Ward City Council member Beth Bashert is the only mayoral candidate who declared a party affiliation. The other four candidates are running as independents. She explains why she remains loyal to the Democratic Party.
"It is the party that is closest to being able to advocate for the people in our city that we need to. And our community."
Political newcomer Mickeila Tate is a case manager for the Home of New Vision in Ann Arbor. She disagrees with Bashert.
"I think that it’s better to run as an independent, yes, and the reason why I say that is because I come from the angle of the people, because I am the people. I feel that although I’m running for mayor, all the people are mayors. We all have a voice."
Former city council member Anne Brown is running as an independent as well. Brown had planned on running against Bashert in the August Primary election but failed to submit enough valid signatures to get on the ballot. As a result, she is now an independent, write-in candidate. It is rare that an independent or write-in candidate wins, but Brown believes the time is right.
"Some people have asked me, 'What party? Are you a democrat?' And other people have said, 'You’re not associated?' Yes! And I just think that people are not looking necessarily toward party politics in local government. They’re looking for the best candidate."
Eastern Michigan University lecturer Adrienne Hirschfelder is another independent mayoral candidate in Ypsilanti. She says the most important things to her are the issues affecting residents, including high property taxes.
"We have to find ways to bring development, and, like I said, if we can broaden that tax base…bring more development, that’s more people paying taxes, that means that we could ease the burden and we can lower the property taxes. And those of us who already live here can stay here."
If elected as mayor, Beth Bashert says she will continue to support urban development programs Ypsilanti already has in place that help address concerns over gentrification.
"We have a number of programs that are going around. One is the Neighborhood Enterprise Zone Project, where we help people who are in lower income homes or own a piece of property in these zones, be able to develop it, and improve it without paying the extra taxes."
When it comes to redeveloping the controversial Water Street property, Anne Brown says addressing the environmental issues on the 36-acre property must be a priority. Ypsilanti bought the land in 1997 for $12 million. At the time of purchase, it was known the land was heavily contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCB’s. Since that time, city officials say another $8 million has been spent on various environmental studies and remediation efforts.
"It’s just a matter of really combing through some of that paperwork to find out what was done, what wasn’t done. But the other key thing is when those things are done there needs to be some monitoring. Somebody needs to be their on-site watching that process."
First-time candidate Mickeila Tate agrees redeveloping the Water Street Property is important. She says it is also a priority to help residents find jobs and offer more public services.
"They’re putting money into projects that are being unfinished and then having to keep repeatedly asking for money and asking voters to literally agree with certain things that are constantly putting us in the hole. And the city is falling, that is my main concern."
Government transparency is another issue that came up in the course of our conversations with the candidates. Independent newcomer Adrienne Hirschfelder has that issue among her priorities.
"I feel like, at least one of the millages, the Water Street millage, I feel that was a very deceptive thing that city council did to get that to pass. And I don’t think what we need is a city council that does not work in the interests of the people of this city. That’s a big issue for me. I feel that city council, as it stands right now, is not working for the interest of the people."
There is a fifth person running for Mayor. Write-in candidate Sheila McSpadden chose not to participate in this report.
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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him firstname.lastname@example.org