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Candidates for Ann Arbor Mayor make their case to voters

City of Ann Arbor
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There is a three-way race for Ann Arbor Mayor voters will decide on Tuesday, November 8th but only two names will appear on the ballot. Incumbent Democrat, Christopher Taylor, is seeking a third term in office. The other name that appears on the ballot is Eric Lipson. Lipson is a self-proclaimed Democrat but is running as an independent.

A very late entry into the race is independent write-in candidate Dylan Manna. He’s a researcher and physics scholar at the University of Michigan, who recently moved back to the city.

All three desire a safe, diverse, environmentally sound city with expanded housing opportunities. But they differ on how best achieve those goals.

(Taylor) "I think it is going to come down to this. Ann Arbor has a reasonable and responsible local government."

Christopher Taylor
Wikipedia Media Commons
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Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor

That is Mayor Christopher Taylor. He says he’s proud of where the city has come in his eight years in office.

(Taylor) “We provide services to residents today, and we also work incredibly hard to provide services to residents in the future. And I think people understand that this is how we operate, that we do so carefully. and that we look to implement progressive practical policies that will improve our community in the long run for years to come.”

Challenger Eric Lipson says he’s a long-time Democrat but decided to file as an independent so he could run if his choice for mayor, Anne Bannister, lost to Taylor in the August primary. She did. Lipson says it’s important to continue calling out the Mayor for his approach to up-zoning portions of the city.

Eric Lipson
MD Johnson Photography
Eric Lipson
(Lipson) "There were no incentives with that up-zoning for affordability or sustainability. Although we talk a good game, or the mayor talks a good game about that, there were no incentives for that in the current up- zoning. So, how do we expect that will happen if we don’t require it or incentivize it?"
(Taylor) "First off, we are not permitted to obligate builders to build in a manner that is more stringent than the state building code. I don’t advocate that we do things that are illegal."

Taylor maintains the city has been legally prevented from enforcing environmental sustainability requirements in new construction. Nonetheless, he suggests he is continuing to work to include such measures in future housing projects.

(Taylor) "We are doing everything we can to explore where we are able to incentivize and obligate more, more sustainable developments. In many instances, when folks come in with planned unit developments requesting density that is in excess of the then-current zoning, we will look for electrification we will look for affordability improvements."

But Lipson suggests the Mayor’s resistance to hold developer’s feet to the fire goes beyond legal barriers.

(Lipson) "One of the mayor’s biggest donors, the owner of Oxford properties, is the resident agent for 20% of those properties, so that means those properties immediately appreciate in value. And he’s one of the mayor’s biggest donors. That's very concerning to me and that’s a quid pro quo and I don’t think that’s the way it should be."
(Taylor) "That suggestion is of course a…as insulting as it is ridiculous. Fundamentally, that’s nonsense. I am pleased and proud to have had support from a wide variety of residents. In Ann Arbor, there are campaign finance limits. And those limits are rigorously observed."

What’s more, Taylor maintains that turning down new projects would only slow the creation of new, affordable housing.

(Taylor) "We need more people who work in Ann Arbor to live in Ann Arbor. We can't do that by capping the number of residential units here in Ann Arbor by enforcing a moratorium on development. We got here because of our current laws, our current laws are inadequate to our challenges. And I'm advocating for practical, progressive change."

While both Mayor Taylor and his challenger support environmental health, sustainability and progressive policies, they differ on the how best to tackle some of the city’s major challenges. Lipson cites the Gelman Sciences 1,4-dioxane plume and its threat to the municipal water supply, suggesting Taylor is dragging his feet on such a vital issue.

(Lipson) "Right now, we're doing very little in the area of remediation, and the mayor, or the mayor’s law firm, has made a half million dollars representing Scio Township, one of the interveners in a useless lawsuit that was just reversed by the Court of Appeals and thrown out entirely."
(Taylor) "First off, the people in the law firm who are working on this case are representing Scio Township. They are fighting the polluter. They are working to increase cleanup and expand monitoring. Further, the way that compensation works at the firm, I don’t see a nickel of any of that money."

Taylor takes further offense and says his office continues to make it a top priority.

(Taylor) "We knew from the beginning the EPA process would be years, if not decades in the resolution. And we also knew the court case would be long and would have along the way successes and failures. We have three court cases in the bag. We’re working on contemplating whether or not to seek a 4th order, and these things take time, and they are subject to the confluence of law and fact. We’re looking to do the best we can with the hand we’ve been dealt, frankly by the Engler administration and the Republican Legislature over the decades, and by a polluter who refuses to do the right thing."

Lipson says the city needs greater citizen input in determining the city’s future.

(Lipson) "I would rather see the people of Ann Arbor have direct input on what we think the shape of the city, the height, and future of the city should be."

And, he adds, there needs to be more governmental transparency.

(Lipson) "The current mayor and the current council, or should I say incoming council, are very much controlled by development interests in Ann Arbor. So, that would be my first priority. I would like to make sure that, in 2023, when we have the comprehensive land use plan revision, which is already scheduled and already budgeted for, that we actually include the citizens of Ann Arbor and not just a small group of people."

The Mayor calls any suggestion that he is not engaged with the public "nonsense."

(Taylor) "I listen to residents all the time. I engage with residents all the time. There is no local government in Michigan that is more transparent than the City of Ann Arbor. The fact that my opponent in the general election and in the primary disagree with the conclusion arrived at by staff, disagree with the conclusion arrived at by an increasing majority of city council……just because we may disagree upon the conclusion, it doesn’t mean we haven’t been listening."

Where does the independent, write-in candidate stand on these matters? Dylan Manna entered the race, with no expectation of winning. He says his last minute candidacy is only to create greater, community political discourse. Manna adds his voice to those who suggests that, under Taylor’s leadership, the city may be too corporate-based in making housing decisions without fully considering environmental impacts.

Dylan Manna and his dog.
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Dylan Manna and his dog.
(Manna) "You know, along with water, we have wastewater and even just drainage in the City of Ann Arbor for years it has been a problem because less and less ground and more and more cement has caused problems like that. So, there’s a lot of planning needs to go to make things both environmental and successful for people. It might also limit…maybe we shouldn’t be putting tall buildings downtown when we already have draining problems."

Both Manna and Lipson question whether corporate decision making is driving the current administrations decisions. But Taylor says support for his decisions come from a wide and diverse range of community members. He suggests voters continue to show they agree his solutions are benefiting the city and its residents.

(Taylor) "I'll observe gently that, in the past two elections, the council members with whom I tend to agree and with whom I anticipate agreeing have won 10 out of 10 races, and that the folks with whom my opponent tends to agree have won zero out of 10 races. And so, I feel pretty good that I’m listening to the electorate."

Lipson continues to share his call for change with voters throughout the city. He’s hoping higher turnout will produce a different result than the primary did.

(Lipson) "The difference is that only 25% of the voters voted in the primary. We’re going to get many more people voting in this. We’re trying to reach out to all the voters, not just the primary voters, including students."

The decision will be made this coming Tuesday.

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
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