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Three candidates seek to become Mayor of Ypsilanti

(From L to R) Mayor Pro-Tem Nicole Brown, Amber Fellows, and Mark Allen King.
Nicole Brown/Amber Fellows/Mark Alan King
(From L to R) Mayor Pro-Tem Nicole Brown, Amber Fellows, and Mark Alan King.

When Ypsilanti mayoral candidate Nicole Brown was declared the winner of the Democratic primary in August, many thought that was the end of the race. With Ypsilanti being a heavily Democratic area, the primary winner often runs unopposed in the November general election.

That is not the case this year.

Community organizer Amber Fellows is running as a non-partisan candidate and Mark Alan King is seeking the office on the Libertarian ticket.

Nicole Brown is a social worker by trade and has represented the first ward on city council since 2014. Presently, she also serves as Mayor Pro-Tem. Brown defeated sitting mayor, Lois Allen Richardson, and former Third Ward councilman Anthony Morgan in the Democratic primary in August.

(Brown) “My intention is to be a collaborative leader and work closely with everybody who wants to see Ypsilanti be a better place and a place that folks can live and put down roots and do that in a way that is feasible for them and attainable for them.”

Amber Fellows’ run for office is informed by her work as a community organizer and as a former chair of Ypsilanti’s Human Relations Commission. She says her progressive agenda includes advocating for housing justice, racial equality, reparations, LGBTQ rights, and government transparency. Fellows says she always intended to run as a non-partisan candidate because she believes the city’s partisan primary system doesn’t work.

(Fellows) “Although we are a very progressive town, we continue to get fairly moderate or conservative leadership because of our primary partisan system. So, I did not want to participate and run as a Democrat.”

Libertarian Mark Alan King is a software engineer at an internet service provider. He wants to work toward making Ypsilanti more affordable and ...

(King) “...to make sure that Ypsilanti is as business-friendly as possible and, as always, just the Libertarian perspective, to keep the government in its place.”

Housing, specifically affordable housing, remains a significant issue in Ypsilanti. Brown says she’s proud of, what she calls, “recent wins” by city council in getting some new housing developments approved. While optimistic, Brown acknowledges there is a long way to go in solving the city’s housing crisis. She wants to see other municipalities share her vision for affordable housing.

(Brown) “So that this side of the county is accounted for, right? And that housing is spread out, so people can live where they want to live as well and not feel like they have to go to one particular place in order to find an apartment or a home that is affordable for them. And I think we’re headed that way.”

Fellows was part of the process of bringing the 220 North Park developmentto fruition. She was chair of the community benefits ordinance commission and helped negotiate with the developer of the property. While affordable housing is a common goal, Fellows wants to change the process by which it is created. She says major development projects, like Water Street, should be made by community-based commissions instead of city council.

(Fellows) “My interest is in bringing more people into the political process and to expand and broaden power away from City Hall.”

King says the housing situation is a simple supply-and-demand issue, and the prevailing school of thought is that you have to provide tax breaks to attract developers.

(King) “If that is a route that needs to be taken to have builders come through, then we need to also make sure that their long-term is taken care of as well. Because if a builder can only get some incentive for, like, five years, and it takes five years to build, then what’s the friggin’ point?”

The Ypsilanti Police Department is in a state of transition at a time when gun violence remains a problem. The city is in search of a new police chief, the department is seven officers short, and it’s no secret there is a morale problem as a result. Fellows says throwing money at the YPD isn’t going to help lower crime.

(Fellows) “Currently, it’s pretty non-functional. The front door is locked. We don’t have a police chief. We’re down something like seven staff. Yet, council keeps allocating more and more funds to YPD without really any direction at all.”

One of the issues all three candidates seem to agree on is the need for an unarmed crisis response team to supplement police function. That, they say, would put some of the responsibility in the hands of highly trained mental health experts. Nicole Brown says community organizations specializing in violence prevention in related matters should also be part of the solution.

(Brown) “We are trying to find other ways to approach community safety. Because we know that police alone is not going to keep our community safe. We need all types of different mechanisms working hand-in-hand in our communities, including our neighbors.”

Libertarian Mark Alan King says, when it’s all said and done, the budget has to be balanced.

(King) “My opponents, they want to implement things like social workers for domestic problems instead of sending out a police officer. And as much as I agree with that, my concern is how are you going to pay for it?”

As the election rapidly approaches, each of the mayoral candidates in Ypsilanti has an elevator pitch to prospective voters. Fellows says she should be appealing to Ypsilanti voters who traditionally vote for Democrats and want to see more of the public involved in city government decisions.

(Fellows) “I’m on the left, and I think I would appeal to the vast majority of Ypsilanti residents where they know that there’s another option.”

Brown says she wants to facilitate an open and welcoming city government. She says that will require collaboration with citizens and other governmental bodies to move Ypsilanti forward. Brown says her eight years on council gives her a solid record to run on.

(Brown) “I’ve been on city council for two terms, so I have experience. I think that I am a very well-rounded individual who is compassionate, and I lead and move with integrity. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it.”

King says he should appeal to voters unhappy with the status quo.

(King) “Why not vote for somebody of a third party, perhaps a Libertarian, where we want to actually make sure that your rights are respected, that you can do what you want to do, and that government should not be able to stand in your way.”

The winner of the November 8th election will serve a four-year term.

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Josh Hakala is the general assignment reporter for the WEMU news department.
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