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Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor makes his case for a third term

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor
Myra Klarman
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And I'm David Fair. We're just a day away from Election Day now, and many of you have already filled out and returned ballots. There are still a good number of absentee ballots that have yet to be returned. And a lot of voters planned to go to polling precincts and vote in person. Now, one of the matters being decided in Ann Arbor is the mayoral race. There are two names that appear on the ballot. And Dylan Manna is mounting a late entry writing campaign. His name will not appear on the ballot. Now, later this morning, you're going to hear from Eric Lipson, who is running as an independent. Right now, we're joined by Ann Arbor mayor and incumbent Christopher Taylor. Thank you so much for joining us today and filling us in before voters head to the polls tomorrow.

Christopher Taylor: My pleasure to be here.

David Fair: Well, like your opponent, Mr. Mayor, you have identified the climate crisis as the most pressing issue, locally and globally. You helped bring the Community Climate Action ballot proposal before voters. You've been a vocal supporter of passage of the measure. Should this measure fail at the polls, how might it affect your ability to lead on environmental and other issues vital to the well-being of the city and its residents?

Christopher Taylor: Well, first off, I am expressing confidence in the passage of the millage. I know that people in Ann Arbor recognize that. The question is not will we have extra cost as a result of the climate crisis, but rather how is that cost going to be levied? It's my hope and confidence that that cost in the city of Ann Arbor is going to levied by action, not by response. And so, I'm looking forward to the climate millage passing and being able to implement our A2Zero plan, which will provide services to residents on the regular today to improve their lives with expanded recycling and composting electrification, electrified appliances, expanded solar resilience hubs, expanded EV support, and so forth. If in the event that it doesn't pass, you know, our commitment at the municipal level remains the same. Our ability to take action will, of course, be substantially diminished. But we'll do what we can.

David Fair: One of the environmental issues that long precedes your term in office is the Gelman Sciences expanding one-four dioxane plume. And it is of great concern to the city and to the city's water supply. Of course, the more monitoring that is done, the more we find that the plume is inching closer to the Huron River and municipal water supply. If given another four years, what is your strategy to better deal with the problem?

Christopher Taylor: Well, it's a decades-long problem, and that solution is going to be decades long as well. And, going forward, I think we have two paths, and I'm looking forward to pursuing them both aggressively. First, of course, the EPA. We have asked the the Environmental Protection Agency to take action, and they are in the process of looking at that inquiry. I support their finding of a Superfund site. And they're coming in to force the polluter to clean up. I'm not 100% confident that they will because there's already a known polluter, and there's already a state agency on board--two conditions that the EPA tends to avoid. But it's my hope that they will do something. But we can't rely upon that. We have to take action ourselves in addition. And that's why I'm looking forward to doing everything we can in state court, even at this at this late stage, to take action, to force the polluter to expand monitoring and accelerate cleanup.

David Fair: Accelerate cleanup. It really is just a matter of monitoring out. There's not much remediation going on and outside of the community deciding to clean it up itself and take on that expense. The court system doesn't seem to be an avenue that has worked to this point. So, if we look at Superfund, you said that it may take decades longer. Your opponent says it will only take a couple of years. How do you respond?

Christopher Taylor: I don't believe that's real. That is not realistic. That's how I respond to that. But first, I'll also fight the hypothetical. You know, there is cleanup ongoing. There is expanded cleanup ongoing as a result of court action. It is far from adequate because of, you know, Republican administrations and Legislatures over the years. We do not have a strong polluter pay law in Michigan. If we did, we'd have more substantial action, more substantial cleanup. But we do have some ability in state court to enforce cleanup, some ability through state agencies to do so. And we are taking action. It is not satisfying in my opinion. We ought to have the tools to do more. And it's my hope that in the future we will do so.

David Fair: There are portions of the city where some of the roadways are in poor condition. Some of the city's infrastructure is old and potentially insufficient. And, as a result, we've seen some flooding issues affect some of the area neighborhoods. How would that change over the next four years if reelected?

Christopher Taylor: Well, I'm incredibly excited. We just passed a road bond over, you know, last spring. You don't see that in this construction cycle. But over the next two years in construction, you will see a substantial increase in the amount of work done on on our local road with respect to stormwater. We have over the years expanded our stormwater system. More stormwater is built over the course of decades for a built environment that doesn't exist in an environment that doesn't exist. One of the impacts of climate change--the most acute impact of climate change--here in Ann Arbor is increased precipitation. Our stormwater system wasn't designed to deal with it. We understand what we're facing, and now, we are, over the course of years, going to be working on to ensure that our stormwater system is adequate to the task. We're getting there. We have large projects in process and planned over time. But it's been a decades-long problem in the making, and it's going to be a similarly time solution.

David Fair: Once again, this is 89 one WEMU, and we are talking with incumbent Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor ahead of tomorrow's elections. Now, among the other differences between you and your opponent, Eric Lipson, is how and where to create more affordable housing and the changing nature of the city skyline. Why do you believe higher density housing and some potentially taller construction is the right way to go?

Christopher Taylor: Well, because, frankly, supply and demand is real. You know, that's one difference. I accept the fact that supply and demand is a thing. That it works. That we have a housing crisis in Ann Arbor because we have, over the course of decades, artificially constrained housing supply. We can't, you know, disincentivize people to live here. That's not what we're looking for. We're looking to ensure that people who work in Ann Arbor are able to live in Ann Arbor. And you can't do that by magic. You can't do that by wishing. You have to do that by, as a city, taking real and aggressive action to actually build affordable housing. And that's something that I'm committed to doing. I've led efforts to put the affordable housing millage on the ballot, which it passed. It led efforts to dedicate city-owned parcels to building affordable housing units. And I've done it. And we are over the next couple years, with those two measures in place, going to build anywhere between 1000 and 1500 units of new permanent affordable housing throughout the city. But we also know that city engagement in the market is not sufficient. Like I said, supply and demand is real. And so, where appropriate, we have to enable property owners to increase density. We have over 80,000 people who work in Ann Arbor who aren't able to live here. That means that we have economic diversity problems. And, as a consequence of America, we have racial diversity challenges here in our community as well. And we want to fight that. And so, we need to be able to allow property owners to increase the density of their parcels where appropriate, particularly on transit corridors, in order to create more attainable housing for folks to enable people who work in Ann Arbor to live in Ann Arbor.

David Fair: Do you think, as these plans are being made and will be further developed, that enough is being done to help meet the A2Zero Initiative, the Climate Action Plan, and not further overtax city infrastructure?

Christopher Taylor: Oh, absolutely. You know, with respect, developers pay for city infrastructure. They don't just waltz in and take advantage of the fact that there's a stormwater system, that there's a sewer system, that there's fresh water coming in. They don't just say, "Thanks for that great city you've built. We're going to take it from here." They tap in, and they pay the infrastructure costs associated with their usage. That's number one. And second, the dense housing is efficient housing. Dense housing is infrastructure efficient. It uses infrastructure in ways that does not overly tax provision of services. I'd also say that we have been able, over the course of years through the Great Recession, after and through COVID too, through that downturn, we've been able to continue to provide services to residents. And the reason we've been able to do that is because our tax base has not shrunk. Our tax base has, in fact, increased. And without that increase over the course of years, we wouldn't be able to continue to provide services to residents, improve basic services, enhance quality of life, as we've been doing, and, as I hope, I'll have the opportunity to continue to do.

David Fair: As you well know, there are residents in some areas of the city that stand with your opponent and are concerned about the changing nature of the city aesthetic and character. You've heard from them. The Ann Arbor you live in today is certainly not the Ann Arbor you moved to back in 1985. So, how do you propose adapting to 2022 and beyond while maintaining the character that so many treasure?

Christopher Taylor: Oh, I'll say that I think that the facts show that people like Ann Arbor, and people like Ann Arbor the way that it is now. I love Ann Arbor the way it was, too. You know, I miss Drake's. I miss the old Borders. You know, I came here in '85, and it was awesome. But successful cities change, and it's just simply not true that the majority of residents, you know, look back wistfully and wish that's the way it was and bemoan the way it is now. People are here, and they like it. And I think they like it because we have a municipal government that works, provides high-quality services to residents, that continues to work on providing, you know, improving quality of life. We have beautiful, beautiful neighborhoods. We have an outstanding park system. We're focused on progressive values. We're ensuring that our community is one that welcomes everybody, that is is open, that values and lives by pluralism. And that, of course, is, you know, blessed to have a world-class research organization, a research institution in our backyard--University of Michigan. We have a lot going for us. Ann Arbor in 1985 was a beautiful place to come and was a better place to live. And I miss it. But successful cities change, and I think that people recognize that.

David Fair: You've touched on the budget and city economy a couple of different times. By the way, we're talking with Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor on 89 one WEMU. Later in the show, we'll talk with his challenger, independent candidate Eric Lipson. Adapting to the modern economy and changing needs of the population does require responsible stewardship of the budget. Ann Arbor has fared better than most of the rest in the state in an era of slashed state revenue sharing and a pandemic economy. This fiscal year, there was a boost, but that would appear to be a one-time infusion. Interest rates are spiking, and a full-on recession looms. What is your strategy for not only maintaining a balanced and healthy city economy, but applying a significant portion of that budget to the inequities that you have pointed out in social justice and in income wage disparity?

Christopher Taylor: Well, you know, the city's budget is at the heart of everything we do. We always need to make sure that our fiscal house in order, and we will. That's non-negotiable. We will do so by being prudent fiscal stewards, something which we have accomplished over the years in which I'm committed to doing going forward. Our bond rating remains stable at Double-A plus. Our fund balance is strong. Our provision of services becomes more and more efficient every day. We will continue to ensure that that's the way that we operate operated at City Hall, with respect to ensuring that we do so in a manner that promotes equity. That's, of course, incredibly important. Everything that we do at City Hall has to be outstanding basic services. We have to improve quality of life. And part of each of those things is ensuring that we take into account equity whenever we can in whatever we do. For example, you know, when part of our A2Zero plan is to plant street trees. One of the things I've been excited to support and advocate for over time is the full funding of our urban forestry management plant. You know, when we plant trees throughout Ann Arbor, we make sure that we take equity into account. You know, I live in a wealthy neighborhood. My neighborhood has street trees everywhere and old, mature trees. Not every part of our city is similarly blessed. And so, it's going to be important that when we roll out street tree planting programs, that we take that into account, that we make sure that sidewalk gaps are filled where folks need them, trees are planted where folks need them, and so forth. This is how we we need to operate. It needs to infuse everything that we do. It's part of our core values, and that's the way it's going to be.

David Fair: Last question for you, Mr. Mayor. If reelected, paint me a word picture of what you envision Ann Arbor to be four years from now when the next term comes to an end.

Christopher Taylor: Yeah, well, I would look for Ann Arbor four years from now to be a vibrant place, to be a place where people are excited to live, raise families, work, retire, and recreate. Ann Arbor is to be a place where we are proud of our of our values, where we live our values, a place where we're taking real and aggressive and, you know, and leading progress on climate action getting to our carbon neutrality goal by 2030, where we have taken a real bite out of our housing crisis, where we built over a thousand units of new permanent affordable housing throughout the city on city owned parcels, where we've enabled property owners, particularly on transit corridors, to build developments that have, you know, hundreds, if not thousands, of new Ann Arborites coming to our community enhancing it. It's a place that is incredibly stable, where people can understand that folks at City Hall are there to provide services for them, that they're here for the benefits of the residents, they're here for them to work on the future of our city. And that we understand that we have a common purpose, that we may not always agree about how to get there, but we have a vision of a community that works and thrives together and that we do our best in good faith to get there.

David Fair: Mr. Mayor, I thank you so much for taking time today to talk to the audience and to address the community.

Christopher Taylor: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

David Fair: That was Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor. He is seeking reelection to a third term tomorrow. Later in the program, you'll hear from independent Eric Lipson, who is seeking to unseat the mayor. WEMU will be providing election results Tuesday night via our website and social media pages. And, of course, we'll have all available results with live interviews and reaction for you on Wednesday. For more information and resources, visit our website at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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