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A2Politico Grillin’ the Media: The Ann Arbor Observer and “A Leap of Faith”

Let me preface by saying that I read the Ann Arbor Observer cover-to-cover every month. I have done so for more years than it’s anyone’s business to know. I believe the AAO sits in a unique position in our community as a monthly publication with the time and page count to delve into and investigate what can be complicated issues, particularly political issues. It’s a journalistic Grande Dame navigating the dark, dangerous alley of periodical publication. As someone commented to me recently, the issues keep getting thinner. I know the company has been forced to lay-off staff to make ends meet, and fortunately did not make a move to new digs that might have spelled financial ruin. Publisher Patricia Garcia and Editor John Hilton, who own the monthly tabloid, bought it from the Hunts, who founded it. It is my sincere hope that Hilton and Garcia will have an asset to pass on when they are ready to retire. They’ve worked hard and deserve to reap some financial reward.

Now, all that being said, the political reporting in the January 2010 issue was something I might pull from the lint trap on my dryer. David Askins gets better results from free-lance political-reporter-about-town Judy McGovern, I think, because with one sorry exception about which I wrote here, the AnnArborChronicle.com sticks to, well, chronicling information and events. I read McGovern’s piece for the January 2010 Ann Arbor Observer, titled “Leap of Faith,” and thought I saw a faint trace of lipstick on the page where Mayor Hieftje and city transportation czar Eli Cooper got big editorial smooches—instead of having to answer probing questions about some very serious transportation decisions. 

First of all, the piece skims right over the unprecedented gift of parkland by our City Council members to the University of Michigan for an 800 space parking garage. Don’t you feel generous? If the land had been sold to the University, Mayor Hieftje and Council would have been forced to bring the question before the citizens for a vote. But the Charter amendment Hieftje crafted several years ago to “protect” parkland from being sold without the permission of residents says nothing about just giving it away or leasing our parkland. Now you know why. Feeling tricked yet? You should. The omission regarding the giveaway and leasing of parkland was absolutely deliberate. McGovern skips right over the gift of the public parkland to U of M, and moves right into swallowing the explanation of elected and city officials as to why taxpayers should not only give the University of Michigan parkland, but also pay $14 million tax dollars toward building a parking garage for the university’s employees to park in. 

The $14 million contribution is from a city whose elected leaders are “struggling” to keep from closing public pools and senior centers. It’s a $14 million dollar gamble by a City Council that last year cut two dozen police, and this year pink-slipped 14 firefighters. It’s a $14 million dollar crap shoot from a City Council that has repeatedly voted to backdoor tax residents by hiking water and sewer rates. The “gamble” was described by McGovern as a “bet that parking cars is the key to improved train travel.” Eli Cooper, transportation manger for the city described the millions as a “down payment to lure additional transportation investment.” Since when do Ann Arbor taxpayers give land to the University and pay to build parking garages for the billion-dollar free-loaders on State Street? That’s not fiscal collaboration; it’s a scene devised by the Marquis de Sade, and our Mayor and Council are the firm bottoms ready to be whipped by the dominatrix at her mansion on South University.

Mayor Hieftje told McGovern no money for the project would come from the General Fund. Do you remember when he told us building the Fifth Avenue Temple to the judicial goddesses—currently $3 million over budget—would result in no cuts to services and would cost no more than the amount of the bonds borrowed by the city? Do you remember when last ran for re-election and said it was ridiculous to believe candidates who alleged that there was a cabal controlling things on Council, and that there were secret back room political deals being made by that cabal of Council members? Pardon me if I doubt Mayor Hieftje’s assurances concerning the safety of the taxpayers’ money in the general fund from his model train fetish. We’ve got our very own King John on the throne, and his Fair Fraser of Nottingham. 

Interestingly, James Kosteva, U of M’s director of stiff-arming, buddying up to, and above all pacifying Ann Arbor City Council was quoted as saying, “At Fuller we have 20,000 workers within a quarter-mile of their destinations—the medical center and Wall Street.”

According to the article “thousands” of U of M employees live along the commuter train corridor. This past summer, City Administration Roger Fraser presented a “study” to Council that claimed 70,000 people commute into Ann Arbor daily to justify putting a city income tax on the ballot. While campaigning against Leigh Greden, Third Ward’s Steve Kunselman asked where the city got its data? Kunselman then pointed out that the “study” contained no source for the figure of 70,000 commuters descending on Ann Arbor daily. McGovern didn’t bother to ask Kosteva exactly how the University had determined that “thousands” of its employees live along the proposed train corridor, or how University officials know those same people would be inclined to take a train to work. For that matter, does Madam Minerva, Dean of Prognostication at U of M, use her crystal ball to figure out who’ll be employed at U of M in the future, and where they will live?

Then there was the Mayor’s blowsy assurance that funding light-rail was “right up AATA’s alley.” Judy McGovern didn’t pause, journalistically, for a second. She might have asked the Mayor how funding trains is right up AATA’s alley when only 51 percent of Washtenaw County residents surveyed said they would support a 1 mill regional transportation tax for AATA to administer regional transportation, including light-rail. 

The only thing that’s right up AATA’s alley is Hieftje, the Grand Poobah of New Urbanism’s grandiose scheme to bring light-rail to Ann Arbor to encourage growth.

The scheme is little more than ass backwards transportation policy, and a waste of Ann Arbor’s taxpayer money. Even my tot knows that when playing the computer game Sim City, one never invests in a train system until one’s simulated city has reached a critical mass of Sim (simulated) citizens. What Hieftje and Cooper are trying to sell us are Sim employees at the University of Michigan who may or may not live along the Sim train corridor.

The Ann Arbor Observer gave us Sim coverage of the giveaway of public park land and the potential throw-away of $14 million in public tax dollars on bicycle parking and a gamble. Judy McGovern didn’t question the gamble or the leap of faith in any way. Writing with religious reverence about a prayer and a crap shoot that a parking garage will attract future funding for light-rail transportation, was a disservice to the Observer’s readers, who deserve more objective and critical coverage of such issues. What we don’t need is more Sim coverage of what may be turning into yet another very real and expensive political boondoggle.

A2 Related Poll: On October 16th, I posted a poll. If you’d like to see the results thus far and vote in the poll, visit the link: Weekend Poll: Should Mayor John Give Dame Mary Sue Parkland at Fuller Park For Her Parking Garage? 

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Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=2460

11 Comments for “A2Politico Grillin’ the Media: The Ann Arbor Observer and “A Leap of Faith””

  1. The last thing that needs to happen is for the discussion to be about why a particular poster needs to have the right to post. For heaven’s sake, there’s a comment policy that’s quite clear. The blogger makes every effort to keep the discussions civil so that those of differing political persuasions can feel welcome posting. This is more than happens at AnnArbor.com even though they do moderate the posts there, as well. Sometimes the discussions devolve terribly. So, to CLU, mind your posts stay on topic and I’m sure you’ll have no further need to see your posts nipped and tucked for content.

    As to the blog post, I read the article in my issue of the Observer and was nonplussed by the coverage. What to do about the gaping holes left by the reporter’s lack of curiosity, if we can call it that?

    The Observer could, indeed, be stronger editorially with (one imagines) different editorial leadership. Since it appears as though the editor is the owner, the chances of seeing the tabloid get new editorial leadership are slim to none. So if softball stories (as #10 puts it) are what they want to publish, I suppose it’s what we’ll read, or not.

  2. @12 Everyone, regardless of political persuasion is welcome to comment on the blog. This only caveat is that comments must adhere to the comment policy (http://www.a2politico.com/?page_id=952). Cross the line, and as I wrote in the comment policy, and your comments will go nowhere fast.

  3. A2P, it’s your blog, and you get to set the rules, but I want to suggest you continue to let Mr. Crazy post. Lots of people rant here, at one level he’s just another of them, he just super-sizes the bitterness. It is often hard to separate legitimate gripes about policy and process outrages from the personalities who propagate them. Mr. Crazy may be more bitter than most, but he is not the only person writing here who occasionally stubs his toe on that human flaw. What I have seen him write occasionally contains points that seem worth airing (even if only to refute), and are made from a point of view that most folks who comment on this site need to hear, if only to sharpen their own thinking. We generally learn more from the people we disagree with, then from our co-religionists. Perhaps you have noticed that most of my overly-long posts are in response to something he has written.

    I have come to simply assume Mr. Crazy’s invective, and parse it for the kernals of points that he makes from time to time. When he forgets himself, his arguments tend towards the wonkish. If we can’t refute them, it tells us we have homework yet to do. This will come in handy next fall. If some of his invective needs occasional pruning, I suggest that’s OK to prune, and continue his posts.

    By the way, I have my own guess for who Mr. Crazy is – when he forgets to be angry, I think he gives himself away.

  4. After her hit job journalism before the November City Council election, I have little faith Ms. McGovern is going to provide us with anything other than softball stories in the future.

  5. Incredible! A2P performs selective censorship!! Hypocrisy is reaching new heights on this blog. I will post the comment on other forums so all can judge for themselves….Shameless. Can it really be a personal attack if you don’t name anyone? And it WASN’T off TOPIC..This blog is in the business of personal attacks (i.e Marcia Higgins, Hohnke, Hieftje, Greden, etc, etc..)…hilarious! Its easier to hide the truth than to have to confront it..

    • Crazylikeyou, I sent this email to the email address you entered when you commented. As it ay be false, I’ll post the contents here:

      Adhere to the comment policy. Stay on topic. Stop posting rants at those whom you suppose are the author(s) of the blog. Otherwise, you’ll be banned without further notice.

  6. Quit the whining, it completely overshadows the substance of these articles….wait a minute,….there is no substance..nevermind.

    [A2P writes: A portion of this comment was removed because it contained a personal attack and was off-topic.]

    “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. — When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.” – George Orwell

  7. David, I’m working on that. Trackbacks seem to get posted automatically.

  8. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have all these Trackbacks posted as comments. In this article, three out of the five supposed comments aren’t.

  9. We’ll build the parking garage for U of M and never get to use a single spot in it. Hieftje will be gone next August and this pipe dream will go with him. The parkland has been a parking lot for many years, but it’s a different thing to use the space for a parking garage. It sets a very bad precedent.

  10. Your comments are right on. I was an undergrad in architecture school the early 1980′s and worked on a redesign for the Detroit Zoo. A light rail transit was planned for Woodward Avenue from downtown to the northern suburbs. It never happened. The mayor is very insightful about transportation as an important key to the future growth of the Ann Arbor metropolitan area but perhaps the need to consider implementing at a regional level. If you look at the San Francisco bay area in the first half of the last century, water and the need for its infrastructure fueled an important leverage for counties to buy into a collectivism that benefitted a large number of municipalities. Out of this collaboration BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) emerged across multiple counties.

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