The A2P Effect? Ann Arbor Voter Turnout Rising….Slowly
A supporter at Ward 3 Council member Stephen Kunselman’s victory party described John Hieftje as looking “really unhappy,” as he made his way in to what was a small gathering at Dominick’s, Kunselman’s usual campaign party haunt.
“He’done,” the Kunselman supporter said, smiling. “Hieftje is done.”
No doubt by the time Hieftje had made it Kunselman’s get together, he knew that Ward 4 challenger Jack Eaton had trounced 14-year incumbent Marcia Higgins. In his victory speech, Eaton called on his supporters to remember that Higgins had given 14 years of service to the city. One supporter, tucked into a corner, chuckled. To be sure, quantity of service does not translate into quality of service, or so suggested the supporter.
Eaton’s victory speech ran 12 minutes, and he made a point of taking one last potshot at his opponent’s campaign strategy of painting him as a naysayer.
“It’s been said I say no to everything,” said Eaton, much to the delight of the 50 people who came to celebrate with him at Cubs AC. “Well, I want to tell you some things I will say yes to. I will say yes to an ethics policy for City Council members. I will say yes to asking the City Attorney to make his opinions public. I will say yes to relaxing the city’s FOIA policy.” His statement brought cheers from the crowd. Eaton also said he supported immediately beginning to work towards paying down the city’s retiree pension and health care liability which allegedly stands at $250 million dollars, using the same kind of fuzzy math for which the city of Detroit was just lambasted by state officials. Like Detroit, Ann Arbor’s pension board relies on the assumption that its portfolio will earn an annual 7 percent return through 2024 and city staffers will consistently contribute more money, as well. When Detroit’s pension liability was calculated with less rosy numbers, an additional $1.2 billion dollar liability was revealed. If Ann Arbor’s pension and health care liabilities were similarly calculated with less rosy numbers, the total debt could widen substantially, to $400 million dollars.
One point Eaton made was that his campaign had enjoyed support from residents throughout the city. Indeed, there were politicos from every corner of Ann Arbor at party. Ward 1 Council member Sumi Kailasapathy, Ward 3 Council member Stephen Kunselman and Ward 5 Council member Mike Anglin were among those present. Ward 1 Independent Council candidate Jeffrey Hayner, who had supported Eaton, attended the event. At one point, the crowd was told that Hayner needed their support in his bid to unseat Ward 1 Council member Sabra Briere. Those present responded with cheers, much to a surprised Hayner’s delight.
Briere, who has made no secret of her desire to move up the political food chain, faces an unhill slog to retain her seat. She has supported many of the same unpopular construction projects as Ward 4′s Marcia Higgins, voted to zone parkland for transit in defiance of the local chapter of the Michigan Sierra Club, and voted against ending the Percent for Art ordinance in November 2012, after voters turned down a millage to fund the program. She justified her vote by saying she needed to consider the wishes of the “minority” of the voters. The Percent for Art program is still using money from the street repair and sewer funds to pay for art installations. The most recent project, a $360,000 glass panel mosaic of two leafless trees, drew intense criticism from readers of AnnArbor.com.
With the defeat of Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje has just four reliable allies left on City Council, Briere, Ward 3 Council member Christopher Taylor, Ward 4 Council member Margie Teall and Ward 5 Council member Chuck Warpehoski. For the first time in 12 years, Hieftje will find himself without enough allies to support what one Eaton campaigner referred to as Hieftje’s “crazy projects.” Perhaps in anticipation of this moment, Hieftje has been working hard to bring new Ward 2 Council member Sally Hart Petersen into his inner circle. Petersen votes, however, have demonstrated that she is prepared to keep her campaign promises, and her votes have several times put her at odds with Hieftje.
If Jeffrey Hayner ousts Sabra Briere in November, Petersen’s vote won’t be as crucial. In response to yesterday’s election, Hieftje has said he’s not sure he’ll run in 2014. No one waiting in the wings to run should get excited. It’s the same thing Hieftje says each time it comes to deciding whether to run.
While Jack Eaton beat the 14-year incumbent Higgins by a landslide, Steve Kunselman pulled off a squeaker, netting just over 51 percent of the vote. His opponent, according to campaign finance forms, outspent him by more than double. Ward 3 residents received as many as seven mailings from former Park Advisory Commission Chair Julie Grand. It’s not clear whether Kunselman’s close call was the result of his opponent’s financing, her supporters’ unrelenting negative campaign that painted Kunselman as ineffectual, or whether voters went to the polls with a “throw the bum’s out” mentality. Incumbent Kunselman, in that case, would have been viewed, like Higgins, as one of the “bums” to whom voters were prepared to give a bum’s rush.
The fact is that the better informed voters are, the more likely they are to go to the polls. This year’s voter turnout was 10.3 percent, according to data gathered by the County Clerk’s office. In comparison, in the 2010 August primary voter turnout was 8.9 percent, and in the 2007 August primary voter turnout was 7.61 percent. While total turnout is still abysmally low here in America’s most-educated city, it could be that we’re seeing not only the beginnings of a rise in turnout, but a rise in voter engagement thanks to voters getting a variety of perspectives on the candidates, the issues and local politics. While A2Politico has a comparatively small readership with respect to AnnArbor.com’s, reporting from A2Politico, as well as links to A2Politico’s content make their way into the comment sections of AnnArbor.com on a daily basis thanks to readers who visit both sites. In addition, AnnArbor.com’s coverage of this year’s races did a relatively good job of focusing on the issues at hand, including a piece in response to reader complaints about Marcia Higgins’s poor attendance record.
Over the past five days, these were the top reads at A2Politico, along with the number of times the pieces were read:
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