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Ward 2 Challenger’s Fundraising Letter Deceives Voters About Incumbent’s Record

Kirk Westphal’s campaign fundraising letter made its way to A2Politico from a thoroughly irked recipient who found claims made about incumbent Ward 2 Independent Jane Lumm galling. The letter, signed by Downtown Development Authority Board member Joan Lowenstein and former County Drain Commish Janis Bobrin, could qualify as a project funded by the Percent for Art program—it’s a real piece of work. For starters, JoLo and JaBob write (in boldface, no less): “…We’re supporting Kirk Westphal, the only Democrat running for 2nd Ward Councilmember of November 5.” Evidently, the ladies think that Ward 2 residents who might be persuaded to donate to Kirk Westphal’s campaign are somewhat chuckle-headed. Of course Westphal is the only Democrat running in the general election. He was the only Democrat who ran in the primary election. In 2012, President Barack Obama’s campaign team could have written the same thing about him. Imagine a similarly-worded letter signed by former President Jimmy Carter, who endorsed Obama in 2012: “I’m supporting Barack Obama, the only Democrat running for the office of President on November 7th.” 

Then imagine the hooting, knee-slapping laughter and derision from the mainstream media around the world, not to mention the collective eye roll from tens of thousands of U.S. government teachers at high schools across the country. A lawyer admitted to the Bar in Michigan and Florida, one imagines Lowenstein passed her Constitutional Law class at the University of Florida College of Law sometime after the Constitution was ratified, and so understands that in a partisan general election there can be only one Democrat. Bobrin was a Drain Commissioner, and so might be excused from responsibility—except that she was the only Democrat running for Drain Commissioner many times and, one hopes, still remembers the primary elections in which she participated.

Westphal’s fundraising letter gets better. Lowenstein revises history when she writes: “On development issues, Kirk advocates for early public input to ensure our city reflects the desires of our citizens.” Really? Holy 413 East Huron, Moravian, City Place, Near North and North Maple, Planning Man.

photoWestphal (right) serves on the Planning Commission. He also served on the Mayors Design Guidelines Task Force that helped reshape the city’s D1-D2 zoning regulations that have resulted in out-sized developments being proposed and built on the fringes of residential neighborhoods, much to the dismay of residents. During the process, dozens of residents spoke of the need for buffer zones between dense development and residential neighborhoods. Between 2009 and 2013, when City Council finally sent the flawed planning regulations shaped by Westphal and his fellow Task Force members back to the Planning Commission for re-examination, Planning Commish Westphal voted to send one out-sized development after another to City Council for approval, despite almost constant protest by neighborhood groups and their lawyers.

In an August 2013 survey of residents conducted by a consultant hired to mitigate the D1-D2 zoning disaster, the consultant reported, “Based on public meetings, interviews and survey responses, here is a general consensus that D1 zoning is not optimal. In particular, many people feel that the buildings allowed in D1 zoning districts are too tall and massive.” The consultant also concluded, “Possible solutions include rezoning making changes to the D1 zoning – such as allowing diagonals as a tool for controlling building shape, lowering the height or adjusting setbacks – so that it worked better with the adjacent neighborhoods.” Her advice cost $24,000.

An interesting part of his fundraising letter seemingly takes a swipe at John Hieftje as well as several other of Westphal’s endorsers who have routinely told the public since 2010 that Ann Arbor is doing splendidly, thank you. Westphal’s letter says, “We need the kind of leadership in City Hall to move us beyond merely treading water and move this city forward to a more prosperous future.” Honestly, who can disagree with Westphal about the need for that kind of leadership in Ann Arbor? It’s just out of the ordinary for a candidate to take swipes at his own Council member endorsers by saying they have served up leadership that has the city treading water, financially speaking.

JoLo and JaBob save the best for last. In their penultimate paragraph we read that, “Our incumbent councilmember does not view business growth as a good thing.” When asked if he stood by this assertion, Kirk Westphal refused to respond. Video from the May 20, 2013 City Council meeting explains why Westphal refused to respond concerning his assertion that the incumbent “does not view business growth as a good thing.” The video of that meeting contains a record of the vote on resolution 13-0515, Resolution to Form the Ann Arbor Economic Collaborative Task Force. In the video we hear Ward 2 incumbent Council member Jane Lumm thank her council colleagues Sally Petersen and Marcia Higgins for bringing the resolution forward. Lumm says, “I think it’s an excellent step forward.” She goes on to say that the Ann Arbor Economic Collaborative Task Force fulfills Council’s desire to move forward with economic development. She ends by saying: “I’m glad to be supporting this.” In the video you can watch her vote yes, in favor of business growth.

Not only is Westphal’s letter deliberately misleading voters, it raises serious questions about his ability to lead. If he read the letter prior to its release and did not check Lowenstein’s facts, he acted foolishly. If he did not see the letter prior to its release, he acted irresponsibly and unprofessionally. If he can’t stand up to his campaign supporters and keep them from making him look sleazy, what’s the guy gonna do on City Council when everybody and his brother is pressuring him to do this or that, say this or that, vote for this or that? Council member Jane Lumm has a voting record, and using that to craft a campaign message to convince voters that the incumbent needs to be replaced by someone with different views and priorities is perfectly reasonable. For instance, Westphal’s letter accurately says that Lumm “voted against the budget.” She did vote against the 2013-2014 budget, which passed 10-1. AnnArbor.com reported Lumm’s vote and her comments: “Lumm reminded her peers on council they listed public safety as a top priority heading into this year’s budget process. She said she didn’t see that reflected in the budget. The (police) chief has identified the path forward — proactive rather than reactive policing, but that needs funding and staffing that we consciously decided tonight not to provide for. Because of that, I’m sorry, I can’t support this budget.”

In his letter, Westphal writes that he believes Ann Arbor “can—and should—strive to be competitive on a national and even international stage.” Those are lofty goals, excellent goals for a community which Westphal has said he believes is extraordinary. In order to get there, Ann Arbor needs leaders who can bring game to the City Council table, beginning with extraordinary ethics and steadfast honesty. If Kirk Westphal is prepared to lie (or worse still, to let his campaign supporters lie for him) to get money in order to run for office, how might he behave if actually elected? When given the opportunity to do so, the “only Democrat running for office on November 5″ should have taken responsibility for the fundraising letter, apologized for fabrication presumably penned by himself, Lowenstein and/or Bobrin, then apologized to his opponent and Ward 2 voters. That would have demonstrated world-class leadership and Democratic values.

At the moment, Kirk Westphal looks like a follower, a drone, if you will, who would serve as a loyal member of the shrinking Hieftje Hive Mind Collective. However, over the past three election cycles Ann Arbor voters have proven themselves increasingly difficult to assimilate.  Political resistance, as is turns out, is not futile, even when there is only one Democrat running in the general election. 

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10 Comments for “Ward 2 Challenger’s Fundraising Letter Deceives Voters About Incumbent’s Record”

  1. Joan Lowenstein’s endorsement may not hold very much water.

    After coming a distant fourth place in a four-way race for Ann Arbor District Judge in the August 5, 2008 primary, Joan endorsed Chris Easthope, the eventual winner, for judge. The Second Ward was the only ward that Chris lost – despite the Lowenstein endorsement.

    Lowenstein is even less a political force five years later.

  2. What is interesting is that the letter contains the name of Albert Berriz

    Berriz is the CEO of McKinley Properties and one of the largest contributors to the GOP in Michigan. He is also the right-hand man to former GOP state chair Ron Weiser.

    I find it interesting that Berriz, Joan Lowenstein and Mike Henry are supporting the same candidate.

    Progressive Democrats such as Tom Wieder spearheaded the Jane Lumm campaign in 2011.

    Also, Mike Anglin, Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy and Vivienne Armentrout – all prominent Democrats – are backing Lumm’s re-election.

    Westphal is a pure political hack in the mold of Jeremy Peters or Al McWilliams

    His entry into Ann Arbor politics was when he was a graduate student at U-M and approached Hieftje, who was teaching a class he was in and sought out some role in An Arbor government. Hieftje obliged him and since that time he has been a most loyal yes-man to Hieftje and has seen his political career soar, serving on the Environmental Commission and later on the on the Planning Commission.

    Westphal has been the quintessential rubber-stamp to Hieftje.

    He lacks the in-depth knowledge and experience in municipal affairs that has made Jane Lumm an iconic figure to most Ann Arborites – especially those in the Seecond Ward.

    Westphal is not a leader – he will be another rubber-stamp to Hieftje if he gets elected.

    Do not be fooled by the impressive endorsements that Westphal has garnered. He is a mere pawn of Hizzoner John Hieftje.

    • It’s pretty clear that Kirk Westphal and Hieftje see eye to eye about development issues. One look at the video Westphal did for his graduate degree and the Hieftje-worship is almost palpable. The list of supporters on the letter is a who’s who of people who would love to have another rubber stamp on council in place of Lumm who asks questions. His endorsers are many of the same people who endrosed Leigh Greden and Stephen Rapundalo. They both lost their respective races and I think people in Ann Arbor are finally beginning to wise up about such things.

  3. Joan Lowwnstein is a wolf in sheep’s clothing

    • One might also say she never bothered with the sheep’s clothing.

      • Yeah, Lowenstein should run herself if she thinks
        Lumm can be be taken down.

        The fact that Albert Berriz is behind this effort along with AADP chair Mike Henry is really interesting to say the least.

  4. The group supporting Jane Lumm’s opponent and their message is so very familiar. Let’s recall that many of these same folks tried to characterize me as being against everything. We know how successful that campaign was (64% to 35%).

    The campaign letter claims that Ann Arbor is “not just a ‘basic’ city, we are extraordinary.” In fact, over the last decade while this group has guided our City, we have failed to provide core services and failed to maintain essential infrastructure. Our neighborhoods suffer periodic episodes of severe storm flooding. Many neighborhoods experience sewage backups from our aging and inadequate waste water system. Our roads are simply terrible. Our police department does not have sufficient staffing to allow for enforcement of our pedestrian ordinance, or any other part of our traffic code. What is extraordinary about our town is the failure of its leaders to accomplish the fundamental tasks of local government.

    Jane Lumm has led the effort to bring Council back to the task of governing the City we currently have before day dreaming about the City we might someday have. We cannot plan for growth until we have an assured supply of pollution free drinking water and the storm and waste water system to accommodate the new burden on our systems. We cannot afford new expensive projects until we address our unfunded retiree liabilities. We must have real leadership, of the kind Jane Lumm demonstrates, to avoid the recent habit of kicking down the road the substantial and expensive problems we have.

    • When they say our city is extraordinary I imagine they are referring to all of the awards and best of lists that have been won. Here’s another: The Golden Sewer Award. It’s a golden tube with a large hole in it. Thank you for pointing out that all of the awards in the world don’t make up for pothole pitted roads, exploding sewer pipes and police who are stretched so very thin.

  5. JoLo strikes again! The best line was the “only Democrat” pitch. OMG! This letter reads like they think people are idiots. Oh I forgot, the mayor and his political allies including JoLo actually do think people in Ann Arbor are idiots, sulkers and elderly Republicans. It’s hard to believe anyone would let anyone on the DDA Board within 100 miles of a local campaign at this point. But there you have it, they know better. Westphal is either terribly naive or terrible impressionable. Either way it’s going to be hard for him to win this race with this kind of support.

  6. Once again, thank you for this reporting. I downloaded the letter. I went to the city webpage and watched the video. Kirk Westphal owes Jane Lumm an apology. Who cares who wrote the letter. It had his name on it. He is responsible. Shame on him.

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