September 25, 2013

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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