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Posted on Sat, Oct 13, 2012 : 3:22 p.m.

Ann Arbor mayoral race: Albert Howard accuses Mayor John Hieftje of running 'shadow government'

By Ryan J. Stanton


Mayor John Hieftje has proven himself popular among Ann Arbor voters, being re-elected every two years since he first took office in 2000. He said he wouldn't trade the city's budget position with any other city in Michigan.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Some people have criticized the city of Ann Arbor for having partisan elections for mayor and council — it's not like this in every city — but Mayor John Hieftje says he prefers it this way.

"I think party labels give voters a really good starting place and a really good roadmap from which to begin when they assess candidates," he said. "I think there are some basic values that people are looking at in their candidates, and party labels are helpful in that."

On the Nov. 6 ballot, Hieftje will be identified as a Democrat as he has been for years, but his opponent, Independent challenger Albert Howard, will have no party affiliation.

That's because Howard, a conservative Republican, was disqualified from running a partisan campaign after he failed to collect enough valid signatures earlier this year. He returned to the clerk's office in July to make his Independent candidacy official.


Mayoral candidate Albert Howard said he has three main complaints about the mayor: what he sees as a lack of transparency, a lack of fiscal responsibility, and a lack of taking initiative on immediate priorities like public safety.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Howard and his wife, Ingrid, work together as pastors at Ann Arbor Different Church, where Howard is known for making prophecies.

A lifelong Ann Arbor resident, he waged a campaign for president of the United States in 2008, believing he was instructed by the "Angel of the Lord" to run against Hillary Clinton.

If past election results are any indication, Hieftje will cruise to victory next month. He's proven himself popular among Ann Arbor voters, being re-elected every two years since he first took office in 2000.

Hieftje was last re-elected in November 2010, pulling 82 percent of the vote compared with Independent challenger Steve Bean's 17.6 percent.

He also fended off Democratic challenger Patricia Lesko in the primary two years ago with 83.9 percent of the vote compared with Lesko's 15.6 percent.

Those numbers aren't discouraging Howard, a tough-talking critic of the mayor. At two recent candidate forums, he heavily criticized Hieftje, calling him "the word mayor" and accusing him of being ineffective while going along with deep cuts to public safety.

"He's never vetoed during his administration," Howard said, adding it seems Hieftje hides around "subliminal or subtle signals."

Howard has three main complaints: what he sees as a lack of transparency, a lack of fiscal responsibility, and a lack of taking initiative on immediate priorities like public safety.

He said it seems members of the public too often must fight for information from the city, and he criticizes Hieftje for not issuing enough press releases or holding town hall meetings.

"This is a very intelligent man, but this man needs to be accountable and he needs to be approachable to the people," Howard said.

Hieftje said he and other city officials do everything they can to make sure they're approachable and open to all citizens who want to discuss issues or want information.

"I've held open office hours every single week that I've been in office," he said. "There's a few when I'm out of town. I attend meetings at any neighborhood group that would like me to be there. I've attended several town hall meetings. We have them around our budget every year."

Hieftje added, "I think I've been extremely approachable."

On the criticisms about transparency, he replied: "Take a look at our website, everything is out there — everything about our budget, everything anyone might want to know."

Public safety

Howard pointed out that during Hieftje's reign as mayor, the city has had multiple police and fire chiefs resign. He believes cuts to both departments have gone too deep.

"If there's more than one fire in Ann Arbor right now at this specific moment, we do not have capability to fulfill the commitment," he said. "We are not meeting the safety standards."


Hieftje countered Howard's argument that the city has cut too deep into the police and fire departments by saying crime and fires are down.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Hieftje disagreed with the Howard's suggestion that the city can't handle two fires at once, and he said two serious fires at the same time would be an extremely rare situation anyway.

"In a given year, there's an average of about one fire per month that is large enough that the fire department would need to hook up to a fire hydrant, and we do have adequate firefighters to handle two fires at once," Hieftje said, adding that fires are trending downward.

"There are many, many, many fewer fires than there used to be years ago when the fire department plan was put together — having to do mostly with building codes," he said.

He said the city relies on mutual aid agreements with surrounding jurisdictions. He pointed to an example of a large fire earlier this year in Ypsilanti Township.

"There were four fire departments there," he said. "And that is what is happening to the fire services. Communities are moving more and more toward collaboration."

In response to Howard's complaints about cuts to the police department, Hieftje argues crime is going down and Ann Arbor remains one of the safest cities around.

"Crime is well under control. It's been going down for many, many years," he said. "Ann Arbor is in the top 20 percent of safe communities in the United States, according to the FBI statistics."

Howard isn't impressed by the statistics.

"This mayor has to realize that the way in which the city is going, the picture that he's painting is not a realistic picture," he said, raising concerns about recent instances of violent crimes in the city. "We had a woman who was raped in her bed and this mayor is not being realistic."

Hieftje pointed out Ann Arbor police already have apprehended the 18-year-old suspect believed to have committed the crime Howard referenced.

With the city's budget looking better than it did in the past few years, Hieftje also noted the city has stopped the bleeding in both police and fire and is adding back staff now.

"In just the last few months, we hired 13 police officers," Hieftje said. "These are young officers who are eager to work in our city, excited about what they can do."

'The shadow government'

The Downtown Development Authority, essentially an arm of the city that works to make the downtown vital, is another subject that Howard has strong opinions about.

At a recent forum, Howard called the DDA "part of the shadow government this current mayor has established." The DDA's governing board is appointed by the mayor.


Howard called the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority "part of the shadow government this current mayor has established." The DDA's governing board is appointed by the mayor, who also serves on the board.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"This needs to be dissolved and I would work with City Council to shed light on this shadow government that is actually taking taxes away from the city," Howard said. "And they're getting the benefit of everything, and the city is a separate entity and this is not healthy for the city."

Howard said even former Mayor Lou Belcher, who was in office when the DDA was created 30 years ago, has argued the DDA is not being run the way he originally intended.

Hieftje, who serves on the DDA's governing board, is an unabashed supporter of the DDA, which captures about $4 million a year in taxes from downtown properties that otherwise would go to the city, Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor District Library and Washtenaw Community College.

The DDA also is expecting more than $18 million in revenues from the city's downtown parking system this year, 17 percent of which goes to the city's general fund.

"DDA's exist across our state," Hieftje said, adding they were established so downtowns had a way to renew themselves and remain vital as shopping malls spread in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Ann Arbor has done a tremendous job at keeping its downtown vital," he said. "It's probably the best downtown in the state, maybe one of the best in the Midwest. I'd put it up against anywhere, and the DDA has played a very strong role in that. There's nothing shadowy about the DDA."

State of the city

Hieftje has a different perspective than Howard on the city's overall state of being. He said he wouldn't trade the city's budget position with any other city in Michigan.

"Our city is doing well," he said. "When one considers we're coming out of the worst financial climate since the 1930s, Ann Arbor has made it thus far by increasing efficiency."

Unlike many cities, Hieftje said, Ann Arbor hasn't raised taxes during the recession, except for a small, voter-approved millage to take over sidewalk maintenance.

"As we continue to go forward, the outlook is bright," Hieftje said. "We have low unemployment, new companies are coming to our city. We have very robust job growth in our future."

Howard raised concerns at a recent debate about a 55-year-old Ann Arbor woman who was in critical condition last month after being struck by a vehicle while attempting to cross Washtenaw Avenue at Platt Road during daylight hours. Police said the woman was attempting to ride her bike across the crosswalk, which is marked but does not have any traffic lights.

"This mayor has set up a unique system of crosswalk paths and this has been done by this administration," Howard said. "This mayor needs to get a reality check."

Hieftje said what happened was sad, but it's not the city's fault.

"I believe we're talking about a woman who was tragically hit on her bicycle on a road that is controlled by MDOT," he said. "That particular accident had nothing to do with the local crosswalk law."

Howard said he'd like to see the relationship between the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan strengthened. More specifically, he'd like to see U-M agree to a "payment in lieu of taxes" program, since it owns so much tax-exempt real estate in the city and is acquiring more.


"As we continue to go forward, the outlook is bright," Hieftje said. "We have low unemployment, new companies are coming to our city. We have very robust job growth in our future."

Ryan J. Stanton |

Hieftje's interests lie in expanding alternative transportation options. He said Ann Arbor's population is starting to grow, and so are jobs, and the community is going to have to make a tough decision: Either deal with increased traffic congestion, pollution and more parking structures — or expand transit and increase opportunities for walking and biking. He prefers the latter choice.

"Everything we can do to get our commuters out of their cars and on foot, on a bike, on a bus, on a train — all of those things are going to help us as we move forward," he said.

Outside of public safety, Hieftje said the city is generally cautious about expanding the size of the city's work force, which shrank by more than 30 percent since he became mayor.

"I can tell you without question that Ann Arbor city government is working more efficiently than it has ever at any time in the past," he said. "We still do all the same work we used to do, except we don't pick up leaves in the same manner and we don't pick up Christmas trees anymore."

Hieftje thinks the city's maintenance of a healthy park system and a vibrant downtown deserve some credit for the many national awards and "best of" lists that regularly sing Ann Arbor's praises.

"We're fixing all of our roads and bridges right now," he added. "We have the most robust road repair program in memory under way. It'll happen again next building season. The Stadium bridges will be opening next month. So many things are moving forward in our community."

Hieftje said Ann Arbor also is one of two cities left in the state of Michigan that continues to contribute general fund money to human services programs.

"And we're going to continue that," he said.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


The Secret Team

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

The Hieftje Machine is largely dismantled. The "Mayor's Club" no longer rules City Council and King John's influence is diminished. Vote for Albert Howard as a protest vote.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

"Unlike many cities, Hieftje said, Ann Arbor hasn't raised taxes during the recession, except for a small, voter-approved millage to take over sidewalk maintenance." Umm...this mayor and his administration have raised my property taxes by 25% during the past 4 years (during the recession). I don't call that a small, voter-approved millage. Sounds like a lot of it went to the DDA, who are not elected officials. I want my leaf pickup and Christmas tree pickup back - it's what I pay taxes for. Not artwork.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 6:47 p.m.

The city's tax rate has not gone up. If you look at the city's budget, you'll see the millage rate is currently 16.572 mills (which includes the AATA millage). In fiscal year 2008-09, the city's millage rate was actually higher — 16.7807 mills. That's because the city's debt service millage was at 0.4643 mills then, and now that's down to 0.125 mills. The only thing I can see that has gone up in the city is the street millage, which went from 1.994 mills to 2.125 mills, an increase voters approved to shift responsibility for sidewalk repairs away from individuals and to the city. So when you say your taxes have gone up, you may be thinking of taxes imposed by other taxing jurisdictions (I'd have to do some extra checking to see what the exact changes have been for the county, the schools, etc.). Also, perhaps the value of your property has appreciated and you're paying more now because of that?


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

Well Karen, fasten your seat belt on the Property Tax issue! AATA is going to grab a ton of money next year (and this will also be an ongoing grab), Public Art is going to really grab at your purse strings, and last but not least AAPS is going to attempt a County wide millage some time in the near future.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

Politicians are not required to tell the truth.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 7:21 a.m.

Mr Stanton, when are we going to see something on the Connors - Woodyard race,I hope real soon .The election is only a couple weeks away and it would be unfair for the public not to see where each of these candidates stand on isuues of ethics and fairness. Please do your best to enlighten us as posted a very interesting article last week.Thank You.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 6:44 p.m.

Sometime this coming week. I'm working on that story right now actually.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 3:48 a.m.

At "" this post appears: "Prophet Albert Howard predicted accurate location of US government earthquake on August 2, 2011 on and A 5.9 quake [was] felt in Ann Arbor, Michigan on August 23, 2011." Way To Go Pastor/Prophet Howard! We need your keen insights and predictions. Yes. We truly do! I post this sincerely.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 1:55 a.m.

Is this article a review of a debate between the two candidates?

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 4 a.m.

It's not a straight coverage of a single debate, but rather a broader look at the race. I've attended a couple different forums where both candidates spoke, including a League of Women Voters debate and a forum hosted by the West Washtenaw Business Association this past week. Much of the material in the story came out of those two events.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 1:44 a.m.

Goodluck to Mr.Howard.....change is long overdue in Ann Arbor.

Craig Lounsbury

Sat, Oct 13, 2012 : 9:55 p.m.

"Howard and his wife, Ingrid, work together as pastors at Ann Arbor Different Church..." I clicked on the link to the " Ann Arbor Different Church" website. Oddly if I wanted to attend a service I would have no clue where to go or when.


Sat, Oct 13, 2012 : 9:23 p.m.

Heifje's tenure has been laced with cronyism and a "we know what's best for Ann Arbor" approach. This proves single party rule (no matter what the party) is bad for the people. People should serve then leave. This isn't a permanent job. Time for a change to anyone else.


Sun, Oct 14, 2012 : 8:55 a.m.

There's two problems with your statement: the first ignores the fact that like-minded people tend to congregate around each other, thus, a city like Ann Arbor is a heavily Democratic community because of that aspect. Second, people should serve for as long as they're permitted by the electorate. Term-limiting is anti-democratic, as it doesn't allow the voters to reward those in power for good performance. You'll notice in Lansing our legislators have become less and less effective since term limits went into effect. Also, give Ricbrnr his due. I totally agree with what he says. It's the opposition's fault they haven't developed any credible alternatives to the status quo.


Sat, Oct 13, 2012 : 11:17 p.m.

lol @ people neging Riceburner.....he's 100% right. Hefty stays where he is because he has no one legitimate to run against him. Maybe I'll run against him this next time around...


Sat, Oct 13, 2012 : 9:34 p.m.

Unfortunately the alternate choices aren't much choices at all...or I would've voted for his challengers in the last couple elections

Albert Howard

Sat, Oct 13, 2012 : 8:19 p.m.

In addition, we have a Level 1 Pediatric and Adult Trauma Center/Burn Center. Our public safety community (Fire & Police departments) needs to reflect this standard of excellence.


Sat, Oct 13, 2012 : 8:07 p.m.

I'm sorry but downtown is nice but I wouldn't say it's the best against anything. Detroit and Chicago have real downtowns but then again Ann Arbor is a small town.


Sat, Oct 13, 2012 : 8:03 p.m.

I was there, and have to say I was embarrassed for Howard. He came off as a complete amateur.