Ann Arbor City Council candidates reveal stances on issues at debate
Briere, D-1st Ward, met her opponent for the first time Thursday night at the League of Women Voters candidate debate. Ozog, who has declined requests to be interviewed by AnnArbor.com, revealed himself as a political refugee who fled Poland two decades ago.
For 30 minutes, Briere and Ozog took turns answering questions about their stances on city issues ranging from Argo Dam to a proposed city income tax. Agreeing on many points, both said they favor keeping the dam in place and both oppose the city income tax.
The 1st Ward debate was followed by a one-sided debate for the 4th Ward race. Hatim Elhady, an independent candidate, is challenging Democratic incumbent Marcia Higgins. Moderators relayed news that Higgins couldn't attend because she was at the hospital with her daughter, who has cancer.
1st Ward debate recap
Speaking through a thick Polish accent, Ozog told of his life as a nonviolent "freedom fighter" in his home country, where he was part of a movement in the 1980s to eradicate communism. He said he wasn't afraid to go to jail for the rights of his country's people and pledged to do the same for the citizens of Ann Arbor.
Ozog is a married father of five children who range in age from 12 to 25, and he holds an associate's degree in graphic design from Washtenaw Community College. He's working toward a bachelor's degree at Siena Heights University and is a board member for the Bonisteel Masonic Library.
Though a city income tax could potentially raise millions of dollars in new revenue for the city and help address projected budget shortfalls in the coming years, Ozog said he has to think from the standpoint of residents.
"My idea always is to keep money in my pocket," he said. "I think Ann Arbor has paid too much taxes already."
Briere said she wouldn't vote to put an income tax on the ballot. The city must be more creative, she said, but unfortunately that's not something the City Council is known for at this point.
"I certainly have read as much as I could about the city income tax," she said. "Whether there's a need for it is still up in the air, in my opinion. I'm uncomfortable with what I would consider a non-graduated income tax. I don't support a flat rate at all. Unfortunately, the state doesn't allow us to do a graduated income tax."
Ozog said two of his priorities in office would be repairing neighborhood streets and addressing homelessness.
Briere said Ann Arbor is now facing a lot of issues - and none are simple.
"Those of us who've moved to Ann Arbor, for whatever reason, know a good thing when they see it, and Ann Arbor is such a good thing that we don't want to lose what's good about it," she said. "We want to know how to keep a good thing going, and that's my job on council."
But the moderators didn't get to other topics like the East Stadium Boulevard bridges, the City Place development, and transparency and ethics in Ann Arbor government, which were on a list of proposed questions.
The last question asked was whether the candidates support a new transit center the city is proposing to build on Fuller Road, which would include a train station, bus station, parking structure and bicycle facilities with showers.
Ozog said he's been a regular user of public transit and thinks the city needs a bigger bus station. Briere said the concept only makes sense to her if it includes a train station, which isn't in the first phase of plans.
4th Ward debate recap
Alone on stage Thursday night, Elhady opened by explaining why he's running for office.
"I was born in Grosse Pointe to parents from Yemen. They came here to provide opportunities for their children," he said. "My dad encouraged us to contribute to political activism. This is part of the reason why I'm running."
Another reason, Elhady said, is the 4th Ward needs a council member who understands the economic challenges facing Ann Arbor. Elhady plans to graduate from the University of Michigan in December with an economics degree and says he could bring efficiency in spending to city government.
Elhady said he also would do a better job of communicating with 4th Ward residents and would start a monthly newsletter. He said he thinks 4th Ward residents are kept in the dark with Higgins in office.
"I have nothing but respect for my opponent's years on council, but more important than incumbency, 4th Ward voters deserve to be represented by a council member who listens, responds and is accessible," Elhady said.
Higgins, an administrative assistant at the University of Michigan, has served on the City Council since 1999. On her campaign Web site, she lists such accomplishments as working with residents on the deteriorating Georgetown Mall, sponsoring legislation to create Dicken Woods, leading the downtown rezoning process and co-sponsoring legislation to create the Germantown historic district study committee.
Elhady said he supports the creation of a historic district in the Germantown neighborhood, which could prevent a "boxy shaped" apartment complex like City Place from being built on South Fifth Avenue.
Elhady also made known his staunch opposition to a city income tax, saying it's bad for renters. Renters make up about half the population of Ann Arbor.
"I believe the answer to Ann Arbor's fiscal issue is not more revenue," he said. "I believe the answer is fiscal responsibility. It is efficiency, allocating the tax dollars properly."
Elhady also criticized city leaders in saying the millions of dollars being spent to construct a new police-courts building show a lack of of prioritization when the East Stadium Boulevard bridge over South State Street is crumbling.
Though young - 23 to be exact - Elhady said he's gained experience serving in student government and working in a U.S. Department of State internship program.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.