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Posted on Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 6:04 a.m.

Newcombe Clark and John Hieftje clash over DDA issues, crime at Ann Arbor candidate forum

By Ryan J. Stanton

Ann Arbor City Council candidate Newcombe Clark cautiously approached Mayor John Hieftje after Thursday night's candidate forum, apologizing for seemingly offending him with his remarks about crime in the city.

Hieftje didn't appear touched by Clark's attempt to atone. Amid a series of heated exchanges that followed, he accused Clark of engaging in "fear mongering."

"You're trying to scare people," Hieftje said, dismissing Clark's commentary on recent robberies and concerns about other crimes as "political rhetoric."

Clark said the concerns he aired during Thursday's forum were genuine, and it's unfortunate Hieftje didn't see it that way.


John Hieftje

And so went Thursday's forum at Bach Elementary School, where Hieftje and Clark clashed on issues ranging from crime to the Downtown Development Authority.

The forum, attended by fewer than 20 people, was organized by the Old West Side Association.

Clark, a Democrat who is running without party affiliation, is seeking the 5th Ward seat held by Democratic incumbent Carsten Hohnke. Republican John Floyd, another challenger in the 5th Ward race being decided Tuesday, appeared alongside Clark and Hohnke.

Also in attendance was independent mayoral candidate Steve Bean, head of the city's Environmental Commission.

"I love this town. I've spent my entire life here — the last 30 years, and I hope to spend the next 30 years," Clark said in his opening remarks. "But I don't remember choosing a community that it was OK to rob banks in. We've had four armed robberies in three months, two of which have been in this neighborhood. We've had an attempted rape of a college student by a Pioneer High School student in the parking lot of Slauson Middle School. We have half the cops that we had 10 years ago."

Hieftje waited until his closing remarks to fire back at Clark, a 29-year-old real estate professional who is working on an MBA at the University of Michigan.

"I appointed Newcombe to the Downtown Development Authority, but I'm very disappointed that he's taking incidences of crime — there was a robbery here or a robbery there — and using those as if they're some sort of political lever," Hieftje said. "Ann Arbor has very low crime. Crime has been coming down steadily since 2002-2003."

Hieftje said he doesn't have all the facts and figures, but he believes Ann Arbor may have the lowest crime rate of all the Big Ten college towns.


Newcombe Clark

"So to say that a certain incident … is indicative of something that's happening in the city, I'm disappointed that that would happen," he said. "There's certainly going to continue to be crime. Bank robberies happen. We're in the greatest recession any of us have ever seen in our lifetime. These are happening across Southeast Michigan, but Ann Arbor is an island that has a declining crime rate."

Clark, who has been a strong proponent of bringing back downtown beat cops in Ann Arbor, has argued for months there's at least a sense that downtown is less safe now.

"I understand that it's easier to think that the bank robberies are on the other side of town, but this town isn't that big," Clark said, stressing "safety is a choice."

"If elected, I promise to be honest with those choices," he said.

All five candidates took turns answering questions from the audience, including one resident who asked Bean how he would handle making appointments to city boards and commissions if elected mayor. The questioner also asked Bean if he thought it was OK to appoint a single individual to more than one board or commission, which Hieftje does.

"It's about who can best serve a role to contribute to that task or the charge of that committee or board," Bean said, adding he would look primarily for diversity of thinking to avoid having too many like-minded people making decisions by "groupthink."

"I would welcome people who offer something constructive but are thoughtful and just maybe a different perspective," he said. "I think that's something we're missing a little bit."


Carsten Hohnke

Bean said he would have asked Sandi Smith to step down from the DDA's governing board when she was elected to the City Council two years ago. Some see her dual role as a council member and a DDA board member as a conflict of interest, especially right now as the two entities are hashing out a multimillion-dollar contract related to parking revenues.

"It is inappropriate to continue to have a City Council member, in addition to the mayor, on the DDA board," Bean said.

Regardless of whether it's a conflict of interest, Bean said, it erodes citizens' trust in their government.

"People ask questions about that, whether it's appropriate. And I don't think it's worth those questions coming up because of something like that," he said.

Hieftje disagreed, saying it's fine for Smith to serve both roles. He said he discussed it with her when she was elected, but only because he thought it would be too big of a workload.

"She chose (to stay on the DDA)," Hieftje said. "I can't remove her if she chooses to serve on both the DDA and the City Council. That's up to her, and I think she does a fine job in balancing those roles very well, so I don't see a conflict there."

Clark, who currently serves on the DDA board, promised to resign from his position if elected because he thinks it would be a conflict of interest.

"What we're working on right now, it's got too many opportunities to question dual fiduciary," he said, making reference to the parking agreement between the city and DDA.


John Floyd

Floyd also addressed the question of city appointments.

"I think it's important to have as varied a group of people as possible, and I think that bringing new people into the system continuously is a good thing," he said.

One resident asked the candidates their ideas for bringing new business to Ann Arbor. Both Hohnke and Hieftje talked about Ann Arbor SPARK and said the city is doing a good job.

Clark and Floyd said they don't think the city or the state should be in the business of offering generous tax incentives to bring companies to Ann Arbor, though.

"We pick winners and losers in this state. We're a zero-sum-game kind of state," Clark said. "What we need is an environment that is holistically inviting. I find it difficult to say Google deserves free parking when Detroit Edison employs three times as many people and pays four times as much and has more people downtown."

Floyd said he agreed with Clark.

"Every time you give person A a tax break, person B either has to pay more taxes to make up for it, or they have to accept less service. So it's really not fair to the existing businesses that the new kids don't have to pay what they pay," he said.

"How do we encourage new businesses?" he added. "If you're thinking about retail downtown — creating more shops — I think in the end, that really is up to the entrepreneurship and the creativity of the people who have an impulse to run a shop."

Clark said Ann Arbor is the only city of its size in the state that doesn't have an economic policy that spells out where the city is proficient and where it is deficient.

"If we sit down and actually write the business plan for Ann Arbor … we might see some things that we could be doing a little bit better, and I would love to do that immediately," he said. "It's been talked about for the past five years, but it hasn't been done. It's on the to-do list in the administration's office, and I think that would probably point out where the opportunities are."


Steve Bean

Bean and Hieftje agreed Ann Arbor is doing well from an economic standpoint in comparison to the rest of Michigan. But Bean said taking on new debt and investing money in new parking structures downtown and along Fuller Road might not be good long-term investments right now, given the city's financial situation.

Hieftje, a supporter of both the underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue and the parking structure on Fuller Road, took exception to that statement.

"If you read the reports that come from the debt-rating agencies, we have one of the very best bond ratings in the state and a very moderate debt load," he said. "Things like the Fuller Transit Station will not involve any of our general fund money other than to pay the environmental assessment. Actually, the University of Michigan's funding is going to be used as the entire match for federal funding that we're seeking."

In response to a question on the city's water and sewer rates, both Hieftje and Hohnke said the city is doing a good job of keeping rates low and keeping up with capital improvements. Hieftje noted the city is taking on a $140 million project to rebuild a section of the city's sewage treatment plant, which was constructed during the Great Depression.

"We're doing our best to keep up," Hieftje said. "When you look at other cities that have aging systems, Ann Arbor is doing well."

Clark said the city's aging water and sewer infrastructure is "out of sight, out of mind" for most, but the DDA got a firsthand look recently at its "deplorable and surprising" condition when it dug up the street surrounding the underground parking structure.

"We're not caught up, we're getting there," Clark said.

"Newcombe paints a very scary picture of what's going on underground," Hohnke said in response, suggesting the situation isn't that bad.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Sat, Oct 30, 2010 : 5:44 p.m.

Now that all the criminals know that A2 has far fewer cops than it used to, they are having a field day! Open season on Ann Arbor, everybody!! Our smiley-faced mayor will have to eat his words about declining crime rates. Better put that in the past-tense, Mr. Mayor, 'cause by the time you run for re-election, yet again, rates should be moving briskly higher! Yup, the wallets are fat, the people are clueless, and the cops are spread too thin! And the new commuter train will make it sooo much more convenient for the crooks to get here (if it actually ever gets built). Sweet dreams, Mr. Mayor - you have sooooo many of them!

Tim Darton

Sat, Oct 30, 2010 : 3:29 p.m.

Clark went beyond being a "regular citizen" when he became a candidate. One could easily doubt whether a developer/student knows more about the best way to deploy officers to keep the town safe than the Police Chief does. The stats continue to show the city is very safe for a town of over 100,000. Crime is going down despite a severe recession. Clark was "playing politics" by talking about a few recent crimes when the over all facts are different and he was called out on it.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Sat, Oct 30, 2010 : 8:33 a.m.

Nuk for Mayor!


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 4:28 p.m.

Clark is on the right track. Thank you, Newk, for the frank opinions. With the reduction of 27 civilian and officer personnel, it would be fatuous to say that there is no impact on the city's ability to fight crime. Anyone who thinks there is no impact is smoking something too strong - and has a better chance of getting away with it with the police manpower cutbacks. All kidding aside, senior police officials had warned that a spike in crime is inevitable due to the cutbacks and we are now hearing stories that police patrols are falling behind in meeting dispatch runs because of decreased manpower. Hieftje needs to make crime a #1 priority - not attack citzens like Newcombe Clark who are validly pointing out the need for more officers on patrol.


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 2:57 p.m.

I would agree that some areas in the city may have higher or much crime rates then other but let not be rediciles. on some wesite the U of m was rated the hightes crime rate when compare other campus it maybe a lack of knowlege of how dangers Ann Arbor can sometimes bepeople come in this town expecting no crime at all.


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 2:33 p.m.

Well, NYC had Boss Tweed... Ann Arbor has Boss Hieftje. The Mayor and Nuke 'em deserve each other, and Steve Bean is Hieftje's shadow. I agree that council needs more diversity of ideas, so I will vote for the only REAL choice in the 5th Ward, John Floyd. Given the extent of our financial difficulties going forward, someone with a CPA and years of financial experience is exactly what we need. The last thing we need are more development-crazed real estate professionals in city hall. Way too many of those all ready, including Hizzoner. Too many smiley-face types also. Friends of PollyAnna and Rosey Scenario.

Top Cat

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 2:13 p.m.

"Google, for example, has definitely not kept up its side of the bargain with Ann Arbor or the state (remember "1,000 new jobs"?)." This was a PR stunt to get Granholm re-elected. Remember the coincidence of the timing?

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 1:56 p.m.

Two points: 1) Objectively, according to federally-collected crime statistics, the crime rate (per thousand residents) is far lower in West Lafayette, IN and State College, PA. But Ann Arbor does have a fairly low crime rate, certainly well below the national average. 2) Having a relatively low crime rate is no solace to those affected by crime. Victims are often those most vulnerable. Every crime is unacceptable. If we have to choose between highly funded pensions for public workers and a lower crime rate, the decision is easy for me. There were 270 violent crimes reported in Ann Arbor last year. What is it worth if we could have reduced that to 269 or 268? Or reduced the 2,950 reported property crimes?

Marshall Applewhite

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 1:17 p.m.

I don't know enough about Clark to form a carefully reasoned opinion of him, but I do agree with him making an issue of the sewers. Very rarely do I walk around downtown anymore without catching many strong whiffs of sewer gas.


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 1:13 p.m.

Slightly off topic, but doesn't seem to be publishing the weekly crime statistics. Why?


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 12:55 p.m.

Some debate. There is no real choice here. A pro-development incumbent vs. a land developer. Not a dime's worth of diff here. This is the choice our one party electoral system gives us. Enoy.

Doug Gross

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 11:31 a.m.

Public safety is important and the public recognizes this. It is not all about having police officers on the street but they are certainly a key component. The reality is that we have two choices, have a smaller police force or have a larger police force and give police officers more modest retirement benefits. We have limited resources. Today officers retire at very young ages with amazing benefits. If this is how we want to spend our money great, if not we need to take a hard look at the benefits and negotiate something more akin to what the general public has for retirement. The Ann Arbor Employees' Retirement System covers substantially all full time City employees. As of June 30, 2009, the plan's assets were valued at $426.3 million, with an unfunded liability of $28.9 million. Considering the economy and the size of the plan, Ann Arbor's level of funding is not bad compared to many other cities' plans across the state. However, staying at this level of funding has been very expensive, requiring $6.9 million or 13.5% of payroll in 2009. That averages to over $150 per Ann Arbor household, and the cost of the retirement system is continually rising. It only required $1.0 million in 2005, and it is expected to consume almost $22 million in 2019 in order to meet its required obligations! Certainly the plan is in need of great change in order to keep city and taxpayer costs under control. When the Ann Arbor Employees' retirement system is evaluated more closely, it's easy to see how it has become so costly. General employees receive a 2.5% multiplier and can retire at age 60 with five years of service or age 50 with 25 years. In order to support a retiree with five years of service, contributions of at least 18-26% need to be made during employment depending on age. Police and Fire retirees receive a 2.75% accrual rate, and contributions of as much as 30% of wages are needed to fund benefits for a retiree with minimum retirement eligibility. Retirees make a flat 5% contribution each year, leaving the City to pick up the rest of the tab. This problem is further exacerbated by pension spiking. A recent Ann Arbor retiree had a listed salary of around $82,000, yet earned over $126,000 in her final year of employment. This will end up costing the City much more than the $44,000 extra she earned her final year, as it greatly increased her yearly pension. One way Ann Arbor is keeping up with these increasing costs is by cutting jobs. Since 2001 the City has gone from over 1,000 to around 800 full-time employees, while annual covered payroll has increased over the same period. In other words, Ann Arbor citizens are paying more for less, due to the rapid growth of retirement benefit costs. For more info see Doug Gross


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 10:56 a.m.

well I don't know much about clark and most of what I read of what he says I find irritating. I have always thought that the force of first responders is important. I miss the downtown beatcops and as a shop owner I can tell you shoplifting IS up. Panhandling IS up and IS more aggressive. The presence of bike cops was a deterrent. as for the mayor, can't stand him, time for him to go away.

Somewhat Concerned

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 10:26 a.m.

But there is something wrong with being a bully and there is something wrong with running for public office in order to get your real estate deal approved so you can make more money. That is not an acceptable motivation for running for office. It is one thing to be a public servant who want to change things; it is another thing to try to grab power to advance your financial self interest.


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 10:21 a.m.

Yesterday, I was walking to the UM Credit Union, usually I go through the arcade but as I approached, there were 4 or 5 people panhandling at the entrance from State. I decided to walk through the diag and down William instead. I am a pretty large person and most of the time I can fend off the more aggressive panhandlers easily, but in a moment of weakness, I changed my path to avoid the hassle. Someone needs to address this issue and I do not see the current administration doing this. Why are these people not doing this across the street on U property, because the U Police patrol and deal with it. I am starting to realize that our current administration and council are missing some large issues that should be dealt with. I know money is a problem, but its a big problem to me to have to avoid an area because I don't want to be hassled for money. Having a bike or foot patrol in the downtown makes sense, it can't cost that much. I live in the 5th Ward and will probably be voting against the incumbents this time.

Stephen Landes

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 10:18 a.m.

I don't know Mr. Clark, can't speak for what is in his heart or mind, and can't vote for him: I live in a different Ward. That said, I am appalled at the commentary I read here and on other articles about his motivation for running. When someone has a disagreement with the way a system operates they can do one of three things: nothing, go elsewhere, or try to fix it. It seems that we have a lot of people saying "why doesn't someone do something" when it comes to government, but few that actually take the trouble to try to make a difference. If Mr. Clark feels his project was inappropriately delayed or otherwise impacted I am glad he is willing to go to the trouble of trying to improve the system rather than doing nothing or taking his talents elsewhere. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using one's disappointments as a motivation for improving life around us. More of us should do the same.

Tim Darton

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 9:42 a.m.

Under reporting lorie? You have evidence? The city participates in the FBI Crime reporting program. (according to the chart, not all cities do) It's easy to find. A quick look at the FBI Stats shows East Lansing with less than 1/2 the pop. of A2 has more violent crimes per person. A2 also beats Lafayette, Bloominton, Madison, etc. Size as a comparison? Of cities over 100,000 in Michigan only Sterling Heights has lower violent crime than A2.


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 9:37 a.m.

I just love the "fear mongering" going on locally by Democrats and "want to be Democrats" (no names). What is really scary is the way Ann Arbor city council views the business community. Don't these people know that we need a very strong business base to make Ann Arbor the workers Paradise

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 9:32 a.m.

Here's a story I wrote earlier this year looking at long-term crime trends in Ann Arbor.


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 9:04 a.m.

@Marvin, right right sorry for the red herring on the sizes of the specific cities and/or metro areas etc. I don't care that much. My point remains that Ann Arbor should compare itself to cities that benchmark well in size or major influences like being a capital city. And...crime is a growing problem including Ann Arbor's lack of transparency in reporting crime to the public.


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 8:56 a.m.

The reason many of us are concerned is that after trying to sway Council with a ridiculous swarm of people who were mislead as to the very nature of the project they were supporting, Mr. Clark publicly announced that he was running for office because he was angry that his project was turned down. This is a matter of record. Now he has come up with other issues and mostly acts like a tried and true politician--he makes controversial statements to attract attention. He is also on record believing in networking as a way to get ahead and therefore is much too close to too many special interests, although I believe his own candidacy is a one interest one (moi). If elected, he would probably have to recuse himself on many issues... But Mr. Clark is not the issue here. Rather, it is the shameless bias of this blog. It is one thing to endorse candidates on an editorial page, it is quite another matter to transfer that bias to reporting. Why does every report on a debate have the blog's favorite in the headline? Moreover, since only twenty people attended this debate, would be not expect a balanced report on what actually transpired and not a sensationalizing note on personality conflicts. Most important, however, is the fact that we learn nothing about what Hohnke said in the debate, only about his rivals, mainly about the one candidate that AAN is pushing. Was he a potted plant? If so, please tel us. Mr. Clark aside--and this is not his fault--we have some right to ask that this blog keep its "fair and balanced" reporting separate from its editorial policy. Much rides on this election and there are different views as to how it should go; If you want to be taken seriously, please make some attempt to be fair minded to ALL sides.

Steve Bean

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 8:51 a.m.

blahblahblah, I responded to's question about the dam here: If that still leaves you wondering, please email me at or contact me through my web site,

rusty shackelford

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 8:46 a.m.

Fair enough. It is true he can be hard charging to the point of being obnoxious. I guess I prefer that to happen at a public meeting, though, rather than behind closed doors, which seems to be the M.O. of most of the current council.

Marvin Face

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 8:46 a.m.

lorie, There are only three Big Ten cities that are larger than Ann Arbor. Columbus, Minneapolis, and Madison. Madison population is twice that of Ann Arbor. All the rest are less than half the size of Ann Arbor with West Lafayette at the bottom with about 25,000. Not sure a crime comparison between any of the cities in the big ten would be very useful.

Somewhat Concerned

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 8:41 a.m.

Reasonable minds will differ. Clark has, at least in the view of some of us, a long and deep history of pushing his real estate projects, and of ranting and raving at people who oppose his projects. The fact that he can't vote on his own projects gives us little protection against his using his ability to vote for or against other council members' proposals based on whether they vote in favor of his real estate projects or those of his clients. In fact, he announced his intention to run for a council seat after one of his projects was rejected, and he let it be fairly widely known around town that he was going to get his revenge. I don't claim he is Satan, just that he is little more than another commercial developer and broker who wants his projects approved and is willing to run for office to get that done.

rusty shackelford

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 8:37 a.m.

Also, Clark's part of the deal is already done, and the developer already has the right to build there. Clark and the developer have been working to try to get a project that would better preserve the historic houses in the area. It is Hohnke, practically singlehandedly, who is preventing that from happening out of pride. As I said, Clark has already stated he knows he can't vote on any of these related issues on council...

rusty shackelford

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 8:34 a.m.

Somewhat Concerned, that comment is very misinformed at best. First of all, Clark has a long and deep history of civic engagement in Ann Arbor. Second, Clark has acknowledged that he cannot vote on issues relating to projects he has been party to, so that is clearly not the reason he is running. Third, there are already real estate professionals on council. I don't understand the irrational Clark rage that permeates A2 political circles. He hasn't really said anything particularly controversial. People are irritated he's calling them out on their cabal.

Somewhat Concerned

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 8:24 a.m.

That is the crux of it. Mr. Clarke is angry that his big real estate project was rejected, and all of a sudden is a civic-minded person who wants a position from which he can influence the approval of his future projects and the future projects of his clients. Ann Arbor needs to change a few things, but giving big-time developers control of the city council is not one of the changes we would be happy about.


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 8:23 a.m.

Ryan, what about the Argo dam issue? I still have not read anything recently about Bean or Heiftje's long term opinions on the dam.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 8:05 a.m.

While Mr. Clark has been disappointed in Mr. Hohnke's changed voting regarding his development project, Mr. Clark still has a broad and deep understanding of how the city works and what would make it more efficient. He is honest and not merely fear mongering. He knows the facts and understands budgets. I hope that when he wins the mayor will get beyond cronyism and allow city council to move forward even as they disagree. It seems that beat cops might be useful again. Knowing the real financial issues in our city government will help the citizens understand the choices that are possible. Newcombe Clark does not seem afraid of bringing the issues to the fore, and as a citizen, I appreciate that.

Rod Johnson

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 7:56 a.m.

I agree with Rusty. The bank robberies thing was the wrong angle to approach the question of more beat cops downtown, which is what I think Clark was really thinking about. But the other points he raised deserve discussion. Hohnke and Hieftje seem to be playing defense and saying everything's fine, just trust us, which is just lame.


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 7:47 a.m.

Does anyone have any factual numbers of crime and crime trends for Ann Arbor for the last 10 years? And, I wouldn't want to compare little Ann Arbor to the other much bigger cities of the big 10 as a comparison. I think Ann Arbor needs to benchmark to like-sized cities. So how does it compare? I think the crime concern is valid. There is too much crime in Ann Arbor and I feel like it is getting worse, slowly, at the edges.

rusty shackelford

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 7:25 a.m.

Hmm. Overall I like Clark, but I agree taking a few instances of crime and showboating about it is not the way to go. Hieftje is supposed to prevent bank robberies... how? On the other hand, I think the other points that Clark made that weren't in the lede were intelligent critiques of the city government, especially about the tax breaks and other perks, etc. Google, for example, has definitely not kept up its side of the bargain with Ann Arbor or the state (remember "1,000 new jobs"?).

Somewhat Concerned

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 7:13 a.m.

Is anyone surprised by Newcombe Clark's views? They reflect what one would expect from a grandstanding real estate developer and commercial broker attached to a large, national commercial brokerage firm. It's an old story: Ann Arbor vs. egomaniac developers with Chicago and New York money behind them.


Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 6:33 a.m.

If Newcombe Clark does not win the council seat, I hope he considers a run for Mayor next time.