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Posted on Tue, May 15, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

Sturgis vs. Kailasapathy: 1st Ward race for Ann Arbor City Council is a choice between two new faces

By Ryan J. Stanton

The 1st Ward race for the Ann Arbor City Council leaves voters with a choice between a 26-year-old tennis coach and a 45-year-old accountant from Sri Lanka.

No matter who wins between Eric Sturgis and Sumi Kailasapathy, there'll be a new face on council later this year, as incumbent Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward, isn't seeking re-election.

Sturgis and Kailasapathy will face off in the Democratic primary on Aug. 7. No Republicans have filed to run in the 1st Ward.


Sumi Kailasapathy, a certified public accountant, is making another run for the 1st Ward seat on the Ann Arbor City Council after losing to incumbent Sandi Smith two years ago. Smith is not seeking re-election this time.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"I feel like I bring the view of somebody who's a little bit younger and can give more of a younger person's perspective on council," said Sturgis, who filed this week and already has backing from people who supported Smith in past elections.

He has been endorsed by longtime 1st Ward resident and activist Phillis Engelbert; 1st Ward resident Tony Ramirez, a member of the city's Housing and Human Services Advisory Board; County Commissioner Leah Gunn; and Water Resources Commissioner Janis Bobrin.

Kailasapathy, a certified public accountant and Ann Arbor resident of 15 years, tried to oust Smith in 2010 and remains heavily critical of the council majority.

She has backing from Jane Lumm and Mike Anglin, the two council members most often at odds with Mayor John Hieftje and his political allies.

"I just feel it's very different from what it was two years ago," Kailasapathy said, suggesting more 1st Ward residents want change this year. "I just can see people are really more observant now of what's going on and asking questions and really wanting change."

Kailasapathy ran as part of a slate of four candidates seeking to overthrow Hieftje and three other incumbents in 2010, but they all lost in the Democratic primary.

Only one other member of the slate — 4th Ward candidate Jack Eaton — is making another run this year, but Kailasapathy said there's no coordination between their campaigns.

"I'm running on my own," she said. "A bunch of people ran last cycle and they had a critique of the way city was running and I was one of them, but this is a new election cycle."

Kailasapathy said politics for her is a quest for social justice and a government for all, not just a privileged few. She said that was her dream as a young political activist in Sri Lanka, her native country, and it's still her guiding political principle today.

She believes her accounting background will be an asset on council, where she said she'd focus on prioritizing city spending and tackling the city's unfunded liabilities.

"If your income is limited, you prioritize," she said. "I would first fund fire and police. That would be the main thing. And even if you look at the fund balances, there's still a lot of money in the road fund, so those could be spent. We could think of several roads in pretty bad shape."

Sturgis said he supports common-sense solutions to the challenges facing the city, including prioritizing public safety and protecting neighborhoods from inappropriate development.

"I feel like now we're at a time when we need people on council who are going to be independent and aren't running to be anti-this or anti-that," Sturgis said.

Despite some of the names backing him, Sturgis said he wasn't prodded by anybody to run for office. He said he's an independent at heart and made the decision on his own.

As proof of his independence, he acknowledges he openly supported Lumm when she waged a long-shot campaign for mayor as a Republican in 2004 and lost to Hieftje. Sturgis said he also supported Democrat Wendy Woods when she ran against Hieftje in 2006.


Eric Sturgis, a 26-year-old tennis coach, will face off against Kailasapathy in the 1st Ward primary on Aug. 7.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"There are things I disagree with John on and there are things I agree with him on," Sturgis said of the mayor, criticizing Kailasapathy for running as part of a slate with former mayoral candidate Patricia Lesko, who lost to Hieftje two years ago.

"When you align yourself with somebody like Pat Lesko who goes out and spreads false information, false stuff about the mayor, to me that tells me a lot about your character and what you're going to do on council," Sturgis said. "We can't have somebody who's anti-mayor running. We have to have somebody who's pro-Ann Arbor, pro-1st Ward."

Kailasapathy called dissent "the highest form of patriotism" and said she thinks she can be pro-Ann Arbor and critical of the mayor and council at the same time.

She said it's precisely because she loves Ann Arbor so much that she critiques what is wrong with it and is trying to run for office to make it better.

"I'm coming to this debate primarily because I'm a CPA and I really feel it would be a good addition to the City Council, especially with big projects coming up," she said, citing the expansion of public transit services and a proposed train station project.

She said those are great ideas in concept, but the council could benefit from having an objective accountant looking at the numbers to see what does and doesn't make sense.

"My ward people are concerned about the fire and police safety levels going down every year," she added, vowing to work on bringing both departments up to national standards.

Sturgis said he'd like to see the City Council get rid of the pedestrian safety ordinance, which requires motorists to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.

He also said the city hasn't handled issues involving the fire department very well.

"When we're going to cut city services, we have to first look at the costs and benefits, and I'm very hesitant to cut any more services than we already have," he said.

"Generally I oppose cuts in police and fire and city services, but obviously there are times when we have to look at the budget and do that," he added.

Sturgis grew up in the 1st Ward and attended Northside Elementary School and Clague Middle School. He graduated from Huron High School and earned an associate degree in liberal arts from Oakland Community College.

He's now working on finishing a bachelor's degree at Eastern Michigan University. He said he worked as a high school tennis coach in the Troy area last year and this summer he'll be working for Ann Arbor Rec & Ed and volunteer coaching at Skyline High School.

For now, he's not working.

"But that's experience that I have," he said. "Being unemployed, I understand the constraints of the economy. And being somebody who's unemployed, I have time and I think I bring a perspective where we have to look out for everybody in the city."

Added Sturgis: "Am I a CPA? No. Do I have an MBA from Harvard? No. But as somebody who's grown up in Ann Arbor and lived in the 1st Ward my whole life, I've seen the issues."

Kailasapathy graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College and completed her graduate degrees at the New School for Social Research.

Before becoming an accountant, she taught courses in gender studies, international political economy and globalization at EMU for about 10 years. She also has worked as an accountant at the University of Michigan. Her husband is a professor at EMU.

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.


Alan Goldsmith

Tue, May 29, 2012 : 5:29 p.m.

"When you align yourself with somebody like Pat Lesko who goes out and spreads false information, false stuff about the mayor, to me that tells me a lot about your character and what you're going to do on council," Sturgis said. "We can't have somebody who's anti-mayor running. We have to have somebody who's pro-Ann Arbor, pro-1st Ward." Can I get you a glass of Kool-Aid Mr Sturgis? Lol. I think I just learned all I need to know about YOUR character.

David Cahill

Wed, May 16, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

Sturgis has a troubling political past that is not fully reported in this article. In 2002, there was a three-way Democratic primary for Council among Kim Groome, Tony Ramirez, and Karl Pohrt. Sturgis managed to insert himself in all three campaigns. He spent much of his time spreading negative gossip around these campaigns. Last fall, he campaigned for both Jane Lumm and Stephen Rapundalo. Kailasapathy, on the other hand, is a Democratic Party regular. She just finished a term as treasurer of the AA City Dems, volunteering her time and expertise. Yes, 1stWardDem, I expect both Hieftje and Smith to endorse Sturgis. After all, they recruited him.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 3:50 p.m.

Mr. Cahill's info offers good case in point. In campaigning for competing candidates, who was Sturgis truly representing? This problem is exactly the one existing on council now: Who's interest is being represented by our elected representatives?


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 3:24 p.m.

Didn't Sumi also support Jane Lumm, and Umar Iqbal? Iqbal is a Republican, and I again what makes you think Hieftje and Smith recruited Sturgis? From what I have been told, he chose to run, and does not have their support? Also I know that Sturgis has been a Democratic Precinct Delegate for a number of years, as well as served on the MFCD and been an active member of the Michigan Democratic Party, and worked on Tim Greimel for State Representative Campaign, and yes he even worked on the Mark Schauer for Congress Campaign. I think it would be better to look at the issues in the race, rather attack Sumi or Sturgis.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

Here's why a CPA is valuable to citizens and council: 1) How long have we listened to financially uninformed and uneducated council members express befuddlement over budgets? A CPA would excel in this ordinary and vital course of business. 2) Besides CPA educational and experiential requirements, there are ethical requirements, and standards of professional practice. The 2nd point is poignant for current mayor and council. They pledged to formulate an ethics and conflict-of-interest policy years ago, and have not. Why not? A lack of ethics policy has resulted in direct UM employees such as the mayor, pitting citizen interests against his employer's. Several council members have direct and indirect ties to UM as well. Of note, UM has a no-conflict pledge, whereby its employees promise full interest to UM. The city should have a similar no-conflict policy. Anyone with conflict-of-interest should refrain from policy making and voting, where said conflict exists, or could be "perceived to exist" by an ordinary person. A no-conflict policy could have avoided of such hot-topic issues such as parkland for parking structures. Regardless of opinion on this issue, UM was the primary beneficiary, receiving something for nothing. Who could fault UM? However, a2 citizens could surely fault the mayor and council for pursuing such an arrangement at citizen expense. Ms. Kailasapathy's CPA experience is guided by standards of practice, and clear ethical guidelines. Transfer of this professionalism would serve citizens well, helping council to better represent city interests. CPA experience and discernment might also spotlight the perverse "bucket-fund" mentality of current mayor/council. Dedicated millage funds are currently misappropriated for pet projects, such as % for folly art. This practice is fiscally irresponsible at least, while deceptive and legally questionable. Who would serve a2 citizens best? In city government it's point, game, match, Kailasapathy.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

Sumi is very smart, and comes off as very smart. I think a CPA would be good on council, I also think someone younger might be good as well.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, May 16, 2012 : 10:36 a.m.

As a Ward 1 resident, I plan to vote for Sumi. She is the more qualified of the two candidates. We need *more* police and fire fighters, and in particular 12 more fire fighters to be able to meet national standards for fire response times, not someone who is just "hesitant to cut any more services than we already have," which is the Mayor's current line of thought.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 3:23 a.m.

Ditto on not needing an accountant. What next: vote for me because I'm a civil engineer? She lost my vote when she called the mayor corrupt in the last election without a shred of evidence. Extremely poor judgement with no vision other than pandering to the City is dying / hire more cops crowd. How many top ten lists does this place need to make before someone can say "nice job" to those at the helm? Do your homework: the numbers show were one of the best managed cities in the state.

Joseph Welch's Ghost

Wed, May 16, 2012 : 2:04 a.m.

City Council doesn't need a CPA. The City employs and retains plenty of CPAs. City Council needs people with good judgment. Kaliasapathy demonstrated the quality of her judgment by her hand-in-glove alliance with Pat Lesko. Maybe she's learned something since 2010, but I suspect that someone who couldn't tell that Lesko's vicious brand of politics was bad for Ann Arbor does not have the judgment to make wise policy on City Council.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 1:14 a.m.

Roadman, you make a really good point especially in the 5th Ward. I am not sure about the 1st Ward, if Sturgis did support Lumm, Higgins, Woods, etc, that does not seem like he is on the Mayor's side of this one, I think the Gunn and Bobrin endorsement could be because they know him. With regards to David It looks to me like Sturgis was saying that people shouldn't be just against the Mayor. Btw, do you think Sandi and John will come out and endorse on this one, David? Usually, you have a good pulse.

David Cahill

Wed, May 16, 2012 : 12:53 a.m.

I love the concept that "we can't have someone who is anti-mayor running." Does Sturgis really think the mayor should have veto power over who should run??

Unusual Suspect

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 10:53 p.m.

Not my ward, but.... the association with Lesko is troubling and erodes her credibility, in my opinion.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 10:25 p.m.

This will be a very pivotal race to the "Council Party." A victory by Vivienne Armentrout in the Fifth Ward Democratic City Council primary along with Sumi beating Sturgis means the Council Party's reign of political supremacy in Ann Arbor will likely end. That is why Leah Gunn an Jan Bobrin are backing a virtual unknown. An endorsement in the future by Sabra Briere could be huge to Sumi's chances of winning in August.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 10:07 p.m.

roady: for an out of towner you sure are ever the little ' agent provocateur'.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 10:11 p.m.

Ms. Kailasapathy's renewed candidacy is a welcome addition to the 1st-ward race. Best of luck to a highly qualified professional, who is also a strong and independent thinker. . . Too bad she's not running for mayor. . .