You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Eaton vs. Higgins: 4th Ward race for Ann Arbor City Council about change

By Ryan J. Stanton

The 4th Ward race for the Ann Arbor City Council pits a 14-year incumbent against a challenger who says neighborhood residents deserve better representation.

Marcia Higgins, who is defending her seat against challenger Jack Eaton in the Democratic primary on Aug. 6, said there's still important work to be done on issues ranging from neighborhood flooding to downtown zoning and design guidelines, and she wants to stay on the job.


City Council Member Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, is joined by Mayor John Hieftje at the doorstep of David Rossiter while campaigning on a recent evening. Higgins said she's knocking on doors two or more nights a week.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"It's an important race because we still have problems we're dealing with in the city," she said. "It's about finding solutions and working toward those solutions. I hear my opponent talk about all the things that are wrong or that we didn't do well, but I never hear him talk about solutions."

Eaton, a Southfield-based labor attorney who has lived in the 4th Ward since 1998, said he'd bring a more sensible approach to city spending and get back to basics.

He's literally wearing out a pair of shoes this summer (they're starting to tear) as he's going door to door five or six nights a week delivering his message to voters.

"I'd like to get on council and change our spending priorities and pay more attention to our core services like police and fire and our infrastructure," he told voters this week. "We should fund public safety before we do adventures like train stations."

Eaton came close to defeating incumbent Margie Teall, Ann Arbor's other 4th Ward representative, last August — losing by 18 votes.


City Council candidate Jack Eaton, right, chats with 4th Ward resident Brad Hamilton and his wife Melanie. Hamilton considers himself a "dyed-in-the-wool Republican" but said he's supporting Eaton because he'd bring some accountability to the city.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Teall and Higgins are allies of Mayor John Hieftje, who sees Eaton as a threat to his agenda of getting a higher density of people living and working downtown. Eaton opposes the mayor's push for a new Amtrak station on Fuller Road to go along with Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail.

Hieftje, who battled one of Eaton's political allies — Pat Lesko — to retain his seat in 2010, is actively supporting Higgins and has been out knocking on doors with her.

"I think she's done a great job getting us where we are," the mayor told voters this week. "Ann Arbor has the lowest unemployment in the state, we made it through the whole recession, and our millage rate is actually a little lower than when we started out."

Eaton is close allies with Council Members Mike Anglin and Sumi Kailasapathy, and he supported Jane Lumm in her successful bid to oust Stephen Rapundalo, one of Hieftje's allies.

"Recent City Council elections have added new, responsive members to council," Eaton said. "I'd like to join those representatives and help bring common sense to our budgeting."

Eaton is picking up support from residents who want to see more police and firefighters, more focus on maintaining roads, and more resistance to large-scale developments that negatively impact residential neighborhoods. He also has crossover appeal, winning support from some Republicans who appreciate his fiscal conservatism.

"There are some things in a local community that we all share in common, and I think one of the primary ones is the desire for a safe neighborhood and good streets — just the basic fundamental services," he said. "You can't justify understaffing your public safety departments at the same time that you're spending millions of dollars on a train station that's going to be built on parkland."


Higgins and Hieftje chat with 4th Ward voter Sari Mills on White Street while Trixie the cat mingles.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Higgins, who was a Republican until switching parties in 2005, is drawing distinctions between herself and her opponent, suggesting Eaton fears change.

Eaton prides himself on being a neighborhood activist, Higgins said, but all the neighborhood groups he's helped form have just opposed new development.

"I think Jack has a very difficult time embracing change of any kind," she said. "Friends of Dicken Woods, it was a neighborhood group they formed to prevent development. When he did South Maple, it was a group that was in direct opposition to 42 North. When they did the Neighborhood Alliance, that was all the people who are against any type of change in the downtown."

Asked whether he fears change as Higgins suggests, Eaton said he's not even sure Ann Arbor will see much growth in the years ahead.

"There will be change, but I think you have to stop and identify what it was that attracted the people who are here to be here, and a lot of it is the character of this town," he said. "There's this really unique blend of small-town feel and big-town culture that we have to be especially protective of, so I'm not afraid of change, but I don't think we should incentivize change just for change's sake."

Higgins, who oversaw the A2D2 process that brought new zoning with height limits and design guidelines for downtown, said the community decided it wanted density in the city's core.

She thinks the A2D2 changes have worked out pretty well, though she's glad the city is reviewing them to see if there's room for improvement.


Eaton says hello to Preston the dog and chats with 4th Ward resident Tristen Smith while out campaigning.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Eaton said he supports density in the downtown core — just not where it has a negative impact on surrounding neighborhoods.

He pointed to the recently approved 413 E. Huron high-rise and the Landmark high-rise built along South U as examples of bad developments that Higgins supported.

Eaton thinks the City Council is too "gung-ho about development." Given how popular Ann Arbor is to build in, he said, the city could stand to be a little more picky.

"We could demand more of the people who want to build here, rather than just subsidizing and opening up the floodgates for any mundane building," he said.

Higgins said the city's zoning used to be so convoluted that it could take 24 months or more for developers to get a project through planning.

"So we worked through A2D2 to really look at that," she said. "We streamlined processes, and we added the citizen participation piece because that was important for everyone. We put in the Design Review Board because how a building looks is important to people."

Higgins has served on the City Council since 1999, but before deciding she was ready to seek re-election again this year, she said she had a gut-check moment.


Higgins hands off a piece of her campaign literature to 4th Ward resident Aileen Patel.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Now that she's commuting to work in Livonia, taking on new responsibilities, and raising her 13-year-old granddaughter, could she still be effective on council?

"How do I balance work and life, which is pretty hectic, on top of council, which I take very seriously?" she asked herself. "Do I still have value on council?"

Higgins, who is the city's mayor pro tem and serves on a number of committees and task forces in addition to her regular council duties, believes she does bring valuable experience to the table.

For the past 12 years, she has chaired the Council Budget Committee. She also chairs the Council Labor Committee, Council Rules Committee and Council Administration Committee.

Additionally, she chairs the council's new Economic Collaborative Task Force and the recently reconvened Design Guidelines Task Force. She also serves on the city's Cable Communications Commission and the Brownfield Plan Review Committee.

Higgins was among a minority of council members who tried unsuccessfully to add more police officers in the city's budget this past spring.

"We probably need a couple more police officers," she said. "We've made the request to the DDA to fund more beat cops in the downtown. That's probably where we need to have them."

Eaton said he would make it a top priority to rebuild the police department so it's more proactive, but he wouldn't leave it up to the Downtown Development Authority.


Eaton hands off absentee voter application forms to 4th Ward residents Dan Mitas and Deanne Woodruff. Lending an assist is John Torgersen, a 4th Ward resident who said he supports Eaton because he's a strong advocate for neighborhoods.

Ryan J. Stanton |

He favors placing new limits on the amount of taxes the DDA can collect and instead using some of those dollars to enhance the police and fire departments.

Eaton said he also wants to see the city more aggressively pay down its unfunded liabilities. As of June 30, 2012, the city's pension plan was 82.7 percent funded, with $86.1 million unfunded. And the retiree health care plan was 35.1 percent funded, with $162.2 million unfunded.

Both candidates have strong opinions about neighborhood flooding issues, as well as the city's controversial footing drain disconnection program.

Higgins said the city has spent the last year studying stormwater management issues with the help of a lot of volunteers and they're starting to learn more about the problem.

The city is working with Evan Pratt, the county's water resources commissioner, to see about stormwater management solutions. Higgins said city officials are hoping to hear back from Pratt in the next two to three months so they can start to deal with it.

As for footing drain disconnects, Higgins said she stands by the program, though some residents argue sump pumps the city has made them install have left their basements flooded.

"What we're finding through the committee that's working with the FDD right now is that they were successful," Higgins said.

Eaton said the program has been problematic and he doesn't see how it's even legal for the city to require residents to retrofit their houses with sump pumps.

"There's a fair amount of case law saying a municipality can't go in and force you to do something inside your house that was acceptable at the time you built it," he said. "I think there's going to be some fairly expensive litigation over the installations that have already been forced."

Eaton said the city should be doing everything possible to address flooding, starting with permeable pavement so water soaks into the ground, more detention ponds to hold water back so it doesn't overwhelm Malletts Creek or Allen Creek, and upsizing stormwater pipes.

"It's going to be expensive, but we can start now with the small aspects of it like retention ponds and permeable pavement," he said. "And as the study results come back about our storm system, we can start building in better conveyance methods so pipes can handle the rain."

Eaton criticizes the city for studying the flooding problems more than 15 years ago, identifying some solutions, and then never doing much about it.

Hieftje said the city would be worse off if it followed the recommendations of the 1997 study that Eaton cites. He said it would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars and would have led to greatly increasing the size of the stormwater sewers to rush water to the Huron River.

"Well, the science has completely changed since then," Hieftje said. "The idea is to slow down the stormwater, let it absorb into the ground, plant trees to absorb it. The last thing the science would say to do today is to build bigger pipes and rush the stormwater to the river. You're just adding all that runoff pollution to the river, and you're causing flooding problems downstream."

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.


Joe Hood

Mon, Jul 29, 2013 : 5:47 p.m.

Marsha said to me that she doesn't read the comments on (I don't know if that meant all of Marsha has never answered an email of mine. Those are two reasons I'm voting for Jack.


Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.

If voting was good for us, they wouldn't let us do it -- Mark Twain


Sat, Jul 27, 2013 : 5:31 a.m.

Actually the quote reads as follows: "If voting made any difference, they wouldn't let us do it." It has not been attributed to Mark Twain according to Wikiquotes which does mention a quote of similar nature attributed to Emma Goldman: "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."


Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 4:06 a.m.

What the article doesn't say is what liabilities will be incurred by hiring more police and firefighters. I have no problem will hiring public safety personnel where necessary, but have no idea based on this piece what that means for the future in terms of retiree health care and pensions. The attached chart suggests that crime has been falling over the past decade or so without an increase in police or firefighters.


Sat, Jul 27, 2013 : 5:14 a.m.

Everyone should read Lizzy Alfs' article published September 25, 2011 at and entitled "Aggressive panhandling, crime are driving away customers, Liberty Street retailers say." Panhandlers became regular visitors to Liberty Street after six police officers were reassigned from the area due to financial constraints. Many liberty street store owners reported customers being frightened away by these vagrants and at least one shop closed as a result. At the time, "City Council member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, who chaired the 12-member task force, told that the committee was also successful in getting one police officer to patrol the downtown area when possible and necessary. "We were able to get a commitment that would happen," she said. "But once upon a time, there were six officers for the downtown area. Nobody expected the task force to solve the panhandling problem because that would require more enforcers on the street." Briere said that Ann Arbor simply does not have the resources right now for constant police enforcement in downtown Ann Arbor." Not all bad things happening downtown may be considered crime but may have a similar effect on citizens visiting there. A prominent police presence could reduce undesirable activities that negatively effect citizens and the businesses they wish to patronize.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 10:57 p.m.

Teh picture of Mayor Hieftje stumping for Marcia Higgins tells the whole story. If nothing else, Councilwoman Higgins has been a loyal and steadfast supporter of the mayor. But the mayor does not personally canvas voters like he is doing for Ms. Higgins unless he believes that she is in danger of losing. Lately, Councilwoman Higgins has been the subject of considerable criticism in the press because of her poor attendance record. Even when present at City Council meetings she contributes rarely to the substance of the Council's business. At least Marcia Higgins is honest when she does speak by saying "I believe this.." and "I thing that..." She does not claim to speak for her constituents who she does not often seek out for opinions on issues. Keep this in mind when going to the polls.


Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 1:16 a.m.

Having the mayor stump for her might just be what she needs to be the clear loser in this race!


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 10:51 p.m.

I implore people who support Eaton to make sure they get their friends, family, and coworkers out there to vote. Higgins has been entrenched long enough to have established a strong base of business buddies and cronies. With the unbelievably terrible voter turnout in A2, it's extraordinarily easy for bad people to get elected. And she CLEARLY has mayoral support as well, so I'm guessing plenty of U of M staff will ship in at the polls as well. If we don't make a decisive effort to change the guard, she'll win handily. Don't just support Eaton, VOTE for Eaton!


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 10:30 p.m.

Why is the mayor going around propping up this councilmember in a joint campaign? Is that not completely inappropriate?


Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 1:15 a.m.

The major can't afford to have new members on council as they might not agree with his vision of Ann Arbor. What Ann Arbor needs however, is to remove the old council members and replace them with council members who will work for the citizens of Ann Arbor rather than some personal agenda.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 4:59 p.m.

Once again, it likely will not matter but if Higgins supported the cross walk ordinance she needs to be bounced. Also, her long term on council makes her primarily responsible for the poor condition of the streets, a needed improvement Eaton here has noted. I do not like Eaton's statement of using DDA money for AAPD. DDA taxes are supposed to be spent in the DDA district, not city wide.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 6:50 p.m.

You need to re-read that statement. It's Higgins talking about DDA funding police.

Patricia Lesko

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 4:16 p.m.

This just about says it all: "I think she's done a great job getting us where we are," the mayor told voters this week." And where are we, exactly? Higgins has skipped hundreds of votes since 2010. Now, the Mayor and Marcia argue awards which city staffers are paid to apply for should be used as a measure of their success. Here's a better suggestion: Shred up the awards then use them to fill the potholes and plug the water main breaks. Both Hieftje and Higgins pushed zoning parkland for transit. Then, both of them pushed to develop river front parkland for parking. Now, on her website Marcia takes credit for "protecting our parks." Marcia led the rezoning of BOTH Lower Town and Georgetown as TIF zones to subsidize developers whose plans failed spectacularly and resulted in long-term blight. Now she takes credit for "fighting" the blight her "leadership" on zoning created. Police Chief Seto is concerned about sharp increases in forcible rape, arson, and property crime, and says his department can't police proactively or do community outreach. Fire Chief Hubbard says his department can't meet national response times. According to her website, Higgins "fought for a balanced City budget." That's like saying she went to Burger King and "fought for a Whopper." The Charter requires a balanced budget. Ann Arbor has been singled out by the EPA for its failure to meet federal clean air and water standards since 2005. Ann Arbor's water sources contain over twice the number of contaminants found in water sources state-wide. We need to be talking about the cancer-causing 1,4 dioxane plume headed toward our drinking water source—an environmental time bomb. Marcia Higgins has, indeed, gotten our city where it is today: deeply in debt with a crumbling infrastructure and safety service levels that the leaders of the our police and fire departments have told the public are unacceptable. Those kinds of changes should frig


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 3:13 p.m.

"Friends of Dicken Woods, it was a neighborhood group they formed to prevent development. When he did South Maple, it was a group that was in direct opposition to 42 North. When they did the Neighborhood Alliance, that was all the people who are against any type of change in the downtown." Ms. Higgins sounds so bitter that anyone would have the audacity to oppose development in support of green space, their neighborhood, or the quality of life in downtown... Sounds like good community organization and representation to me. If I lived in 4th ward this alone would be enough to get my vote.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 3:13 p.m.

For Jack Eaton - of course.

T Wall

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

Please support Jack Eaton in the August 6 primary.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

Marcia Higgins clearly embraces her role as the council member who has most aggressively promoted development. Her statement that Eaton's supporters and associates (and I count myself one) oppose all development and "against any type of change in the downtown" is an exaggeration and misstatement of what is instead a nuanced wish to see Ann Arbor develop in a way that does not threaten existing neighborhoods, in a way that maintains a human scale and historic structures, in a way that maintains the quality of life that we enjoy here. For example, Jack was one of the leaders in the fight to stop the Valiant-proposed conference center on the Library Lot. He was one of the public who vigorously opposed the building at 413 Huron that will negatively impact the neighborhood immediately behind it and to the side of it. The Sloan Plaza residents vigorously requested that this site be zoned D2 but Higgins was a major voice in seeing that the site was improperly zoned D1. Neighborhood advocates would not have opposed a reasonably scaled development at that site. Higgins has been at the forefront of the push to lift all height restrictions. At least, voters definitely "have a choice" in this election. But it is not between development or no development. It is between development for its own sake or thoughtful, appropriate development that maintains a quality of life for residents in Ann Arbor.

Elijah Shalis

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

I must have missed the part where it spells out how Higgins has missed 14 council meetings.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

On her (finally updated!) website "", she states that " My fellow Councilmember, Christopher Taylor, has graciously described me as, "The hardest working member of city council." Yet, she has been the worst council member in terms of attendance and participation. This is almost as much useless website filler as the Latin "ipsum" template she had on there for weeks...

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

"Higgins said she's knocking on doors two or more nights a week." She better be bringing her ID because few people have ever seen her show up in our 4th Ward.Lol.

Michelle Westerdale

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 1:47 p.m.

Why does this article question whether Higgins will be able to balance a job In Livonia, family life and council duties but express no comparable concern over Eaton's ability to balance a long drive to Southfield and his family responsibilities with a council position?

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

Because Higgins has attendance issues with her current position on Council. While Eaton hasn't made this a campaign issue, those of us in the 4th Ward are concerned about having an invisible, part time representative.

Roger Kuhlman

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 1:27 p.m.

What is Higgin's position on building a new railroad station on Fuller Road?

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 1:53 p.m.

Higgins seemed to be fine with 'leasing' park land to the University for the Fuller Road station, without letting it go up for a public vote, which is required for selling land. Just like many other supporters of the Mayor when he tried to do his backdoor, secret deal with the U of M, which was fortunately stopped by public blowback.

Dog Guy

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 1:02 p.m.

In 14 years Higgins has bonded away Ann Arbor's future, attacked its citizens with confiscatory taxes and fees, and obstructed its streets with inanities. She is owed two sabbatical years of rest.


Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 1:10 a.m.

Why just 2 years, perhaps it is time for her to retire along with the other old guard council members.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:31 p.m.

Seems to me the only people who fear change are the city council members and challengers who are political allies of the mayor and want the DDA to run the show. More power to the neighborhoods and residents? That sounds like change which represents all of Ann Arbor, not just the area bounded by State, Williams, First and Huron.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.

""Well, the science has completely changed since then," Hieftje said. "The idea is to slow down the stormwater, let it absorb into the ground, plant trees to absorb it." I thought the idea was to let it back up in the streets. That's what Ms. Higgins said. No, really.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2 p.m.

The mayor and Higgins would have us believe that storm water management is excellent in Ann Arbor. (It's not.) Stanton's comment implies that he's on board with their ideas. The job of a reporter is to report, and, as Brad suggests, not interpret.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

Why are you here telling me what you think she's saying? She said what she said. Are you an interpreter or something?

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 1:24 p.m.

"I think what Higgins has been saying is..." Lol...

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 1:15 p.m.

I think what Higgins has been saying is that the city's streets were designed years ago to hold extra water when the stormwater conveyance pipes are over capacity, with the idea that all of the stormwater that pools eventually will go out in those pipes at whatever rate the pipes allow, and of course we've seen some storms that have caused the banks of those streets to overflow onto people's properties and sometimes into their basements. Her statement doesn't conflict with the mayor's statement that today's science suggests finding ways to slow down stormwater and get water to absorb into the ground is the way to go — I believe she agrees with that.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

Ms. Higgins' suggestion that Mr. Eaton "fears change" is a strange one. Better fiscal responsibility, advocating for real solutions to problems with the infrastructure, developing a sensible approach to development and growth, and being dedicated to listening to constituents are all changes from which the Council and the City could greatly benefit.

Jim Walker

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

Having the zoning rules set up so that ugly boxes located in improper places have to be approved is a failure in the original rule making. James C. Walker, Ann Arbor


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 11:40 a.m.

Marcia Higgins gave us the horrible zoning that resulted in the approval of the 413 Huron mega warehouse for students, right next to a residential neighborhood, a project that all the other council members who voted for it said they hated to approve it but felt they had to or else get sued by the developer. She was unapologetic in defending herself and even lectured the citizens who did their civic duty by speaking out against the project. Appaling. Ann Arbor residents deserve better representation. Vote for Jack Eaton


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 5:04 p.m.

I cannot understand why some folks cannot understand why a development that complies with zoning/planning will be built either upon appropriate approval or after an expensive lawsuit. If you don't like it you have to change the zoning/planning.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 11:01 a.m.

All you need to know about Marcia Higgins: 1. "Higgins, who oversaw the A2D2 process that brought new zoning with height limits and design guidelines for downtown..." 2. "As for footing drain disconnects, Higgins said she stands by the program, though some residents argue sump pumps the city has made them install have left their basements flooded." 3. "Higgins, who was a Republican until switching parties in 2005..." 4. "Higgins has served on the City Council since 1999..."

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 10:42 a.m.

Marcia Higgins has been a key ally of Mayor Hieftje over the many years he has served as Mayor. During this time the following boondoggles were supported by Councilwoman Higgins: 1) The Rog Mahal 2) The Garage Mahal 3) The Huirinal 4) The 1% For Art Fund 5) Cutting fire and emergency services under the levels required to assure service is at minimum national standards. 6) Cutting police services dramatically to levels under the minimum required to provide proactive policing to solve crimes. 7) Cutting road repair below minimum levels required to prevent major deterioration. 8) The city pension fund early buyout that gave former city manager Roger Fraser and many other city employees a very generous golden retirement payout, and helped to bequeath the city taxpayers a massive retirement fund deficit of $249 million and prompted major cuts to basic city services. Is it ironic that one of the Mayor's current key allies is a former Republican candidate for Mayor? As a Ward 1 resident I don't get a vote in this race. If I lived in Ward 4 I'd vote for Jack Eaton. I've known and worked with Jack over the years to fight and reverse many of these bad policies and he has been a great ally in that effort. That's why I endorse Jack Eaton for City Council.