Getting to know Ann Arbor City Council candidate Ali Ramlawi

Ali Ramlawi is defending his seat representing Ward 5 on Ann Arbor City Council. (Ali Ramlawi)

ANN ARBOR – Ali Ramlawi (D) is running for re-election to Ann Arbor City Council as a Ward 5 representative.

He was first elected to the position in 2018 and is the first Arab American council member.

Ramlawi has owned and operated Jerusalem Garden on East Liberty Street since 1993. The restaurant was first opened by his family in 1987.

The following interview was conducted via email.

What do you feel are the biggest issues in Ann Arbor that City Council can tackle in the next few years?

Much of Ann Arbor’s infrastructure is at the end of its life cycle and the effects of climate change are stressing some systems and causing them to deteriorate more quickly. We must increase our investment in roads, sidewalks, water and sewer systems, as well as our stormwater management program as the City looks to equitably accommodate growth and density.

It is critical for Council to complete the Comprehensive Land Use review and that it incorporates the City’s subordinate policies like A2Zero carbon-neutrality, non-motorized transportation, mobility, and affordable housing. True progressive land use policy must be holistic to achieve equitable and desirable outcomes for all members of our community.

In your opinion, what are the main issues in your ward? How do you propose to solve them?

Since 1987, our area communities have watched with great concern as the 1,4 dioxane plume has spread underneath our homes and now into our watershed. After decades of inadequate cleanup and failed obligations, Ann Arbor successfully petitioned the Governor to ask for EPA intervention for the Gelman plume. Safe drinking water is a human right, and I will continue to defend the progress we have made to ensure that we have safe drinking water for Ann Arbor’s future generations.

What could Ann Arbor do better?

Over the last ten years, I have witnessed our working-class residents steadily priced out of Ann Arbor, and now I see our fixed-income and upper-middle-class residents struggling to continue to live here. Many of our teachers, nurses, skilled workers, artists, and their families cannot afford to live in the community to which they contribute to.

As a city, we have relied on additional tax millages to fund our new initiatives like affordable housing and non-motorized transportation plans, among others. However, for a growing number of our residents, these tax increases add up and are the difference between staying or moving out of our community.

City Council needs to look for better and more creative ways to fund our city’s social, environmental, and affordability goals without making Ann Arbor less affordable.

Why did you decide to run again for City Council?

As the first Arab American elected to City Council, I bring life experiences and core beliefs of social and economic justice. I have witnessed the loss of diversity and the increased economic stratification of our community. We must better address the everyday affordability of living in Ann Arbor to continue the rich diversity of our working and creative classes, and those on fixed incomes.

Owning and operating a small business for nearly 30 years provides me a unique perspective during council deliberations. I have experienced the ups and downs of running a small downtown restaurant--transitioning the business from one generation to another; facing periods of economic upheaval; moving the business to a new location; and most recently, successfully surviving the pandemic.

What do you love about Ann Arbor?

Ann Arbor continues to be a culturally diverse and welcoming community to those who come to learn, live, work, and visit.

In 1987, Ann Arbor warmly embraced my family’s Mediterranean restaurant. Growing up, I experienced the richness of Ann Arbor’s diversity while working in my family’s business.

I took over the family business in 1993 with the unexpected passing of my father. In 2015, I relocated the business to a much larger downtown location. It was rewarding for me to become an even bigger part of the community I had grown to love and call home.

Find his campaign website here.

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.