Getting to know Ann Arbor City Council candidate Jenn Cornell

Jenn Cornell Queen. (Kristin Rueger)

ANN ARBOR – Jenn Cornell (D) is running to represent Ward 5 on Ann Arbor City Council.

Cornell is a communications professional who has worked with numerous local nonprofits and businesses during her more than 20 years in the Ann Arbor community. For eight years she owned Joust Strength + Fitness -- the first all-female-owned CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting and kettlebell facility in the country, according to her campaign site.

She serves on several boards, including the Ecology Center, the Family Learning Institute and Main Street Area Association.

She is a mom of two girls who attend Ann Arbor Public Schools and a stepmom to two who attend AAPS and Kalamazoo College

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?

One of the most exciting opportunities for Ann Arbor City Council in the next few years is working with the community to update the city’s land use plan. It’s a chance for council members to work together and with citizens to plan how we will increase housing, protect green spaces, and advance our a2Zero goals.

Given my background in environmental advocacy, many of the issues I feel most strongly about all tie back to reducing our carbon footprint – reducing commuters by increasing housing and ensuring our infrastructure work on roads and sidewalks make our city more walkable and bikeable. Nationally, there is a housing shortage and housing is a pain point in Ann Arbor. I believe people who work here should be able to afford to live here. I believe older people who want to stay in Ann Arbor but downsize should have housing options. I also believe that we should work on increasing housing along transit corridors.

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

I believe the issues facing Ward 5 aren’t unique to this part of Ann Arbor. We cannot have a modern and prosperous city without properly investing in the fundamentals that make a city function. That includes direct city services such as roads, water, sewer, gas, and public safety - all of which need substantial investment.

I believe that we have the opportunity to invest in infrastructure that makes our roads safer for all commuters, including those on bike or foot. Study after study has shown that traffic calming makes all commuters safer. By offering opportunities for commuting in ways that don’t involve a car, we also invite our community to adopt commuting options that don’t involve a car, ultimately reducing carbon emissions.

In addition to those direct services, we also need to ensure that Council is setting good policy decisions around development, specifically policies that promote and support new housing. It is critical that we have a steady stream of new housing coming online to support our growing population, and Council needs to lead in this area.

I strongly support new construction of all types of housing in Ann Arbor, especially housing that is dense and affordable. We need more housing, especially multi-family housing along key economic and transit corridors to fully maximize our existing public transit services. Additionally, in most cases, I oppose mandatory parking minimums, as they exacerbate our society’s dependence on automobiles when increasing access to public transit should be our top priority.

Finally, the Gelman Plume is a concern for all of Ann Arbor. At present, the EPA is considering intervening in the clean-up of Gelman at the federal level. If it chooses to not accept the project, Ann Arbor will need to work with state partners and agencies to quickly advance the cleanup of the site and hold Gelman responsible for funding this work.

Accomplishing this work will require City Council to be clear and collaborative in its communications with partners who can remediate the pollution at the Gelman site, and I am confident my past experience uniquely qualifies me as someone who will be effective in advocating for Ann Arbor and Ward 5 on this issue.

What could Ann Arbor do better?

My grandpa used to say there’s always something to work on in a home you love (often in response to me being frustrated by the never-ending list of things to get done around the house) and I think it’s fair to view Ann Arbor in that same context.

We are making some progress on housing and infrastructure projects, but there’s absolutely more we could be doing faster to create more affordable housing and housing for the teachers, nurses, laborers, and service industry workers in Ann Arbor.

We are making progress on repairing city sidewalks and streets, but again, there’s opportunity to do more - faster - to make sure our infrastructure reflects the tax dollars we pay to have top-notch city services. This work will be ongoing and, if elected, I will remain focused on these core priorities for improving life in Ann Arbor.

In addition, when talking to voters at the doors, there is frustration with what they perceive as dysfunction on city council. I hear frequently that citizens just want good governance, free from drama and distraction. I believe that our leadership can do better to listen and be responsive to citizens, and work together with dignity and respect to accomplish the goals we have in common.

Why did you decide to run for City Council?

I am running for city council because I believe that a pro-housing, pro-environment, working family voice is important to have at the table. I believe Ward 5 can be better represented in a way that reflects the values of most of my neighbors who agree that we have a housing crisis here, should be doing more to accelerate our A2Zero goals, and want city council to work together, collaboratively, to benefit Ann Arbor.

As a two-time business founder and owner in Ann Arbor, I will also bring a unique perspective around economic development and the value of Main Street businesses to council conversations, especially as they relate to attracting investment, creating and retaining jobs, and making sure the city is known for being a destination for not only for locals, but visitors, too. My experience will also result in there being strong communications, finance, and project management skills on council; I will work with city staff and my colleagues to advance our common interests.

I am running because I want to be a voice for people like me – someone who is raising young kids in the city, cares deeply about the environment, and wants Ann Arbor to be a welcoming home to those who live here now as well as those who want to be part of our community but can’t currently afford to do so.

What do you love about Ann Arbor?

I am a huge fan of downtown businesses and being able to get just about anything you want to eat or drink within a few block radius, check out cool retail shops, and get lost in a bookstore or the library. I absolutely love our parks and green spaces – I feel so spoiled to have Eberwhite Woods close to my house for a walk or a run, or just time in nature with my kids.

I love that Ann Arbor is known as a hub of innovation with a strong tech ecosystem and is also a place known for having a thriving downtown where small businesses succeed, too. I love that I am able to live in a neighborhood where on any given day you can find several bikes in a neighbor’s yard and kids having a blast in the backyard.

There is a sense of community, and a sense of place that’s really special about Ann Arbor and I’m grateful to be able to experience it for myself and with my family.

For more information, visit her campaign website at www.a2jenn.org.


About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.