Getting to know Ann Arbor City Council candidate Cynthia Harrison

Cynthia Harrison is running o represent Ward 1 on Ann Arbor City Council. (Cynthia Harrison)

ANN ARBOR – Cynthia Harrison (D) is running to represent Ward 1 on Ann Arbor City Council.

As a lifelong Ann Arborite, Harrison is an active cyclist and spends with her family in Gallup Park or at the Argo Canoe Livery.

She has served on several oversight bodies and commissions including the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office’s 21st Century Policing Compliance Commission and the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission for the City of Ann Arbor, among others.

Harrison holds a Bachelor of Science from Eastern Michigan University and is a program manager at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living.

The following interview was conducted via email.

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

Two of the biggest challenges facing the incoming City Council are ones I am eager and well-equipped to handle: ensuring that each and every one of us feel safe in this city and expanding access to affordable, sustainable housing.

To become a more inclusive community, we must make sure that each of us is able to trust our legal and public safety systems. My experience as a long-time mental health and criminal legal reform advocate ensures I come with the expertise and empathy required to seek and deliver solutions that make everyone feel safe and heard without leaving anyone behind. It’s crucial to broaden our understanding of what safety means to encompass the diversity of experiences held by our friends and neighbors. This means working with groups like the Coalition for Re-Envisioning Our Safety (CROS), doing important work with Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County law enforcement, and educating those within our medical systems and public education systems who ensure each and every one of us is contributing to collective public safety outcomes.

One key element of health and safety is access to stable housing. Anyone who wants to live in Ann Arbor should be able to do so. Unfortunately, that’s not the case right now. Even worse, we know that so many in our community are struggling financially due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their income and livelihoods. We must continue to support sustainable development to increase the overall housing supply while increasing our support for affordable housing specifically. An investment in housing today is a signal to future generations of Ann Arborites that they are welcome here--regardless of their race, health, income, or wealth.

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

We have beautiful green spaces in Ward One, which bring such a wonderful value to our community. Nevertheless, as an avid biker, I recognize how difficult it can be to get to those green spaces given the condition of our roads and sidewalks. To see a long-term improvement in our city’s walkability and expand our access to safe bike lanes, we must guarantee that our sidewalks, roads and supporting infrastructure are properly funded. To meet the city’s stated goal of getting as many of our roads to a “good” or “better” condition as quickly as possible, we need to prioritize this issue immediately. This requires bringing creative solutions to the table, such as exploring innovative construction materials and making smart investments in road sealants.

I believe true leadership requires convening and learning from teams of trusted experts – including those who are disproportionately impacted by a given issue. As such, I’m eager to connect with local business leaders, engineers, commuters, families, runners, and bikers, each of whom holds a unique understanding of the ways in which this city’s roads and sidewalks could better meet the community’s needs.

What could Ann Arbor do better?

I am so lucky to call Ann Arbor my hometown. I’ve built up a lifetime of love for the people, places, and experiences I’ve had in this beautiful city. To love something so dearly requires recognizing its flaws. As a Black woman who experienced life as the mother of Black sons, it has not always been easy to thrive here. I recognize pieces of my own story in the story I’ve heard from the voters I’ve spoken with over the course of my campaign. I’ve heard the ways in which they or their loved ones also struggle to thrive here – whether due to their race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, income, health, or education. While this is a town of brilliant, compassionate, and driven people, we too frequently leave people behind as others advance. Whether that is by failing to house our unhoused neighbors, failing to recognize the root cause of public safety concerns, or failing to understand how racial discrimination appears in our schools and healthcare systems, it’s something that I am eager to address.

When elected, I’ll hold each story voters have shared with me in my heart and mind. I will intentionally bring an equity lens to each decision made, proactively anticipating how decisions will impact people differently based on their unique circumstances.

Why did you decide to run for City Council?

At the core of my decision to run is the legacy of service and determination and a love for this city left behind by my parents, Maize and Lionel, who moved to Ann Arbor decades ago to raise their family. As the first Black nurse in the Ann Arbor public school system, my mother instilled in me an understanding that everyone deserves to see people who look like them represented in the spaces they occupy. There hasn’t been a Black woman – a person who looks like me – who has occupied a seat on City Council in 15 years.

I am running because that needs to change if we are going to become the inclusive community we strive to be. Most importantly, I believe that Ann Arbor deserves the very best and I am confident that I am the best person to hold the seat. Working in and around every level of our city, county, and state government puts me in a unique position to bring compassion, empathy, and proven leadership experience along with me as I continue my public service – this time as an elected official who serves the communities I love so dearly.

What do you love about Ann Arbor?

There are countless intangibles and singular moments that, when combined, define what I love about this city. It’s where I grew up, developed life-long friendships, raised my family, purchased my first home, started my first job, and even adopted my first dog. To me, home is described only by ‘Ann Arbor.’ It’s the feeling of the first bike ride on a brisk spring day or of drinking hot cocoa with my son while watching winter’s first snowfall. It’s the feeling of walking into my favorite restaurant in part for the food and in part to reconnect with the staff who work there. It’s the feeling of biking to the farmer’s market and seeing the awe-inspiring talent of local artists and the hard work of local farmers, gardeners, and culinary professionals.

It’s the way this city attracts people who are truly seeking community, rather than simply just a place to live. Each year I’ve spent in this town has revealed a new and beautiful piece of what it has to offer.

Visit her campaign website at www.votecynthiaharrison.com.


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.