ANN ARBOR - Elizabeth Nelson (D) is running for the Ward 4 city council seat. This is her first time running for public office.
She has lived in Ann Arbor for 14 years. She has worked as a teacher and is an advocate, founder of and spokesperson for the nonprofit Children of Hoarders.
She is married with two sons.
The following interview was conducted via email.
In your opinion, what are the main issues in your ward? How do you propose to solve them?
My ward is concerned about the big issues that impact our day-to-day lives: safety for pedestrians and cyclists in crosswalks, budget priorities that invest in our infrastructure, and planning decisions that consider long-term consequences and take into account issues of affordability and urban landscape. I will push for standardized crosswalks that provide adequate lighting and signaling to drivers. I will question budget allocations that are unnecessary or can be achieved by less expensive means, so we have more money to allocate to basic services like snow removal and maintenance of roads, pedestrian paths and parks. Our planning process must be improved to include more residents, so more voices are heard and collaboration and compromise is more successful.
What do you feel are the biggest issues in Ann Arbor?
The biggest issues in Ann Arbor are affordability and planning (both year to year and long-term). Both of these problems are amplified by the current dynamics on council; a consistent block of votes is stifling discussion of alternative views and making it harder for thoughtful discussion and debate to happen. Complicated issues warrant serious discussion, which is not possible right now.
What do you love about Ann Arbor?
I love that we are a progressive town and people who live here are passionate about the issues that matter to me, like equity and social justice. I love that we are a town of educated people who (mostly) can engage in positive discourse about ideas. Day-to-day living in Ann Arbor is wonderful because of amenities we try to maintain and protect: parks, bike paths, and natural resources like the river and urban woods.
What could Ann Arbor do better?
I think our leaders could do a better job of matching city policies to resident concerns and needs. We live in a town where it's easy to get complacent about how nice things are, how much we love living here. Our City Council relies on administrators and commissions to do the heavy lifting with specific plans and programs, but our Council has an obligation to vote for policies that are consistent with the will of voters. Increasingly, residents are concerned about decisions made by city council and noticing that there's not enough accountability to voters -- we can't just hand the city over to administrators and commissions, residents expect more from City Council.
Why did you decide to run for City Council?
I saw a number of discussions among City Council where alternative views and questions were cast aside and ignored because a majority "block" of votes simply wasn't willing to consider them. I realized that our council would be much more effective at finding solutions if there were more independent thinkers on council, willing to study issues closely, look for common ground, and find compromise. For complicated issues, the easiest path to a decision is not likely to offer the best solution. We need more members of council who are interested in wrestling with the big issues and consider more perspectives in the process.
If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
Describe what you think it means to be an Ann Arborite.
Choosing to live here means that you place a value on diversity, culture, and education. (Residents I talk to worry about how our town might be losing its diversity, because of how the cost of living here has risen). Ann Arbor is a different kind of town, a special kind of town that attracts smart and passionate people. Being an Ann Arborite means appreciating the things that make our town different from other towns in Michigan.
For more information about the upcoming election, including polling place locations and voter tips, read: What you need to know ahead of Ann Arbor's Aug. 7 primary.
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