Ann Arbor Neighborhood Council’s 5th race pits restaurateur against marketing executive
ANN ARBOR, MI — Voters on Ann Arbor’s West Side will decide between two Democrats vying for a 5th Ward seat on the City Council in the Aug. 2 primary.
Incumbent Ali Ramlawi, owner of the downtown Jerusalem Garden restaurant, is seeking a second four-year term. He faces a challenger Jenn Cornellwho was until recently a marketing manager with the Ann Arbor SPARK economic development group and now works for Multiverse Investments and oversees marketing for two local restaurants, Blue LLama and Of Rice and Men.
The two shared the virtual stage during a candidates’ forum hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party on June 16, discussing issues ranging from housing to factional divisions within the council.
Ramlawi said he was proud to be Ann Arbor’s first Arab-American council member and proud of his accomplishments, including the reopening of the city’s recycling plant, progress on affordable housing, tackling dioxane polluter Gelman Sciences and implementing a new tax to close sidewalk gaps. As a small business owner, Ramlawi was also happy to help the city respond during the pandemic and facilitate street closures and ways to safely engage in the community, he said. declared.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve a community that I love, do business in and live in,” he said.
Cornell has been involved in the community for two decades but could only afford to live here for six years, she said.
“So one of my main platforms is to increase housing in Ann Arbor,” she said. “I think we have a housing crisis. For me, it’s a matter of social and environmental justice.
Cornell also has experience working on environmental issues and has been involved with the local ecology center and the Main Street Association, she said.
“As a former business owner, I know exactly the importance that businesses bring to the city in terms of jobs, economic growth and economic opportunity, and I would like to push that forward on City Council,” she said. “I am also a parent of two young children. I have four children in total, two of them young, and I think that’s an extremely important voice to have on city council.
Cornell mentioned sidewalks and protected bike lanes — ways for families to get around town safely — among the issues she would bring perspective on as a mother.
“I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves, hurry up and work hard,” she said.
Both candidates weighed in on what they see as the main issue facing the 5th Ward. Ramlawi cited infrastructure constraints due to climate change, age and increased development.
“These are the issues we hear the most from residents right now, whether it’s flooding, power outages or burst water pipes, in addition to the dire conditions in many of our roads,” he said.
Economic and environmental justice are among his core beliefs, Ramlawi said, adding that he connects with working-class and creative-class people struggling to live in Ann Arbor.
“It’s great that we’re trying to become as welcoming and open to as many people as possible, but sometimes we make it harder for people who have been here a long time to continue being here,” he said. .
Cornell said his main campaign focus was housing. People who work in Ann Arbor should be able to live here, she said, adding that older residents who want to age in place should also have affordable options to downsize.
“We need a variety of housing and I am incredibly encouraged by the progress of transit-oriented development by the city council,” she said, referring to the new high-density zoning for transit corridors, allowing for downtown-style development in areas such as around Briarwood Mall. . Ramlawi opposed the new regulations, citing concerns that they are not doing enough for affordability or sustainability.
214 acres on Ann Arbor’s west side could be rezoned for high-density housing
Noting that she is a pedestrian commuter to her job downtown, Cornell said she wants to give more people the option of housing that allows for alternative travel, attracting more diversity and making Ann Arbor more inclusive. .
“Going door to door, I hear this – that my neighbors want this and yearn for this for the city,” she said. “So, it is absolutely necessary to advance housing in the city. I want teachers, nurses, people who work here to be able to afford to live here. And I think when we encourage development, we also benefit from developers improving our infrastructure, which helps the city budget. And obviously having more citizens here improves the city’s tax base and budget to do more things.
Both have weighed on factional divisions within the council. Ramlawi is a member of the minority faction that has at times been at odds with Mayor Christopher Taylor and his allies, including on issues related to growth and development, while Cornell is backed by Taylor and his allies.
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Cornell said the rhetoric about factions is divisive and council votes are more nuanced. With a background in communications, she can bring strengths to the board table, she said.
“I know how to build coalitions, I know how to work in teams, I know how to inspire people to work hard, and I know how to compromise when needed,” she said.
Describing himself as a fiercely independent thinker, Ramlawi also said the narrative of factions on the council was overblown.
“Many of us at the council table today vote unanimously on major issues,” he said. “I believe there should be room for a healthy debate about differences.”
On the topic of growth and development, Ramlawi said a comprehensive update of the city’s land use plan has been overdue for years. In the meantime, the council has made decisions about the zoning of transit corridors and more secondary suites in the neighborhoods – which Ramlawi opposed – without a good public process or in the public interest, he said. declared.
Ann Arbor opens the door to more secondary suites in neighborhoods
“We’re only hearing from some stakeholders,” he said, saying a more comprehensive plan update can help achieve affordability and sustainability goals.
“We need to have a master plan in order to have the kind of equity we deserve,” he said. “Ann Arbor has lost a large portion of its black population over the past 20 years. We have lost a large part of the working class, we have lost a large part of the creative class and we have lost sight of the protection of our natural environment. So we have to take a step back and do it right.
Cornell said she’s excited the city is moving forward with a comprehensive plan update.
“It’s a really great way for residents across the city … to weigh in on their priorities,” she said, agreeing that there are opportunities through zoning to advance city goals and she think the city will hear from parents who want a future their children can afford in Ann Arbor.
Saying she wants a welcoming, inclusive and environmentally responsible city, including considering how green spaces are preserved, Cornell said she would also like to hear from the many people who commute to work at Ann Arbor and who are displaced by housing prices and want to live here.
Both candidates also expressed support for advancing the city’s A2Zero carbon neutrality goals.
“I don’t think we’ve done enough to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030,” Ramlawi said.
Carrie Rheingans, who previously launched a campaign to run against Ramlawi, is now running instead for a new State House seat.
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