Shall we have a mayoral debate on Water Street?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been approached by several people wanting to know if I had plans to host a mayoral debate prior to the Democratic primary. It would seem that, since I’ve helped to put a few together in the past, people kind of assume that I’ll be doing it again. The truth is, though, I just haven’t been feeling it this year.

Back in 2006, when we formed YpsiVotes and hosted the debate at EMU, it felt like there was a lot on the line. Mayor Farmer, after having served for 11 years, had decided not to run again, and there was a sense that big change was afoot. And the debate we hosted, I think, reflected that. The EMU ballroom was full, and people, it seemed to me, were genuinely happy to have an opportunity to meet the candidates and hear what they had to say on issues ranging from urban animal husbandry to the development of the 38-acre Water Street parcel. We put a lot of work into it, and I think it paid off. Four years later, though, things were different. There just wasn’t that same electric mix of optimism and fear in the air. People, for the most part, had a pretty good sense of who the candidates were, and who they were going to vote for. So, instead of working with EMU and trying to do something big, I thought that we’d go the other way and do something a little more intimate. We held the debate at the Dreamland Theater, in front of a few dozen people, and shared it online. It was a radically different thing, but my sense was that it’s what we needed at the time. We had Charlie Slick present the questions in song, and I officiated by way of a puppet. It was silly, and some people hated it, but we got to see a somewhat different side of the candidates, and I liked that.

I’d given the idea of hosting a debate this year some thought, but I just didn’t have a handle on how to approach it. Maybe I’m just projecting, but I get the sense that everyone’s just burnt out, and resigned to the fact that things won’t change significantly, regardless of who they vote for. So, I’d started telling people that, no, I wasn’t going to do anything. Then, a few days ago, while walking around Water Street, picking up garbage that had been buried under snow these past several months, it struck me that maybe what we needed this year was a community potluck, outside, amid the native flowers, which are just now beginning to emerge from the thawing ground. And that’s where I’m at right now. I’m not stressing, thinking that we need to have hundreds of people there, and the press. I’m not thinking that we need to kill ourselves, putting suggestion boxes around town, soliciting questions from the community, as we have in the past. I’m thinking that we should just pick a Thursday evening in May, and hang out drinking lemonade and eating ice cream, while our candidates share their ideas. It might be a complete disaster. But it’s the best idea I’ve got, and I like the symbolism of doing it on Water Street, which, regardless of how things turn out, is going to figure prominently in the next chapter of this city we all call home.


So, what do you think? Is this worth pursuing? If so, let me know and I’ll start thinking about the logistics.

Also, I should add that I don’t see this as just being a debate about Water Street. I think that it should be about everything, from schools and crime to job creation and taxes. I just think that Water Street would make a good venue.

NOTE: I’ve got a friend with a battery-powered amp mounted on a bike trailer that I think should be sufficient to handle the sound, in case we draw more than 20 or so people or so, but I’d need to test it. And we’d need to give some thought as to how we handle those folks running for City Council, who I’m sure will also want an opportunity to address whatever folks show up. If there are other things we need to take into account that I’m not thinking of, let me know.

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  1. Anonymous Mike
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    I like the idea of having a debate on the south side of Michigan Avenue. I also like that it would be out in the open, so that people could just wander up. It might get weird, but I think that could be a good thing.

  2. idea man
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Linda French has a podium that she’ll likely let you borrow. As for the amp, it probably won’t have to be too powerful, if you’re some distance from the road and if people sit relatively close.

  3. Mr. X
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Here’s what I’d suggest in terms of format: The debate itself should be one hour in length, with each candidate having 3 minutes at the very beginning to introduce himself or herself. During this time, people in the audience should be encouraged to write down and submit their questions. Questions will then be read, and each candidate will have 2 minutes to respond. This will go on until the hour is over, at which time each candidate will have 2 minutes to close. Then all of the City Council candidates present can speak for two minutes each.

  4. Ben
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    I love this idea. However, I work on Thursday nights. I don’t think I’ll be able to help if it’s that night. Are there any other nights that work? Monday? Tuesday? I’d love to be involved (it’s on a list of goals on my refridgerator)!

  5. Depot Towner
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I would love to see a Mayoral debate and a debate between Tyler Weston and Brian Robb.

  6. anonymous
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Other than a Amanda and Pete, has anyone else announced?

  7. Eel
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    It’s been attempted and failed a few times now but I’d like to know whether either candidate would support another attempt at a city income tax. I’d also like to know their thoughts about revisiting the idea of shared services with the Township.

  8. Gillian
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    you might want to intentionally build in some candidate-mingling time. I mean, yes, have a debate, but then encourage people to stick around and have candidates go talk to them.

    i mostly like this outdoor-venue idea because i think people should run into their elected officials at picnics and not just see them behind podiums. I know this already happens a lot in Ypsi but I like making it official and open to everyone. Heck, we should do something like this every year, election or no.

  9. Teresa
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always been a fan of the Frog Island “amphitheater” with the terraced seating. I recall now Council member Murdoch and Ward 3 council contender Rod Johnson debating there with only the occasional break for the train.

    The potluck/lemonade happening would also be great there. Or – Parkridge Park. I’m always surprised by the number of residents who have never checked it out.

  10. Liz DMG
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Totally. It’s much easier for me to attend this sort of thing if there’s space for my kids to run around and climb on rocks while I listen. Plus it’s a short walk from home. (It can be really difficult to participate in the community when one parent works irregular hours and both work fulltime. I wish more community activities accommodated the fact the kids are part of our community.)

  11. Erin S
    Posted April 17, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I love this idea – as much for the community potluck at Water Street as for the mayoral debate.

  12. Liz DMG
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I got married in the Frog Island amphitheater. It would also work well for a debate. Might the city be willing to waive the application fee/deposit for such an activity?

    Mark, let me know if I can do anything to help make this happen.

  13. Liz DMG
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    And by this I mean the debate, whether it’s at Water Street or Frog Island or wherever.

  14. General Demetrious
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    We shall not have a Mayoral debate on Water Street, for the simple reason that it will be a done deal by the time the democratic primary is held. No candidate will debate something that will be over with before they have to face an electorate.

    What can happen is a referendum on Water Street. It takes about a 1000 signatures to put it on the ballot in November. Until it is voted on, the deal cannot go down. How’s that for democracy in action? Stay tuned on that one.

  15. Posted April 18, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    As I said before, I don’t see it as a debate “on” Water Street. There’s a great deal to be discussed. I merely think that it should take place there.

  16. Ypsi lover
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Love the idea of putting the Waterstreets Flats on the ballot. Why let 4 people choose the future of Ypsilanti? Let the voters, taxpayers and stake holders decide.
    If it goes on the August ballot, it would not cost the city a penny.
    Let the voters decide. I’ll sign one.

  17. Posted April 23, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Love the idea of a debate either at Water Street or at the Frog Island amphitheater. I will be there and bring as many others as I can.

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