One might look at the makeup of Ann Arbor’s city council, or candidates running for a ward seat, and think that the partisan battle has been decided: they’re all Democrats. But under the Democratic label, there are two dominant, warring factions in Ann Arbor politics. Together they occupy a share of local power and attention similar to that held by Democrats & Republicans on the national scale. That is to say, nearly all of it: votes, endorsements, donations, who runs for office, and which resolutions even come to the table. The last non-factional candidate to hold office, Sabra Briere, stepped down in 2016.
This dynamic is the driving force in all aspects of city politics. It’s invisible to those who aren’t active observers, yet it’s impossible to cast an informed vote without this knowledge. If you’re choosing which candidate to vote for, knowing which faction they align with tells you more about how they will caucus and vote than what’s on their website.
It’s trickier to explain than the well-understood labels of Democrats vs. Republicans, though. Other articles have acknowledged the factions, but not in a way that is both comprehensive and seeks to be objective. Here I attempt to describe this dynamic and its consequences.
The Main Takeaways:
- Ann Arbor politics are dominated by two camps, the Protectors and the Strivers.
- Factional alignment is the best indicator of how an elected official will caucus and vote, more so than what’s stated on their website.
- This dynamic is toxic and impedes good governance.