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September 15, 2005 - Image 22

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-09-15

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Voice Your Vote is supposed to give students a voice in elections. It does a
great job at turning out voters for national elections but not where they're need
ed most - in local elections. What the University and the city should do to help

By Donn M. Fresard

Daily News Editor

ast June, when LSA
senior Eugene Kang
announced he was run-
ning for City Council in
the Ward 2 Democratic
primary against former
Republican mayoral can-
didate Stephen Rapunda-
lo and held an afternoon
deck party as one of his
first campaign events, I
stopped by to meet Kang
and evaluate his chances. If elected, he would
have been the first University student on City
council in more than 30 years, providing stu-
dents with a voice on a Council that appears
to become more disconnected from, and
even hostile to, Ann Arbor's student popula-
tion with each passing year.
I liked what I saw. Kang seemed to be a
near-perfect candidate; he was bright, per-
sonable, enthusiastic and reasonable, with
exciting ideas about development and about
engaging students in city government, and
with none of the inane fringe ideas that have
characterized many other student candidates
for office in recent memory.
More importantly, for a student candidate,
Kang seemed to be in a particularly good
position to win the Democratic primary. He
was a progressive candidate running against
a former Republican; he was a lifelong Ann
Arbor resident; and, comfortably sporting an
open-collared blue Oxford shirt with a navy
blazer, he looked respectable and professional
enough to make a good impression with hom-
eowners in his ward, many of whom associ-
ate University students with noise violations
and other Animal House-style antics. He also
had strong ties with the local Korean com-
munity, which provided a small but dedicated
base of support and helped him raise several
times more money than his opponent. And he
had a smart group of campaign advisers who
were passionate about student representation
in city government, including Law School
student Alex Donn, who was introduced to
Kang after writing an academic paper about
the obstacles to student voting in Ann Arbor.
Kang's campaign also came at a time
when student interest in city politics, long
dormant, appeared to be starting to spread.

With a City Council that was threatening to
ban couches from house porches and pre-
paring to pass an anti-student parking mea-
sure during the summer, undergraduate and
graduate students - many of them urban
planning majors - began to coalesce around
weblogs such as arborupdate.com, annar-
borisoverrated.com and goodspeedupdate.
com, where they conversed about anti-student
City Council actions, New Urbanism and the
Greenway proposal. Urban planning gradu-
ate student Dale Winling was just launching
the New West Side Association, a neighbor-
hood association intended to counteract the
traditional homeowner-run, and politically
powerful, Ann Arbor neighborhood associa-
tions by representing the political interests of
students and renters. Even The Ann Arbor
News took notice of the sudden resurgence of

Council seat, had recruited Rapundalo from
the Republican Party and had no interest in
a contested primary. Despite his unusual
appeal to residents and a well-run campaign,
Kang lost the primary by about 10 percent,
or 95 votes.
There can be no doubt that, had the elec-
tion been held while regular classes were in
session, Kang would have won the primary
handily. Under the current system, though,
the only way Hill dorm residents could have
voted for him was through absentee ballots.
In the absence of any effort by Voice Your
Vote to educate the ward's student voters on
how to vote absentee, it simply didn't happen.
Ward 2's second precinct, which comprises
Mary Markley Residence Hall and only a
few nearby houses, cast zero ballots.
During the months leading up to the

Ward 2's second precinct, which compris-
es Mary Markley Residence Hall and only
a few nearby houses, cast zero ballots.

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It is undenia
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student interest in local politics: In an article
headlined "Students want their say," News
reporter Tom Gantert, while allowing that
"few would argue that college students have
a say in the Ann Arbor political arena," cited
Kang, the New West Side and the local blogs
as signs that "this mostly transient popula-
tion may be seeking a stronger voice in local
Unfortunately, student candidates in Ann
Arbor City Council primaries face one near-
ly insurmountable challenge: The primaries
take place in early August, when most Uni-
versity students are out of town. The second
ward, where Kang resides, is home to a large
student population in the Hill residence halls
- from September to April. The Hill resi-
dence halls are abandoned during the spring
and summer semesters and, as a result, the
voters in Kang's ward during his primary
were almost exclusively local residents.
Kang also received no support from the local
Democratic Party establishment, which, hop-
ing to secure the formerly Republican-held

November 2004 presidential election, while
he took classes at the University as a full-time
student, Pete Woiwode estimates he spent 60
to 80 hours a week running Voice Your Vote,
the Michigan Student Assembly commission
responsible for turnout of student voters. "I
got in a fair amount of academic trouble," he
says, laughing. Woiwode's enthusiasm seems
to have been contagious. Commission leaders
estimate Voice Your Vote had a core group
of about 20 people who worked at least three
nights a week and 70 who put in one night a
week. Those who counted themselves among
the core group, the truly dedicated, talk about
those few months the way an aging mountain
climber recalls his conquest of Kiliman-
jaro; they beam with pride recounting their
unlikely triumphs over adversity, their stag-
gering numbers, their mentions in several
national media outlets. Talking with them,
you get a sense that they truly believed, and
still believe, in registering students to vote as
a noble calling and a grand achievement.
As an example of the brute power of a

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