by Jessica Carreras
Sandi Smith hasn’t slept much lately. Instead, the Ann Arbor resident and co-owner of Trillium Real Estate with her partner Linda Lombardini has been what she calls “sleepless on the campaign trail.” That means going door to door throughout the city and hoping that her grassroots work will result the 1st ward seat on Ann Arbor’s city council. With the Aug. 5 primaries rapidly approaching, she’ll soon see.
But Smith, an out lesbian who owns Trillium Real Estate isn’t concerned. Along with being a 27-year resident of the city, Smith boasts a plethora of endorsements, including the Ann Arbor News and Mayor John Hieftje. “I think (feedback has been) very positive,” she said after a weekend of schmoozing and shaking hands. “It resonates with people that I understand what the issues are and that I’ve got enough of a background to start thinking about ways to address the issues.”
So what are the issues?
It starts with city services and infrastructure, Smith explained, but her focus is more on things like insuring the continuance of downtown development. “It’s important to allow the development to continue, but to make sure that it happens in a way that reflects what we as annarborites see as our character – that it’s funky and that it keeps us in mind, too.”
Moreover, she hopes that new developments will be sustainable, and will be balanced out by the historic parts of Ann Arbor. “It’s important to have the historic as well as the new,” said Smith, who lives with Lombardini in a house built in the 1890s.
Smith also said she hopes to start coming up with answers to residents’ cries for better transportation systems, both within the city and regionally. “(Southeast Michigan) is so different than most other metropolitan areas people go to where they can go from downtown, get on a train, go to the airport and in two hours, they’re in the terminal,” she explained. “We are just lacking that in this region… . I’m interested in working collaboratively with other local governments to reach some sort of solution for transportation.”
For Smith, collaboration is a favorite word. She boasts that her leadership style is one where no one person is in charge. Instead, all ideas are shared, debated and consensus is reached mutually, not by butting heads. “I’m not somebody who’s going to pound the table,” she insists. “I think that most decisions come from building consensus by talking with colleagues, working with ideas, getting the background information and sharing that so that when it comes time to actually vote, people feel comfortable enough that they have the information and that the idea’s a pretty good one and there’s funding for it and good reasons to go forward.”
It was that mentality that helped her over a decade ago when she worked with the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project, which, in 1996 when Smith joined it, was just a small non-profit organization that met in members’ houses. Today, WRAP has its own office, hosts events for the LGBT community and offers support groups, meetings and free and anonymous HIV testing. “It was fun to take something that was just this spark and really make it into a functioning organization,” Smith said of her four-year stint on the WRAP board.
Though Smith doesn’t work with WRAP much anymore and instead focuses her volunteer work on downtown development and environmental work, she still says she is deeply invested in the LGBT community – in a subtle way. “I think I have very strong connections to the community,” Smith said. “But the coolest thing is that my orientation is not an issue. It’s not like I’m a gay candidate, a lesbian candidate running. I’m a candidate first and I happen to be a lesbian. Nobody mentions it, which is, I think, the coolest part because it doesn’t matter to anybody here.”
Even so, if elected, Smith will have a special position as the only openly-gay member of the Ann Arbor City Council. It’s not something she plans to ignore, promising to fight for equal rights for every resident, regardless of orientation or gender identity or expression. “What I will do is talk to members of the Human Rights Commission to make sure that we are covered and that we have as many ordinances in the city as possibly that give us equality,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to continuing Ann Arbor’s very progressive political nature.”
But first, she needs a good night’s sleep.