Read the full announcement made by Ypsilanti Mayor Amanda Edmonds on March 1.
It is with a mixed heart and spirit that I share today that I will not run for a second term as mayor of the City of Ypsilanti, and will complete my four year term in early November 2018. The chance to both serve and learn over the last three plus years has been like no other leadership experience in my life up until now. I am so grateful that the voters of Ypsilanti took a chance on me to serve them in this way. I hope that our community feels that I have moved our city forward in a positive way. I think we have seen great progress in the last few years, and have opportunity for considerably more as we shape the future of Ypsilanti.
I am looking forward, though, to continuing progress in these next 8 months in a number of areas. Among these is further promotion of solar and other sustainability work that, through both our partner in Solar Ypsi, and the Sustainability Commission that I led the city council in creating last spring, that is making significant progress. Ypsilanti is becoming more and more known as a sustainability-oriented community in a way that is bringing deserved recognition to both the tireless work of volunteer-led Solar Ypsi and the deep partnership with the city to bring solar across our community. It has decreased costs and carbon output for the city, for area nonprofits, public institutions, and residents. The Sustainability Commission is moving at great speed to define and prioritize next steps.
I will continue, too, to find simple ways, amidst strapped municipal resources, that we can continue to help residents be more aware of how they can engage civically with the local government. I pushed for the permanent move of a polling place to EMU, in order to support students engaging more easily in that process, and helped flyer around campus and the community of how to know where you’re registered and where and how to vote. We can do much more, especially with our high percentage of renters, and low voter turnout in renter neighborhoods. Over the last 8 months with an informal group of teen leaders that I convened, helping them draft visions and plans for increasing youth engagement in civic life. Some of their visions will be coming into reality over the next many months in schools across the broader Ypsilanti area.
Proudly I raised the Transgender Day of Visibility flag last March 31 in front of our police station, and succeeded with others in lobbying the Ypsilanti Community Schools to do the same in front of each of their buildings. We may have been the only city and school district anywhere who has simultaneously taken that stand, so important at this moment when 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide, as have 30% of transgender youth. Visibility matters. At the reintroduction last fall in Lansing of the amendment to the Elliott-Larson Civil RIghts Act, to once again try to make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes, I spoke alongside state lawmakers about the important role protecting discrimination to our community, and ever community in Michigan. (Yes, many don’t realize that your LGBTQ status is still legal grounds for discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in Michigan). In Ypsilanti, we updated our 20 year old non-discrimination ordinance to include both gender identity and immigration status. And, we took a strong and proactive approach to enact policies that ensured that the public is welcome to do business with, live, go to school in, or visit the City of Ypsilanti regardless of immigration status. I urged other communities in our area to do the same and advised them if they were receptive. Policy matters.
Through the work of a Police-Community Relations/Black Lives Matter Task Force, appointed by me and chaired by Mayor Pro Tem Nicole Brown, our city council took proactive steps forward around further police transparency and accountability, both overhauling the police complaint process to be more accessible, and then forming a Police Advisory Commission, members of whom are just being appointed. The Task Force brought forth emerging best practices in police oversight from across the country and I am so grateful for their dedication, and looking forward to this new Commission getting under way, and more citizens knowing how to positively engage withour public safety. Thanks to our voters approving the Water Street Debt Millage, and the County Public Safety and Mental Health millage, we will finally have some dollars to bring public safety staffing levels in both police and fire back up to base levels, after which we can get back to the deeper community engagement work our officers have been unable to prioritize as they run from call to call.
And, also because of the Water Street debt finally having a dedicated funding source, this year I look forward to engaging with citizens and our Parks & Recreation Commission to understand their priorities for some long-overdue infusion both in our parks and in our volunteer-championed recreation facilities of the Pool, Senior Center, and Parkridge Community Center. I am grateful, too, to have worked with and supported other major community institutions– St. Joe’s and EMU in particular– as they have deepened their investment and partnership in many parts of our community, but namely those that support healthy and engaged youth and adults.
As New Parkridge concludes the multi-year major conversion and renovation of all of our Ypsilanti Housing Commission units– a project we should all feel proud of, with some of the most beautiful housing stock in the city, I look forward to continued work with YHC on development of new permanent public, affordable, and/or supportive housing. They have shown their capacity and we’ve been working over the last year to scope out possible properties. Through my service on Washtenaw County’s Housing Equity Leadership Team, I keep working to move the conversation about housing in Ypsilanti to the need to preserve affordability before it is lost. In addition to YHC’s prospects for new development, I look forward to strong community voice in our Master Plan updates helping to guide some land use decisions to support that, to finding common ground enough to pass a Community Benefits Ordinance, and to determine what other direct strategies– land trusts, et al– and indirect but equally as important indirect strategies to increase opportunity and raise wages.
Our commercial districts continue to be filling and continuing to be vibrant, with several long vacant and large properties in downtown transitioning ownership and being give major investment. Our DDA, which we transitioned two years ago to be staffed by our city community & economic development department, has worked hard to make this happen and turn the corner in our downtown district in particular. I’ve loved being part of supporting these owners as they move through their development processes, especially because so many are Ypsi-grown, and bringing things to the DDA district that serve the interests of many residents. The latest– the Michigan Advocacy Program, who provides many routes to free legal services– is renovating the Smith Furniture building, the capstone in bringing South Washington back to life and full occupancy, expected to open this summer.
Pitch Ypsi, spearheaded by a local entrepreneur, and run by many of us who came together as volunteers and partners to support his vision, launched in 2017 and held two pitch competitions for eastside entrepreneurs, awarding $10,250 in cash prizes we raised (plus more than $10K more in in-kind prizes), and bringing in over 100 applicants. This year I’m excited to again play a leadership role to continue to build and diversify the entrepreneurial culture in the Ypsi area, for Ypsi area residents. One of our non-winning pitch participants is getting ready to open up shop right in downtown.
And, the train. After many moons of attempts, just about two years ago now we were finally successful in gaining Amtrak and MDOT’s approval for the train to once again stop in Depot Town. A failed RTA vote– which may have provided funding– and our own first failed Water Street millage vote set us back from prioritizing that investment, but I hope this year we begin to again make progress on bringing this great asset back to Depot Town and Ypsilanti, and I’ll work in the next 8 months to help get that project back on track.
As we look to support local businesses, part of the role of local government that may not sound exciting is in the area of procurement, as institutions are collectively major economic forces in our county in particular. I led changes adopted recently to our Procurement Policy that define and put strong preference on both locally-owned and sustainability-minded practices when the city bids for good and services. That is among many examples of the back end work of governing, along with much of the important work of budget development, hiring a new city manager, responding to citizen requests, nominating to 23 board and commission, that takes much of the 20 hours a week of work as a part-time (mostly unpaid work as) mayor. While there are moments that a mayor is in the spotlight, there are many more in the background– and in countless meetings– doing the hard and at times slow, and dry, work of governing.I am grateful for the learning and the opportunity to have done it all.
The role of mayor has been filled with the highs and lows one would expect in this type of public service, and as this year progresses– and particularly once my term concludes– I look forward to writing and sharing my own reflections on both what works, and what is broken, about our political process in the imperfect democracy we live in. I will share this, though–
One thing has become very clear in the last 10 months or so– the tenor of discourse in and towards our political spheres– from national down to local levels– has soured. This, for me, has felt markedly different than in the previous years of my term, and as I’ve watched it at the federal level through and since the presidential campaign, I’ve seen and felt it locally, too. Personal attacks not actually grounded in the person or based in fact about an issue are easily slung by people at all ends of the political spectrum especially in online sphere. I have even been the target of direct hate speech as an out LGBTQ leader, and received direct threats to my safety because of my vocal support for immigration and our residents from across the world. I share that because it’s not just me. Bullying– that in any other context we would deem unacceptable– is commonplace and in the open both from and towards people in elected office, and in my experience, often has underlying gendered aspects.
I think we are at a time in our democracy’s history in this country, as well as in our own community, in which we need to examine how we engage in productive and participatory discourse. We need to continue to dive deep into difficult issues without clear answers– not hide from having difficult conversations, and continue to improve how we make space to include more voices. We cannot afford, though, to continue to condone vile and vicious attacks via our complacency, even if we are not the attackers ourselves. That silence degrades democracy.
In this moment in our country we are also in an exciting transition, when new generations and demographics historically excluded are stepping up to participate as neighbors, electors, and candidates in the political process. I fear, though, that those temporary victories will not lead to sustaining strong public servants if we do not seriously address what is and isn’t acceptable. And, unless we challenge the old ways of dirty politics (that I have seen are still alive and kicking at every level), bringing more diverse and historically underrepresented voices into elected office– and in particular keeping them there– will be very difficult. We need to restore a culture of respect and diplomacy. Even if we don’t see it modeled in some of our nation’s highest offices; we can choose to do so, and make it our expectations of one another, in at least our own community. Some of my greatest political mentors are people with whom I fundamentally disagree on a number of key issues, but with whom I can dialogue with productively, and then learn from the space between our stances, however firm they each may be.
I was honored to travel for one month last spring on a transatlantic fellowship in five countries in Europe. It was a transformative experience for me, as the 11 other American fellows and I engaged in deep dialogue across the continent on matters of shared concerns, including immigration/migration, civic engagement, democracy and its threats, the role of youth in future society, and sustainability, among other areas. Our connections, too, with the 20 European fellows traveling at the same time in the US, helped me gain broadened perspective on both the challenges and the opportunities that we share across both others communities and nation-states. There is so much we can learn from one another. It was a deep honor to meet with the Chief Resilience Officer in Paris City Hall, learn from refugee case workers in Sweden, absorb the wisdom of a leader of a Catholic organization in Rome who has for decades mediated civil wars, connect with start-up social entrepreneurs, and so many more. I am still in touch with this growing transatlantic network and look forward, both during the remainder of my mayoral term and then after it concludes, in bringing further ideas and best practices from across the US and Europe, back to Ypsilanti, particularly in the areas of urban sustainability, resilience, and social enterprise.
My next chapter includes teaching, consulting, writing, and further service in the public and non-profit sector as yet to be defined both in Ypsilanti and other geographies. Regardless of the form my next chapter takes, I will still be working towards communities where health, resilience, and sustainability in all of its forms is both possible, and probable, for all.
Ypsilanti has been my home for 16 years and I am proud to have served it many ways during this time, first through my long-time service founding and leading Growing Hope (I passed the torch to my team in December to prepare for my own next chapter), through six years on the Parks & Recreation Commission, seven years on the DDA board, and in the last three plus years as its mayor. The weight of the responsibility of the latter is not lost on me, even as I have imperfectly learned my way through how best to match my skills to what our community needs each day, and I am humbled to have been given the chance for that learning. I look forward to, in 2018 elections and beyond, vocally supporting candidates who I believe bring positivity, respect, and a proactive, forward-moving approach to elected offices at all levels. Our democracy, our communities, and our country deserves it.
Ypsilanti Mayor Amanda Edmonds made this announcement on 89-1 WEMU. She talks with WEMU News Director David Fair about her decision against seeking a second term in office. Listen here.