Leigh Greden

Leigh Greden
Ann Arbor City Council Member, 3rd Ward; Michigan State House Democratic Primary, 53rd District, August 2006

Tottered on: 3 March 2006
Temperature: 26 F
Ceiling: partly cloudy
Ground: snow-dusted
Wind: WNW at 10 mph

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TT with HD: Leigh Greden

LG: Alright we'll give it a try; actually that works, just fine.

HD: You feel like this is a good balancing point?

LG: This is perfect. Now I see how René pulled it off [drinking without spilling]. It's kind of like driving with coffee.

HD: Yeah it's not too much different ... well the first question I wanted to ask you was the pronunciation of your last name. I've heard some people say /GRAY-dn/ and other people say /GREE-dn/ What do you and your family say?

LG: It's /GRAY-dn/ like the color ...

HD: ... and everybody in your family pronounces it the same way?

LG: Yeah, at least in my ...

HD: Woah!

LG: Sorry!

HD: No, totally my fault, I wasn't paying attention. I was trying to put on my glove!

LG: Yeah everyone ... in my generation and all my cousins, mother, father, sister, brother ... maybe there's distant cousins that do it differently but ...

HD: I know of you in at least three different guises, one is as a local attorney, two is as a Council Member and three is as a candidate for Chris Kolb's seat that's coming open. Because he has to vacate due to term limits ... you're running against Rebekah Warren, who was here earlier.

LG: Good summary of the three roles.

HD: Are there any additional roles that people might not be as aware of?

LG: Friend and family member? But that's about it!

HD: So how much of your energy is the campaign taking at this point? I would suspect not terribly much.

LG: It's increasing, but it's still not the predominant part of my day. Most of my day is still practicing law.

HD: At what point do you think that it's going to basically totally take over your entire life? Primary's in August?

LG: Primary's in August ... it's currently March. I would say in the next six weeks.

HD: That early? Wow.

LG: Well I wouldn't say 'entirely'. It will never entirely take over my life, because I'll still be on City Council and that's a big part of my day-to-day life. But I am going to take a leave of absence from work at some point. I haven't decided when, yet. I'm already on reduced hours so I can spend more time doing the campaign and City Council.

HD: When Larry Kestenbaum was here, he said that one thing about campaigning is that the candidate is entitled to be paranoid. And I was wondering if you've become paranoid yet? Were you already paranoid? Is that a part of your personality, are you susceptible to that kind of thinking?

LG: All candidates are paranoid ... about themselves. And about their own race. So Larry's absolutely right. So that's why it's so important to have good people who are working with you to give you a reality check on things, good and bad. But yeah that's inevitable.

HD: Is there anybody in particular you use as reality check?

LG: Leah Gunn. She's my Campaign Treasurer. And I like to call her my Campaign Chair, whether she's accepted that title officially, I don't know. Chris Easthope, who is helping me with the campaign. And some close personal friends of mine as well who are not political people.

HD: On February 1st there was a candidate forum out where was that ... ?

LG: Pittsfield Township Hall.

HD: Right. How well attended was that?

LG: It was about ... 50 people. Which, considering how early it was in the campaign, I thought was a pretty good turnout. Because it's so early in the race. The filing deadline isn't even until May. I suspect that this was not on a lot of people's radar, so it was nice to see that many people there ... ... I have to tell you I don't even miss the fact that there's not a handle. I thought that it would be weird, but it's not.

HD: No, if you feel like you're about to fall, you can just grab the edges of the board. And really, it's not that far to fall, if you were to fall off.

LG: When people fall, do they fall backward or do they fall to the side?

HD: It's not like a lot of people have fallen, Leigh! The one person who did take a tumble one day was my wife. And she was okay.

LG: Did she fall back or to the side?

HD: She fell backwards, tumbled right off the back. And it was one of those cases where there wasn't a whole lot I could do.

LG: Not from 15 feet away ...

HD: ... yeah, and you sort of have to maintain your position, right?

LG: If you get up you make it worse ...

HD: ... yeah, you don't help things by leaping to someone's rescue. I wanted to ask you, on your campaign website, you list off the issues and there's an order to them. Number one is education. Now I'm not sure what that might mean locally ... education is in the news a lot recently here locally, but what does that mean for the State House, to prioritize education as an issue?

LG: All spectrums of education starting with pre-school, K through 12 ... Because the School Act governs broadly how we run our schools in the state of Michigan. Moving on up to higher ed, which is the community colleges and the universities, again a lot of state influence there. And even stuff beyond that, what I call life-long learning, so job-retraining programs and things like that.

HD: So is there something that needs to happen legislatively on that front? Anything specific?

LG: On the big-picture front or one one of those issues in particular?

HD: Either.

LG: On the big picture, I think the key to Michigan's long-term future success is having the best public education system in the country ... from pre-school all the way up. Frankly, because none of them can act in isolation. There are all sorts of social research data that show that starting early is a huge boost for children as they move into elementary school. Obviously, when you talk about college, having a good K through 12 education is critical to success in college. So they're all integrated. And if you only focussed on one piece, that wouldn't be solving the whole problem. People like to say that in Michigan, we don't have the best weather, which is true. So we've got to have something that really draws businesses here and makes employers say, I want to create more good high-paying, high-skilled jobs in Michigan. I do think we have some other things, but a huge factor in that is our skilled work force. And we have one, but we've got to do more in order to help balance out some of the other factors that businesses consider, when they're deciding where to locate jobs.

HD: There's one sort of education-related employer that has gotten a lot of talk around town recently: that's Google in connection with their book project and the U of M libraries. They're having a symposium next week and inviting a lot of out-of-town people to come and discuss the impact on libraries, local economies, etcetera. To what extent do you think we here in Ann Arbor, specifically, and in Michigan, more broadly, should give Google any more consideration than any other employer?

LG: Depends on what it is that Google would be interested in. There were rumors around town for a while that Google wanted to create some sort of regional headquarters here. That they would be creating several hundred high-skilled, high-wage jobs. If that were ever to be a formal proposal, I think that would be huge. Simply by virtue of the fact of the number of employees, the type of work that they would be doing and the wages. If we're talking about a very small number of employees, it's still worth considering, but then you've got to balance that out with a variety of factors.

HD: There was actually a new posting from Google on Craigslist today for a local Ann Arbor position. It looked like it was supervising a scanning facility. I'm not sure to what extent these scanning-related jobs qualify as highly skilled. I mean there's got to be a highly-skilled component somewhere in it, to be sure, but I suppose a snarky way to think of it is, You're hiring people to stand there and photocopy stuff. I don't know. This position they were advertising, it looked like is was putting a new scanning operation into place. Or maybe replacing a position they've already got here in town. I have no idea. Perhaps at the end of next week things will become a bit clearer.

LG: This has been a big mystery. Because there's been all sorts of talk around town. We'd been hearing things both publicly and privately about just broad possibilities. And so far nothing's happened with it. Maybe none of the rumors were true. It may be that it's just a very slow process and only time will tell. But I think that's a perfect example, depending again on the types of jobs we're looking for, where the City and the State should try and step up.

HD: As an attorney, and I don't know what your specialty is, does it have anything to do with intellectual property?

LG: It does not!

HD: But you know something about it, I mean you have to have had some classes in law school ...?

LG: ... a little bit ...

HD: ... okay, have you developed a view at all on the Google Book Project as it relates to intellectual property?

LG: I have not developed a view! I wish I had, but that one is far too complicated for me to take a stand on it.

HD: Well, something a bit more local, also related to education, the school system has sent a cease-and-desist letter to this spoof website AnnArborPublicSchools-dot-org.

LG: From a purely technical standpoint, the website is very well done. Because it looks just like the public schools' website. And you really have to start reading the fine detail ...

HD: ... it differs only in the text ...

LG: ... exactly. ... And you start scratching your head and saying, Is this for real? No!

HD: So I take it you've visited the site.

LG: I have seen the site. I found it on AnnAnnArborisOverrated-dot-com and went to it. That was, I think, the day before it ran in the Ann Arbor News.

HD: So do you have a view as to whether they are infringing on the intellectual property of the school system?

LG: I'll express an opinion solely as an individual and not as an attorney for my law firm!

HD: Fair enough.

LG: They're probably crossing the line because their website is so similar both in name and in content to the school's website. I think, if they had created their own website with completely different images and completely different links, then it would have been a different issue. Then, obviously, we'd be talking about free speech. But when you basically copy somebody's website and take their name and basically make some minor changes to the language, that's starting to cross the line.

HD: Do you think it crosses the line in terms of poor taste?

LG: On the one hand I think people are very entitled to express their opinion. You know, the high school, Dr. Fornero, his departure, those are some hot-button issues. So I don't think it's in poor taste to express opinions, albeit sarcastic, about those issues. But I think if I had done it, I think I would have created an entirely new website, that was clearly distinctive from the public schools' website.

HD: So you're not the author, is what you're saying?

LG: I am NOT the author! And I don't know who the author is.

HD: Well, I have a bag of M & M's riding on the identity of the author. ... ...

LG: I'd be curious to know, if you win your bet or not.

HD: Yeah, and then, I don't even know who I'm wagering with, so it'll all be very interesting. ... ... Returning to the campaign, ... on the website list of issues, education is number one, but budget and tax is, I think, number seven. It surprised me a little bit that budget was as far down as it was given that you have somewhat of a reputation of being a budget guy. For example your City Budget Overview is a part of the site library of one of the local blogs as a reference. So it surprised me that you didn't choose to make that a little bit more prominent than you did.

LG: I made a conscious decision to put education first. The rest of the list was, frankly, randomly selected by my webpage designer. With no particular order. I'll raise that issue with him, because that's a good point. Maybe that should be moved higher on the list.

HD: Now let me ask you just a completely smart-alecky question, because you seem like you have a pretty good sense of humor, so I'll just take a shot here: Why do you hate couches so much?

LG: [sigh] Fair question! I don't hate couches. But. When I joined Council in November 2003, the Fire Department had already been pushing this issue on City Council. They had actually brought it to the Council about a year before I joined as a part of a re-write of the City's fire code. And the couch issue, as well as some other issues, was never acted on, so it was kind of hanging out there. And so the Fire Department brought it back up again. I had a lot of my constituents mention it to me. In fact when I ran for City Council in 2003, the first door I knocked on, the woman said to me, Do something about the couches, they're a fire hazard! And to be honest at the time I said, I was unaware of that as an issue. So I looked into it a little bit. So when the Fire Department came and said, We want to bring this issue back up again, I did some research into and I said, I understand your position and I'll support you on it. It is a false statement when people say I was the sponsor of it. But I did support it. Because the empirical data overwhelmingly show that indoor couches, when kept outdoors on a porch, can be a significant fire hazard. We've seen that in two recent fires where the Fire Department has ruled conclusively that the sofa was the source of the ignition. And one of those was a pretty serious fire where we had some students severely injured.

HD: Wasn't there a grill, though, next to the sofa in one of those cases?

LG: In one of them there may have been a grill. I don't know if it was a propane grill or if it was a charcoal grill. There were also some Tiki torches on one of the porches as well. The thing with the sofas, and the reason the Fire Department takes them so seriously, is that they are just this huge enormous source of fuel. And when placed outdoors, where there's an unlimited supply of oxygen and there's no smoke detectors, and you have nearby houses where a fire can quickly spread, they just consider it a much bigger hazard.

HD: Well, I'd like to point out that the teeter totter here it was constructed for outdoor use.

LG: Good!

HD: And there's no upholstery involved, so that's why your butt will get sore after a while.

LG: I was thinking maybe a cushion would be nice.

HD: Well, you know, what I can tell you is that I had one guest request a cushion and that person was provided with a cushion.

LG: I think it would have to be the kind of cushion that was weather resistant. That's another issue with outdoor furniture. ... ...

HD: So the current status of that [couch ordinance] is ... there's this newly formed entity which seems like a good idea for other reasons besides the couch issue that facilitates communication between the Council and the student community ... What's the name of that exactly?

LG: The City Council Student Relations Committee. I'm the chair of the Committee.

HD: Who else is on the committee?

LG: Wendy Woods from City Council. And five students, who are appointed by the president of the MSA, who is Jesse Levine. The Committee was only implemented about four months ago, but I think it's already been a huge success.

HD: In terms of ...?

LG: In terms of communication. In terms of us understanding, What are some of the issues facing the student community? Why are those issues important to them? And then having a dialogue about, Here's what we can do, here's what we can't do to solve the problem. But it goes the other way, too. I think it's been great for the students to hear from us on a variety of issues. We've had the City Attorney come talk to the Committee. We had the City Clerk come to our last meeting a few weeks ago to talk about voter registration ... about how she wanted to register student voters on campus in the fall. Because when they're registered by her it's an easier process under the law as opposed to being registered by independent organizations. We've been working on the lease ordinance, which is going to come before City Council soon. So I think it's been a huge success. And the credit must go to Council Member Stephen Rapundalo /ruh-PUN-dah-lo/, because it was his idea to set this up.

HD: And he's even just the new kid on the block, right?

LG: Yeah, the new kid on the block. He actually proposed it before he was on Council. It was part of his campaign and I said, I think that's a brilliant idea and I don't even want to wait and see if you win your election, Stephen. I think we should act on it now. If we had waited until Stephen won, with the holidays and everything, it wouldn't have gotten started until January. I also think he would love to come out and [teeter totter]

HD: That's in the works. There's wagering involved with that actually. Not with whether he's going to come teeter totter, ... but we have to wait until a certain amount of time passes to evaluate the wager. Details forthcoming.

LG: Understood.

HD: You mentioned that you weren't the sponsor of the couch ordinance, but it reminded me of sponsorship as an issue. This ordinance that's coming up for second reading next [Monday, 6 March] ... actually it's two ordinances, ... that would provide some measure of protection for nursing mothers. How did the sponsorship of that work? As I understand it, it was construed as a women's issue, so Joan Lowenstein invited the female members of Council to sponsor it, but not the male members. Or do I have that wrong?

LG: You are correct.

HD: Did you feel left out at all? Did it make you feel a little weird?

LG: I was a little perplexed, because I think it's an issue that affects the entire community. I understand, obviously, why breast-feeding is unique to women. But it is an issue that affects the entire community. And certain people would have co-sponsored the ordinance if they'd been given the opportunity to do so. In fact the Mayor wrote Joan after it was in the newspaper and said, Can I sign on as a co-sponsor?

HD: And he was allowed to, right?

LG: Yes. I frankly didn't know that it was coming until there was an e-mail sent out from the City Administrator saying, Council Member Lowenstein has added this to the agenda.

HD: To be honest I would suspect that, other than City Council members, people don't really keep track of who's sponsoring what. Maybe for super hard-core political people, maybe they keep a score card, but ...

LG: You're right, in the community it's a non-issue.

HD: From what I can gather, it's going to sail through, right? I mean, voting against it is like voting against Motherhood or something.

LG: The interesting thing is that my e-mail and phone calls are running against it. And other Council Members have told me the same. I plan to vote for it. The question may be, What does the City Attorney say? He may have some input that he wants to make. There may be some amendments put on the floor. And those could either help or hurt, so obviously I can't say what the final product will be, and how I'll vote on that, because it could be radically different.

HD: You think there could be enough discussion on Monday that no vote is actually taken? That it gets postponed and further study is required?

LG: It's always possible, but if I had to bet, I'd say it will get voted on Monday.

HD: I would encourage you guys to vote on it, one way or the other.

LG: Just to get it off the agenda?

HD: Just because I think it shouldn't require a several-months long community discussion. I think the discussion that's been had so far, it's important to have had and I hope you guys will vote on it now.

LG: Number one, I agree. And number two, I think we'll have a good discussion on Monday. Because we have a public hearing and we'll have people from the community and that's with an unlimited number of speakers. And I suspect that the majority of speakers who come out will be supportive of it. And in the end, while I understand the concerns some people have in the opposition, a lot of it is based on the perception that the City Council shouldn't be spending it's time on this type of issue. All that does for me is make me say, Let's vote on it. And I'm going to vote yes.

HD: ... ... Just a totally off-the-wall oddball question: is there any personality here locally that you would like to teeter totter with? I mean, I'm not promising I can make it happen for you. But is there anybody you can think of here locally who you think, That would be a person, I'd like to ride the teeter totter with! They would be fun!

LG: Mary Sue Coleman. Or David Canter from Pfizer.

HD: Okay, I'll work on that for you. So if they don't want to teeter totter with me, I can dangle you in front of them? Will you give me the latitude to offer you up ...

LG: You can extend the invitation on my behalf, but I think they would be much more willing to ride the teeter totter with you than with me.

HD: We'll see.