Stewart Nelson

Stewart Nelson
airline pilot; insurance guy; candidate in Democratic primary for Ward 2 Council seat
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tottered on: 14 August 2008
Temperature: 67 F
Ceiling: sunny
Ground: longish grass
Wind: NE at 5mph

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TT with HD: Stewart Nelson

[Ed. note: Reference to 'the list' below is a list of 100 people SN challenged himself meet as a part of learning more about how Ann Arbor works--in connection with his candidacy in the August 2008 Democratic primary election for the open seat on Council in Ward 2. ]

HD: And one last sip of coffee?

SN: Yeah, there you go. Should I put it down?

HD: Well, as you like. Sloshing is easily ...

SN: ... well, fine with me, this is an old shirt.

HD: [laugh] But if you do slosh, feel free to arrange to slosh onto the teeter totter, because we can just hose it down.

SN: Yeah, that's fine.

HD: Welcome to the teeter totter! And more specifically, welcome to the 5th Ward!

SN: Yes!

HD: Although, you did grow up around here.

SN: I did! I was born on Doty, which is off of Miller in a tiny little house. The house was so small you had to go outside to change your mind--that kind of thing. And I was the second child. I had an older sister. So my dad built a house--he was real handy and he was skilled, and he built a home on Robin Road, which is up 4th Street off of Brooks, and we lived there for I guess 8 or 10 years And then they put the freeway in, I-94, and my dad was with Ford, and so we moved over to the other side of town over by the freeway, ...

HD: ... but still on this west side of town?

SN: Still on the west side, yeah. So my progression is, I went to Mack School first. And then I went to Eberwhite, and then to Dicken, and then to Slauson, back over here. And I used to walk from our place to Slauson every day except when it was really nasty.

HD: Nasty, weather-wise?

SN: Yeah. And then walked home. And sometimes I would stop by and see my grandmother, who lived over on the corner of Crest and Liberty. So I am hooked to this region.

HD: So was this the grandmother who was married to the grandfather you described being dragged by the train all the way over to Ypsilanti? [Ed. note: The train accident story was told prior to mounting the totter. SN would probably relate it if asked in person--he seems willing to talk also to people who are not on his list.]

SN: Yes. Grandma Lentz, who came here from Germany, right after World War I. She came as a nanny for a professor at the University. She didn't speak any English, a typical German immigrant. She actually worked in a bakery, which you may or may not remember. It was called Lunsford Bakery, it was down here on 3rd Street right off of Liberty, 2nd or 3rd. Whoops, sorry!

HD: Oh, are you all right?

SN: I'm all right! I about went over backwards!

HD: I read about that [bakery] in the Old West Side News, I think.

SN: Yeah, it was a wonderful bakery. And they had the best cinnamon rolls in the city. And when that closed she went over to Quality Bakery, which was on Main Street, which you may or may not remember. Quality Bakery later became the Rubaiyat Supper Club or one of those down there. Now now it's Palio or Real Seafood.

HD: So, right at William and Main, then?

SN: Yeah, right in that area there. So I have a lot of connections here. And you know my dad went to school here and ended up working here. He had worked at Argus Camera during the war.

HD: Oh, really? So right across Liberty Street from here!

SN: Yeah! Right. And he was a pilot like I became later on. But he was a skilled engineer who made bomb sights. Argus made bomb sights during the war and they would not release him from his civilian job. He tried to go in the Air Force, but they wouldn't take him.

HD: Because he was actually in his civilian job doing something that aided the war effort?

SN: Yes, right. So he was able to stay home from the war, when everybody else was going. My mom loved that of course. And then after the war--well, let's see, I wonder when they were first married, it was probably just before the war started. My sister was born in '43, and then I was born in '47 right after the war. But anyway that's sort of the chronology of the Nelson family! [laugh]

HD: So back in May I think it was, when I met you at the Sunday caucus you said that at that point already you had knocked on around 2000 doors in the 2nd Ward?

SN: Oh, boy.

HD: Now, was that an estimate, or were you actually keeping a tally of how many houses? Did you have it plotted out on a grid, or?

SN: I actually did the tally by the number of flyers that I handed out. And I ended up walking way more than that. And just before the election, I did it all again.

HD: Really? So you did another lap around the 2nd Ward?

SN: I did a whole 'nother loop. So I ended up hitting probably three-fourths of our ward twice. And you know, it's a great way to meet people. I learned more about myself and about the people who live in our area, and I learned the problems firsthand that the area was having. I mean, I found homes that were foreclosed upon.

HD: Yeah, really??

SN: Uh-huh. I found homes with gas and electric shut-off notices on them.

HD: Holy cow. In the 2nd Ward??

SN: In the 2nd Ward. I found homes that people were living in that should have been torn down.

HD: So not really fit for human habitation?

SN: No. Homes with windows and doors that were hanging--obviously been off for a long time.

HD: But people still living there?

SN: People still living there. People with just obviously economic issues. And it really opened my eyes. So when I went to some of the debates and people would ask me, What is the most important thing? It's the economy, stupid! It really is. It's jobs. We need jobs. Ann Arbor used to be immune from these recessions, but it's not anymore. We learned that after Pfizer left.

And 2200 people in Washtenaw County last year lost their homes. That's abominable. And it's up a little bit this year, it may have stabilized a little bit. But I don't think we have quite seen the bottom yet. So we need to do something to get the economy going so that people can ...

HD: ... do you really think there's anything that we can do on the local level to facilitate that?

SN: There is a tremendous amount that we can do. And part of it comes with not trying to be real smart and pick what industry. Jennifer Granholm's approach is, We want to be the premier battery manufacturer for these new electric vehicles and stuff. Well, you you don't get to pick the industry.

What you need to do it is like, if you are in charge of a hospital, and you want to have the best doctors come and work at your hospital, you set up this hospital that is well-designed that has all of the things that a doctor needs, where the doctor is comfortable working there, so you set the environment. And then they will want to work there. We don't just turn the doctors loose, but you involve them more in the decision-making process, you open up potentials for them.

And I think that's what we need to do. We can set the stage for business here and then let the City play more of a Field of Dreams thing: If we build the atmosphere for businesses, then they will want to come here. And right now I think we have the opposite problem. We have businesses that we are scaring away.

HD: Is there any like specific example you can think of, a particular business, or a sector of the economy that you think that we are scaring away?

SN: You know what, it's very difficult to come up with a specific example of it. But the thing that tells me that we are not getting our share of the businesses is that we are losing all the graduate students. They are just bailing on Michigan in general. So if there were an opportunity for them here, we would do better at retaining those talented people that we are putting out of the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. But they are all leaving. The MBA program here, 2 people stayed from this graduating class in Ann Arbor. Out of 300.

HD: Wow.

SN: And then on the engineering side I think it's even worse. We do have some opportunity on the engineering side--this new Toyota facility--and so there are some things, we are making some progress there. I just think we need to put a big 'Open for Business' sign on Ann Arbor and say, Listen, guys, we want to try and help you locate here, because we really have a great environment for it. We can't say our taxes are low, because they're not. [laugh] But there's other things. There's a supply of talented people coming out of our schools.

HD: So when you say that the City's role can be to sort of establish an atmosphere that's amenable to businesses relocating in this region, part of that surely has to be connected to the way people live, and the places that people can live that are proximate to where they're going to work. So that, say, they don't have to drive 45 minutes across the county to get to their job. That observation in connection with this proposed development at 601 Forest Street--which seems like it's exactly what we want in terms of increasing density. Yet there is a lot of concern that has been expressed--in fact you went the last City Council meeting to basically relay to Council the sentiments that you have been hearing while walking Ward 2.

SN: Yes.

HD: And that's actually not in Ward 2, but it's where all the wards kind of come together, so it's not really a Ward 3, or a Ward 2 issue or a Ward 4 issue, it's basically a downtown issue--it's everybody's ward. I spent the morning actually looking at that intersection on Google Street View--have you ever tried Google Street View?

SN: I have. What a unique development! I love it.

HD: I just put the little man right in the center of that intersection, and I just sort of did a 360-degree pan, so that it included--I always get the name of the building across from Village Corner wrong--that's not University Towers, is it?

SN: It is.

HD: It is? Okay. Which is what, 18 or 19 stories tall?

SN: Yes.

HD: And what they are proposing to do build across from there at Village Corner is a couple of stories even taller ...

SN: ... 25.

HD: Okay, not just a couple, half a dozen more.

SN: It was going to be exactly the same height. But they had two buildings, and the neighbors on Forest Court protested that they were too close to the lot line. So the builder acquiesced and dropped the plans for the second building out. And boosted the height of it, so now it will be taller.

HD: I was actually surprised to learn that something that tall fit within existing zoning, so what is the height limit?

SN: There's not one.

HD: There's not one?

SN: No. What they do is that they have developed a formula. It's called a floor-area ratio [FAR]. It's based on the lot size.

HD: Oh, okay, so it's because they have a big enough lot that basically they can build something this tall.

SN: Yeah. Nobody thought that anybody would be able to acquire that much land down there. And then there was a little bit of gerrymandering and redistricting at the time. When they--I don't know if you will recall it, but it happened about--oh, I don't know--about four years ago they rezoned the downtown as DDA area. And when they did that, they extended it and they included that corner right there. Nobody really thought that much about it except for [Planning Commissioner] Ethel Potts, who spotted it right away. And she said, Folks, we might want to pay attention to this! So when Eppie talks, I listen. And she spotted it.

And it didn't become a problem until this developer was able to acquire the Village Corner and the apartments next to it, the Bagel Factory and then the bicycle shop. And in a sense he could take that whole corner. And in addition to floor-area ratios, they also offer height premiums for going green. So he [the developer] was able to get a few extra floors for that.

HD: I remember watching one of the Planning Commission Meetings--or maybe it was an Energy Commission meeting, where the developer--or maybe it was actually a city engineer or planner of some kind--was walking through some of the green elements of that project. I don't recall specifically what they were, but I do remember thinking, Wow, that's pretty cool!

SN: Yeah, they have devices they're planning to put in--first of all, no [storm] water would be released from the site. All water would stay there.

HD: Yeah, I remember them talking about rainwater catchment, and how they had a plan to not just hold it, and slowly release it during periods when it wasn't raining, but actually to use it in the building.

SN: And then they had a green roof proposed, which is pretty interesting too, from energy savings. And then they also had monitors in the hallways, so that the students could watch how much electricity they were using. Which is a pretty interesting idea, because you never really consider what you're doing until the bill comes the next month and then it's too late.

HD: You know I think that's really crucial--keeping track in a way that is constantly visible and in front of your face. Not just the negatives like how much electricity you are using, but say, if there was a way of keeping track how much rainwater you are capturing and reusing.

SN: Yes!

HD: So from my rain barrel over there, it's something that I started trying to keep track of manually--every time I would actually use an entire barrel to water the garden out front. And you know, you forget once, and then you think, Oh, now I'm off and now I need to wait until next season and start all over again so that I have an accurate record.

But I think it would be nice if say, city-wide, there was a website you could go to, and you could see how well we are doing as a community--if people were logging their own rain barrel usage. Or, you know. I'm just using this as an example. Or for electric usage, where you could see on a per capita basis, like a real-time chart for today, monthly, yearly, a history of how well we're doing.

SN: What gets measured gets attention. That's what we need, we need to focus our attention on those things. The city's website is horrible. The best part of the city's website, however, is the Energy Department. If you take a look at the energy and the environmental, they have numerous metrics that they judge the city on there. And they use these up and down sort of arrows ...

HD: ... oh yeah, the State of the Environment report is what it's called, right?

SN: Right. And it's all in there and it's actually very good. And we all could learn from that. You could add more detail if somebody wanted to drill down---let's say you take a big area, and you can drill down to the actual water usage. We could make a pretty good guess by how many barrels they sold or whatever. I mean, there are some ways to sort of figure that out. But I agree with you: what gets measured, that's important.

HD: You said 'students would be able to see'--for this development, even though that's their target demographic, I guess, anybody could live there in principle. As long as you brought up students, I think one of the issues around that development project has to do with a basic philosophy: Is it the community's responsibility to house students or is it the university's responsibility to house students? I remember there was one speaker at the last Council meeting who flat out said, The university needs to build dormitories, that's how students should be housed, not in developments like this. Do you think that's a fair assessment of how people maybe are reacting to this development? That ultimately people feel like it's designed for students, but dormitories are where students are supposed to live.

SN: I agree.

HD: You agree with that sentiment, or you agree that that is the issue?

SN: I'm pretty much of a market-approach guy. I like the market to determine that. But in this case right there, if they worked to put in some affordable housing or something other than just students! They're talking $1000 a bed.

So if you have a four-bed apartment, that's $4000 a month--there's not going to be very many people moving in there besides sort of an elite group of students. And not all of the students who are coming here are going to be able to afford that type of a rent structure. So I think it's elitist. I think that we are going to be attracting the type of people there, the students who bring in their Cadillac Escalade's on a trailer. You know, sort of like I am shipping my son's car out to California--I mean, I am as guilty of it as the next guy! [laugh] And so I am worried about that.

It would be nice if there were some workforce housing that was in that building, because like you just said a minute ago, it's getting expensive to commute in from wherever else to try and work in a restaurant down there or in a store down there. So the cost of commuting is making some of our stores at a competitive disadvantage to places that allow places for our workforce to live.

If teachers, and policemen, and firemen, and managers of those stores can't afford to live down there, we've got a problem! We need to make space for them somehow. I would've liked to have seen that building have some affordable housing in it. And there's not going to be any. The other thing is, I just don't think the community has come to a consensus on how how high we want our buildings to go.

HD: I was actually surprised to see this, part of Carsten's [Hohnke's] literature talked about height limits. I didn't spot that until relatively late. And I thought, Carsten, what are you, nuts?? Height limits, come on!

SN: I just spent two days in Chicago. There's obviously no height limits down there, but everything is that tall. So it doesn't seem like you're overwhelmed by it. But for us here, we're not going to have 50 25-story buildings down there. One or two of them just will significantly alter the scale and character of what's going on. And I do think that we need to be really proactive, because were going to have to live with those things for 50 years.

HD: Let me share with you a little vignette from my life about 12 or 13 years ago now. My wife and I were living in Rochester, New York, and we were weighing the possibility of moving to Ann Arbor for a job that she had been offered. And we had visited Ann Arbor on one occasion prior to that. One of the things that weighed against Ann Arbor was that we had lived in Bloomington, Indiana, for a couple of years and we thought, You know, we have lived in a small, midwestern college town already, we have had that experience. So what's going to be different about Ann Arbor? I mean what's the motivation, if we are looking for something that we have not experienced in life yet?

We reflected on that visit to Ann Arbor and what we focused on was--I think it was University Towers that we had walked past--and we discussed the fact that you know, they've got that big giant high-rise, it seems more like a city as opposed to Bloomington, which is very much a small sleepy town. And that was exactly the thing that made us say, Yeah, okay, we're going to give Ann Arbor a shot--in order to put up a building like that there must be a consensus that they are heading down a path to city-hood. That was the thing that made us think, Hey this is going to be a more city-like environment than just a small sleepy small-town environment.

SN: I think that you can achieve that feel. It's not so much the height, and I'm not proposing some firm height limit, saying like we can't go over 12 stories or something. It more depends on the building. That's why they went to this floor-area ratio. If a building is right square out to the lot line and goes straight up, that's one thing. If it's built in and it has tiers going in and it has a pronounced cap on the top and they do things with sightlines.

Damian Farrell, the person who first designed that building over there, is a world-class architect. When he was working on it, it was 22 stories, I think--I don't think he's even on the project anymore--but he said it's not going to feel like a 25-story building. I believe him in that. Because of the way that it's structured, they break up the lines, and then the sight line at 40 feet, which would be directly in line with existing buildings along South University. And so I trust him on that.

But that's my personal opinion--it's not my role to impose my opinion on everybody else. When I went out and spoke to Council, all I'm trying to do is trying to say that I thought, after taking the pulse of our neighbors, that people were uncomfortable with that height. Not that they didn't want anything to go there, or that they are anti-development. But they just felt that 25 stories was a little out of character, and out of scale for the neighborhood. So that's my feeling on it. It sort of depends. In order to get up that high, then we're going to have to get into some details with these architects that they might not like, because it depends on the building itself, and how well it's designed. I trust Damian on that. Like I said, he is a world-class architect, and I think we would not get the same feeling as that building across the street.

HD: So was Damian on your list of 100 people?

SN: Actually, you know what, he was on the list of 100 people, but I came in contact with him about three or four times, so I didn't really need to sit down with him. Because I was able to just sort of take from these encounters that I had with him. I attended both of the meetings when they first proposed the building, and then I ran into him at Sweetwater Cafe with a friend of mine, and spoke to him there and so, yes, he was on the list but I didn't spend any time with him.

HD: Okay, so you didn't have an 'event' with him were you said this is your official 'list conversation'?

SN: Not with him, no. That list was designed mainly to familiarize myself with the procedures and the processes of the city. You know, Sue McCormick, Jayne Miller. Sumedh Bahl at the water department, Earl Kenzie at the sanitary sewer department, Karla Henderson out at the Wheeler Center, Dan Rainey at the IT department, Craig Hupy at systems planning, [Dave] Konkel on the energy side of it, Mark Lloyd with planning and zoning. I hit virtually every department in the city.

HD: Was anybody from the University of Michigan on the list?

SN: Oh yeah! One of the best ones I had was with a fellow by the name of Christopher Leinberger. He's at Michigan in the Erb Institute. Erb is a combination of Natural Resources the MBA program, joint degree, and Urban Planning. And he's also at the Brookings Institute in Boston and does a lot of high-level consulting. He's written a very good book called the Option of Urbanism. So Chris invited me to lunch at the school, at the Urban Planning School at the School of Architecture over there on north campus.

HD: So they have like a cafeteria there??

SN: Oh, they had a little lunch room over there, they had a little group of students there and it was catered! And it was really nice! I went in and I had lunch with this group--there were six grad students and several other administrators there. And we talked about these issues. It was really enlightening. And I met two graduate students that I became friends with. I helped two of them try and get jobs this summer--I was not successful with it. I sent out their resumes trying to find internships for them. And I would really like to try to find internships for them this year to try to keep people like that here in town.

But what we did is I set up a meeting between myself and Susan Pollay--who was also on my list, the head of the DDA--and then Dan Jacobs, who is a green architect ...

HD: ... oh yeah? We teeter tottered on his roof!

SN: Oh, you did? Okay, well, it was Susan Pollay and then Merrill Dudley, who is on the Dean Fund which is the ...

HD: ... the tree plantings, right.

SN: Yes, the tree people, and Ellie Serras from the Main Street Area Association. And Newcombe Clark was invited, although he missed it. And then these two graduate students, and we all met up at Dan Jacobs' ...

HD: ... oh, at the UrbEn Retreat?

SN: Well, no. We went up on the top of his roof there ...

HD: ... well, yeah that's what it is called I think.

SN: Oh, is that what he calls it?

HD: That's what he calls it, right. He makes it available to non-profits to have their meetings there.

SN: Oh, he does? Well, in that room up there, okay. We were up there, one of the first people to use it, before it was really even open. But the purpose of the meeting was to figure out ways to capture rainwater on the top of the parking structure at William and 4th Street right there behind Palio. Is that 4th or 5th?

HD: It's between 4th and 5th, I think.

SN: It's one of those. It's right in there. To try and capture that rainwater ...

HD: ... no, I'm wrong. It's between Main and 4th.

SN: Between Main and 4th, right.

HD: I ride past there everyday--I should know the names of the streets!

SN: I should too! But anyway to take that rainwater and use that rainwater to water the plants ...

HD: ... oh, to water the trees and stuff? You know what, I saw a guy watering the new plantings next to the surface lot where the old Y[MCA] used to be. You know those green bags they use? So he gave me the technical specifications on those green bags that have weeping holes that gradually let the water go out. And he said that there are four faucets that are broken that are supposed to be maintained by the City, so he actually had a truck from his landscaping service--he was having to water from the truck. Ideally he'd do this from the faucets.

And I was thinking, you know, they put that pervious asphalt down there--one of the things I want to do is test that empirically, I want to take a watering can down there and pour it out and see what happens--but I was thinking, if you just had a way to direct that over to the trees. Or maybe that wouldn't be a good idea if people's oil from their cars was leaking onto the asphalt or whatever.

SN: You'd have to separate it out.

HD: So anyway, the idea of the meeting was to catch the rainwater on top of the parking structure?

SN: That was what our meeting was about. And Dan Jacobs came up with a way to do it. He actually said that we could put solar collectors on there that would power some of the ...

HD: ... like the pumps?

SN: Some of th power requirement for the filtering system. The thing that started it was a meeting that I had with Ellie Serras--who is on my list of 100 [laugh]--and she said that they were paying $30,000 a year to water those trees down on Main Street. And I thought, first of all, Why are our merchants having to pay for trees that are in ...

HD: ... that are in our public right-of-way? [laugh]

SN: Yeah. Which didn't seem right to me! And I also invited--they hired a new urban forester at the city now--Kerry Gray is her name. This was like her first official function before she went on maternity leave. She came and then left right away. She's back now as of--July 17, I think she came back. I brought these two grad students with me, too. And the plan was when they come back in the fall, we will reconvene and try to figure out a way to fund some of this. The City has some money coming to them from the Solar Cities designation that they received ...

HD: ... yeah, yeah.

SN: Konkel told me about it. So I met with Konkel, and we talked about it to see if we can figure out a way to get some money just to do it as a test project. Because all of the buildings on Main Street essentially could be capturing rainwater. And it wouldn't even need to be filtered, because it could be just stored in cisterns and then pumped out when we needed it in various places.

So that's part of how this whole list of 100 just seemed to grow geometrically. I bounced around, it was like surfing on the internet. I surfed from Ellie Serras to Christopher Leinberger at the University of Michigan and these two graduate students, to Dan Jacobs the green architect, to Merrill Dudley with the Dean Fund. And in the process, I learned a whole lot about what's going on in the city. I don't know if we're ever going to be able to do it or not--I may have to fund it myself! I'd like to try it and see.

HD: Was there anybody on your list who just flat out said, No, Stew, I will not meet with you?

SN: Do you want the name? [laugh]

HD: Sure!

SN: Jerry Lax. He was the former city attorney. And he was firmly in the Derezinski camp. And he very politely said, No, I don't feel comfortable meeting with you, because I'm a long-time Derezinski fan, so I don't want to do it. He's the only person who I asked, who would not do it.

HD: But he wasn't rude about it.

SN: Oh no, he was real polite. And he said, Stew, afterwards I'd be happy to meet with you. The other person that said, no, I'm not supposed to even talk about--he politely said that after I was elected he would happily meet with me, ...

HD: ... oh, but now he doesn't have to meet with you then!

SN: Yes. Now I can meet with him because now I am just me. But I think he would anyway, and if I did it now before I was an announced candidate, it would probably be all right, too. Because they're getting to know who I am. I can still get in the door.

HD: So you didn't have anybody just sort of ignore your invitational gambit?

SN: No. There was one lady on the environmental planning committee, I guess it is. I sent her a note and she never answered me. But I found somebody else on that committee, so it didn't really matter. I just shifted over. But I wanted to get a smattering of committees. Especially the important ones.

And there are people who I either met directly with, or it would expand. From the Delonis Center I met with Ellen Shulmeister, who is just a very wonderful lady, and very much in tune with how to end homelessness. And then from there, I bounced over to Mary Jo Callan who is in the Office of Community Development now--which is now a city and county collaboration ...

HD: ... that's the Urban County, I think, is the name of it?

SN: Right, right. Which is what we need to do more of.

HD: You're talking about 'more of' in terms of regional approach to issues? As opposed to, We're solving our problem here in Ann Arbor, you guys over in Dexter you deal with your own.

SN: Yes, right. I mean that's sort of a Zen thing of mine is that everything is connected. And our homeless problem, you can't separate it from Ypsi's. Or anybody else's for that matter.

HD: When you just said 'everything is connected', my mind went straight to the fall previews of television shows they're running now. There is a show called Life--I don't know if you are familiar with it. It's about this detective who spent 10 years in prison because he had been set up by his fellow officers ...

SN: ... oh, yeah, I have seen the previews of it.

HD: And he was eventually proven innocent. I watched it last season, it's a pretty good show. But his slogan that he always says is, Everything is connected.

SN: And it is. And when you realize that, you start taking responsibility for your actions, because you know that it is going to impact somebody else. That is the fundamental driver for getting people to become concerned about sustainability and our environment. Because we are using resources that our kids might need! And everything is connected. I've studied Eastern religions and that is the best part of Zen, and Buddhism in general, not just Zen Buddhism. And I am a disciple of it.

HD: Oh yeah? Did you go to see the Dalai Lama [when he was recently in Ann Arbor]?

SN: I was out of town, or I would have. I have read every book that he is written. His Holiness, I idolize him. If I could have had a list of world leaders, he would be number one.

HD: Really?

SN: Oh yeah.

HD: Wow.

SN: Yeah, absolutely. Just what a wonderful marvelous human being. He would be my first person on my list of worldwide 100. But we were out of town, I forget where I was, or I'd have been there. I got reports of it, because I talked by cell phone to people who went. Some of them were actually a little disappointed. It was not quite what they thought. Because when you're in a big environment like that, it's really hard to ...

HD: ... it was Crisler Arena, right?

SN: Yeah, right. It's like where you go to see Flip Wilson do a comedy act or something like that. But anyway that's sort of how I wanted to become a better candidate. And quite honestly the reason I did it was because I was so adamant about the parks, and the Huron Hills golf course, I was afraid that my opponents would try and label me as a single-issue candidate. And so what I wanted to do was know 10-times as much about everything as he did. And I do--I know I do.

I just think it made me a better candidate, because I'm totally aware of what's going on in the city. I think I know more of what is going on than the mayor does--right now.

HD: So thinking about all of this knowledge that you have acquired about what is going on in the city by running for office, it would be a shame to waste it. So one of the things that I think I heard you saying was that this rainwater catchment initiative on top of the parking structure, you have a working group established ...

SN: ... we have a little flame going there, a tiny little spark.

HD: So you might be able to continue and push ahead with that. Anything else? Are you thinking about running for Council again?

SN: Oh, I'm definitely going to run for something.

HD: But not necessarily Council?

SN: I don't know. I think more of the message that I have has expanded out over the city more than the 2nd Ward. Because the boundaries of Ward 2, to me are arbitrary ...

HD: ... do you get a sense that people have a sense of ward pride? I mean, I kid about it.

SN: Nobody even knows.

HD: I mean, I kid about us over here at in the 'proud 5th Ward', but essentially I don't think that there is any sense of pride in a particular ward. What I have heard from other councilmembers is that people really like the idea though of having 'their' councilperson or their two councilpeople. As opposed to having the whole thing be at-large, where you have 10 councilpeople, all of which are at large for the whole city. People want to feel like Yeah, that's my guy.

SN: And you need that. I agree with that. But this interconnectedness thing, our city is totally interconnected. And everything that we do affects everything in other places. I think in places where there is something really unique in that ward, we probably need somebody who's totally connected with the historic side of it, or has some understanding of it, or sympathy or feeling for it. Because the historic stuff is just, to me, is so important that we need to protect whatever we can. I'm not sure we can protect everything.

I met Susan Wineberg--Susan Weinberg was on my list. Susan and I met and talked at length. And we have had several conversations after that. She gave me some books and things to read and I have read them. And studied up on her designation of what she thinks is important around here. I just would like to try and figure out some way to protect it if we can. You can't turn it into a historic district, but I think you can signal to the developer that you ought to keep your hands off these properties.

HD: So are there specific properties that you have in mind? There's the area south of William--in that area I think there is a development proposal--I think Newcombe Clark is somehow involved in it some way, I'm not sure exactly how. Is that where you are thinking of specifically?

SN: There are whole lot of buildings that have been homes around that would be nice to protect ...

HD: ... because you know Larry Kestenabaum wrote online in a comment recently on ArborUpdate that that general area was a reasonable candidate for looping into a historic district.

SN: I guess my focus was more on the places where developers would be encroaching upon them in fringe areas that are close to the city where development could possibly tear down something of interest. And also trying to protect the fragile nature of those urban and residential areas that are right on the edge of the city. Because they are very important to the vitality of that area. When you scare the residents out, you end up with these dead zones, where there is nobody there during certain times, and crime goes up. There's all sorts of reasons why you want residents living in as many places as possible. And we need to protect them. It would put me counter to some people at times. Here's a good example: Zingerman's was not very neighborhood-friendly when they came in with this plan ...

HD: ... you're talking about the plan to demolish ...

SN: ... tear down two buildings ...

HD: ... to expand their operation. And the Historic District Commission, part of it I think they might have approved, but in sum they turned it down.

SN: They said that there was one building that they gave permission to tear down. But on Kingsley, the one building that they wanted to tear down put in a driveway essentially right next to a beautiful home, it's got people living in it--that we just kill me if that ever happened. And it would probably force the people out of that building, because they start at 3:00 in the morning down there, pretty early.

HD: You're talking about Zingerman's with their operations?

SN: Right, right. So, I just think for a company that prides itself on being pretty funky, that seemed a little insensitive that they would try and go in there and mow over a couple of buildings. So I would be at odds with those guys initially. But what I would do then, you get all the stakeholders down there and there are ways to work out that stuff. They just need to talk about it and tell us what they want. And they didn't, they just said that we want to tear them down, and they didn't come up with a plan of what they were going to put there.

HD: My message to Zingerman's would be: You don't need to tear anything down, we've got an empty space right down here by the railroad tracks next to--is it Liberty Lofts?

SN: Yes.

HD: No, wait up ...

SN: ... Liberty Lofts is right next to the railroad tracks, yes.

HD: Yeah, okay. So this past spring they had an art exhibit there--some U of M Art and Design students, they did their senior thesis exhibition there. That's the only activity that's been there in the last 2 and a half or three years--I don't remember how long. But whatever Zingerman's had in mind [for the location requiring demolition], do that vision right there by the railroad tracks.

SN: They could do it. Without moving anything around. And they actually could've moved one of the buildings and preserved it. So I sent Susan Wineberg an email. I said Susan, give me the truth, is there anything that's really of significance there? She was in Sweden at the time, and she sent me an e-mail back right away and she said, Yeah, actually there is. I think there are times when you just need to draw the line and say, Hey, look, this is inappropriate. And I know you're Zingerman's, but come on, let's come up with something else.

HD: Now you mentioned moving houses, you know, the Polhemus House that got moved up there on Pontiac Trail, there's now a proposal before the Planning Commission to rezone it ...

SN: ... yeah they have changed a lot of things out on Pontiac Trail. They just got an approval for the North Sky project with Dave Lutton and Bill Kinley--two people who were on my list, by the way! [laugh] And they are putting in a neat area out there with 900-square-foot homes.

HD: 900 square feet?? Wow, that strikes me as small. That's smaller than my house, and my house is small.

SN: That's like my house on Doty that I was born in. It works if you have one kid. Or if you are an empty-nester or a never-nester, it could be neat because it's walkable urbanism.

HD: Now 'never-nester', did you make that up, or?

SN: No, I did not coin that. That came from Christopher Leinberger in his book. The never-nesters is a group of people that have decided there are just going to be two of them. And they don't need a family--more professional people, which are people who you know, you want around here. They're not going to have children, so 900 square feet is fine. So I'm all for that, I think that's really neat.

HD: But back to the Polhemus House that they moved. There is a proposal to establish an African-American Museum there. I'm trying to remember his first name--I think of him as Wendy Woods' husband, he's president of the Washtenaw African-American Historical Society--I could have that organization name wrong--but it's proposing to make that location, that house, into an African-American Museum. So what they have to do in order to make that work, because it's zoned residential, ...

SN: ... they have to rezone it, yeah.

HD: Yeah, and I think it has to be a PUD, I believe. I was at that Planning Commission meeting watching it, and the first guy who spoke, was a neighbor of the proposed location. And he got up and he said, You know it's just like a bicycle lane in that, yeah, you asked us for some space to take up some of our front yards to make a bicycle lane along Pontiac Trail, and even though it's a sacrifice of space it's a good thing, it's going to be a benefit, and this museum is exactly the same thing. And he was followed by maybe a dozen of his neighbors who basically said, This is not a good place for a museum--a museum like this needs to be downtown, it's a worthy cause, but just not here.

SN: That smacks of NIMBY-ism. But that's easy for me to say because I don't live there! [laugh] It is a different use. It's a different use than residential.

HD: But what I think the project has going for it is that--you mentioned her before--Eppie Potts, she likes this project.

SN: You know, Eppie was married to an African-American--that was her first husband, I think. She lived actually not too far from where I grew up over by Scio Church Road over there. And she is a wonderful lady. You know who else she mentored--you know Doug Coward?

HD: Of the Sierra Club, yeah? Was he on your list?

SN: He ended up on my list! We talked for three hours. We had lunch and about 40 cups of coffee down at Cafe Zola. His was one of my longest interviews. But we just seemed to hit it off. It was after--no, it was actually before I was endorsed by the Sierra Club. And I was honored to have that. I was a member of the Sierra Club in 1974. So I had a history--it wasn't like I just joined the Sierra Club. I had a history of it.

HD: You know some people have analyzed the Sierra Club's endorsements--not just in this case, but in general--as looking around to see, okay, who is Hieftje supporting, and whoever he is supporting, we want to support the guy who's running against him. Based on this conversation, I think there is plenty about you to suggest that it's not insane to think that you would be the Sierra club's candidate anyway. I mean, if you're hanging out with Dan Jacobs?? He is Mr. Environment.

SN: And I do feel strongly that way. And I was honored to have that endorsement. And it's not something that's superficial about me. At all. It's more internal.

HD: Do you think that not having the Ann Arbor News endorsement hurt you at all?

SN: Don't know.

HD: There are some people who would argue that that actually helps, because there's plenty of people who still think, The Ann Arbor News is that newspaper that endorsed Bush. Twice.

SN: Yes, right. You know what, I don't really know. I got 850 votes. And I think that's pretty good for a summer election when a lot of people are gone. And I do think that--you know, the mayor sort of ambushed me a couple of times ...

HD: ... with respect to?

SN: Hmm. I'll just lay it all out for you. Tony Derezinski and I had a candidate forum at Thurston Elementary School. And we had had one earlier that same day at University Commons, which is the retirement home on Huron Parkway, part of where a lot of the University people live. It was really wonderful and very informal, and we talked, and we had a great time and we were smiling, and we were being good candidates and stuff. We went over to Thurston Elementary School and there were about 40 people in the room.

And in walks the mayor. And then comes Leigh Greden. And Stephen Rapundalo. And Joan Lowenstein. Now in her defense, Joan had been at the earlier one. None of these other guys had been at the other one. Rapundalo came in late at the first one. But anyway, they all came in and they plopped down and were talking. And Rapundalo, while I am giving my answers is shaking his head--and if he was in second grade the teacher would have called a timeout and put him in the corner or something, because he was just being an idiot.

And were were going through this, and somebody asked me a question--they asked me about the problem when the City was trying to sell part of Huron Hills Golf Course. And I gave them a answer, and I said, Yeah, I was very active in that. I said, I used to ride my horse over there on that property.

HD: What?!

SN: Yeah.

HD: You have a horse?!

SN: Yeah, I kept the horse, right there at the stables where the Racquet Club is.

HD: Are you zoned for that?

SN: No, this was 1957!

HD: Oh. Like when there was no zoning. [laugh]

SN: And then chickens, too, probably. [laugh] But yeah, '57, I kept a horse there. Where the Racquet Club is now was a big farm. And we'd ride back out there. So I'm sort of tied to that land there, a little bit partial to it.

I gave my explanation, and the mayor stood up and here's what he said. And I'm going to quote the mayor. We thought he was going to ask a question. Folks, he said, I have been listening to this and I just have to say that what I have heard, the only word that I can use to describe it is, it's a crock. And I thought, Well, okay. And he looked at me, and he said, Stew, you're a smart guy, why do you continue to spread falsehoods? Well, there's 40 people there in the room, and I used my best airline pilot cool, pretended like I had an engine failure ...

HD: ... ladies and gentlemen, we have encountered some mild turbulence.

SN: We've lost an engine, but don't worry, because we've got one other one! So I used my airline pilot cool and I just sort of sat there and smiled and listened. And once the mayor stopped beating up on me, then Derezinski got a little nasty, and then the moderator said, I thought he was asking a question, I probably should've slammed the gavel down on him. But he didn't. Then they said maybe we better give Stew a chance to respond.

And so I said, Mayor, we are going to disagree on this, but I have an aerial photograph that shows parcels of Huron Hills for sale, that we got from the City. I said, I have a copy of the appraisal that you had for the land appraised back there for sale. I have e-mails from Matt Warba, who is the head of golf courses, to Karla Henderson, who is second in command of Public Services, talking about the appraisal, and the sale of parts of land back there. And then when the golf course consultant was studying uses of that land there, we asked that they take off for consideration the sale of any land. And you and Councilmember Rapundalo adamantly refused to take it off.

And I said, What am I to assume? And I walked out the door.

HD: What? I'm sorry, I just didn't hear you.

SN: I said, What am I to assume? I have four smoking guns that show that you want--well, I don't know what is going on in your head. All I know is that I have this hard evidence--it's hard evidence to me ...

HD: ... so you actually left the candidate forum at that point?

SN: I just walked out, yeah. It was pretty much over anyway. It was supposed to be over at 8:30. And I just walked out the door. I briefly asked one person there if they felt that that was appropriate, and they didn't. And so when I went home I called about eight people that were there, just to get their opinion of it, because I wanted to make sure that I had the wording correct. I thought he had accused me of lying. He said 'falsehoods'. It felt like 'lying'. [laugh] To me. Evidently there is a difference! That's typical of what he did. This was on a Wednesday night--they did the same thing in the 1st Ward to Pat Lesko on Monday night.

HD: Obviously these things are public affairs, and anybody can show up who wants to show up. It shouldn't matter what ward you are from, or what office you hold. But it seems to me that elected public officials--especially from other wards--they have ample and adequate opportunity to say their piece. They have an opportunity every two weeks to say exactly what their take is on a particular issue. And it does strike me as a little odd that you would have the mayor showing up and Leigh Greden showing up to a 2nd Ward candidate forum.

SN: It seems odd, but they were desperate, because they thought that I was ahead. We don't have polls so they were little concerned. And so they brought out all the guns towards the end. And that was ugly, actually. And I'm sorry that it happened. But, you know what, it's part of politics. I've got thicker skin from it, I'll be a better candidate because of it.

HD: So if you had to do it over, would you have not left the candidate forum after you had said your piece?

SN: I think it was a great way to finish. [laugh] I left with the final say. And they didn't have anything else to say. And if anybody was to be embarrassed by it, it would be the mayor and not me. I mean I held my head high, I didn't take the low road.

HD: But, I mean you could imagine, though, that some observers might say, Okay, so is Stew the kind of guy who, when he gets pissed off, he just takes his toys and goes home?

SN: Well, I can't control how they think. My point was to say to the mayor I think we are going to disagree on this, and I was very respectful to the mayor. It wasn't like I just stomped off like Paris Hilton ...

HD: ... [laugh] just to be clear. [laugh]

SN: I left more like Gandhi would have left, or the Buddha, or His Holiness would have left. So I didn't stomp off, I just left. One, I was close to losing my temper. [laugh] And I thought, Better to get out of there. And like I said, I called eight people, including the attorney who moderated, and they apologized. They said it was a quite uncharacteristic outburst of the mayor. But that's part of politics. I don't mind that. I put myself out as a public figure, and people can take shots at you--not literal shots--but that's fine, I'm comfortable with that.

HD: Well, listen ...

SN: ... your legs getting tired?

HD: Actually, my butt is getting sore.

SN: Yeah, my butt's getting sore, too.

HD: But you [as former airline pilot] are used to sitting for long periods!

SN: I did, actually. Sort of like Walter Cronkite during the elections when they sit there for 12 hours. I would sit there.

This is a neat thing, Dave.

HD: Well, thanks! And thanks for coming over!

SN: I agree with you that it does tend to open people up. Anyway, one last thing, I've got a question, I heard Mary has left the paper?

HD: That is true.

SN: What is she going to do?

HD: There's not a lot I can say right now about what she's going to do, but I want to dispel one rumor. And that is that she has resigned the paper in order to start a competing blog with Teeter Talk called The Mary-Go-Round.

SN: Okay, so that is not true? [laugh]

HD: That is not true.

SN: Okay. [laugh] That's good, I'm glad to hear it, because I'd hate to see that happen where guys would be blogging in opposite corners of the room communicating by blogging with each other.

HD: Okay, listen thanks for coming over I really enjoyed it.

SN: I did, too.