ANN ARBOR –Cynthia Harrison (D) is running to represent Ward 1 on the Ann Arbor City Council.
As a lifelong Ann Arborite, Harrison is an active cyclist and spends time with her family at Gallup Park or the Argo Canoe Livery.
She has served on several oversight bodies and commissions, including the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office 21st Century Policing Compliance Commission and the Independent Community Policing Oversight Commission for the City of Ann Arbor, among others. .
Harrison holds a BS from Eastern Michigan University and is a program manager at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living.
The following interview was conducted via email.
What do you think are the biggest issues in Ann Arbor that the City Council can tackle in the next few years?
Two of the biggest challenges facing the new city council are ones that I am eager and well equipped to tackle: making sure that each of us feels safe in this city and expanding access to affordable housing and durable.
To become a more inclusive community, we must ensure that each of us can trust our legal and public safety systems. My background as a long-time advocate for mental health and criminal law reform ensures I have the expertise and empathy to seek out and deliver solutions that make everyone feel safe and heard without leaving anyone behind. It is crucial to broaden our understanding of what security means to encompass the diversity of experiences of our friends and neighbours. That means working with groups like the Coalition for Re-Envisioning Our Safety (CROS), doing important work with law enforcement in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, and educating those within our systems medical and public education systems, ensure that each of us is contributing to collective public safety outcomes.
A key element of health and safety is access to stable housing. Anyone who wants to live in Ann Arbor should be able to. Unfortunately, this is currently not the case. Even worse, we know that many in our community are struggling financially due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their incomes and livelihoods. We must continue to support sustainable development to increase the overall housing supply while increasing our support for affordable housing in particular. An investment in housing today is a signal to future generations of Ann Arborites that they are welcome here, regardless of race, health, income or wealth.
In your opinion, what are the main problems in your department? How do you propose to solve them?
We have beautiful green spaces in Ward 1, which bring such great value to our community. However, as an avid biker, I recognize how difficult it can be to get to these green spaces given the condition of our roads and sidewalks. To see long-term improvement in our city’s walkability and expand our access to safe bike lanes, we must ensure that our sidewalks, roads and supporting infrastructure are properly funded. In order to achieve the City’s stated goal of returning as many of our roads to “good” or “better” condition as quickly as possible, we need to prioritize this issue immediately. This requires bringing creative solutions to the table, such as exploring innovative building materials and making smart investments in pavement coatings.
I believe that real leadership requires convening and learning from teams of trusted experts, including those who are disproportionately affected by a given issue. As such, I look forward to connecting with local business leaders, engineers, commuters, families, runners and cyclists, each of whom holds a unique understanding of how the roads and sidewalks in this city could better serve the needs of the community.
What could Ann Arbor do better?
I’m so lucky to call Ann Arbor my hometown. I have built a life of love for the people, places and experiences I have had in this beautiful city. Loving something so deeply requires recognizing its flaws. As a black woman who has lived life as a mother to black sons, it hasn’t always been easy to thrive here. I recognize elements of my own story in the story I heard from constituents I spoke with during my campaign. I’ve heard of how they or their loved ones also struggle to thrive here – whether it’s because of their race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, income , their health or their education. Although this is a city of bright, compassionate and driven people, too often we leave people behind as others move forward. Whether it’s not housing our homeless neighbors, not acknowledging the root cause of public safety issues, or not understanding how racial discrimination shows up in our schools and health care systems, that’s something I am eager to address.
Once elected, I will hold in my heart and in my mind every story that voters have told me. I will intentionally bring a fairness lens to every decision made, proactively anticipating how decisions will impact people differently based on their unique circumstances.
Why did you decide to run for municipal elections?
At the heart of my decision to run is the legacy of service, determination and love for this city left by my parents, Maize and Lionel, who moved to Ann Arbor decades ago to raise their family. As the first black nurse in the Ann Arbor public school system, my mother instilled in me the understanding that everyone deserves to see people who look like them represented in the spaces they occupy. There hasn’t been a black woman — someone like me — who has held a city council seat in 15 years.
I’m running because this needs to change if we are to become the inclusive community we strive to be. More importantly, I believe Ann Arbor deserves the best and I am confident that I am the best person to fill the seat. Working in and around all levels of our city, county and state government places me in a unique position to bring compassion, empathy and a proven leadership background with me as I continue my public service. – this time as an elected official who serves the communities I love so much.
What do you like about Ann Arbor?
There are countless intangibles and singular moments that, when combined, define what I love about this city. It’s where I grew up, made lifelong friendships, raised my family, bought my first home, started my first job, and even adopted my first dog. For me, the house is only described by ‘Ann Arbor’. It’s the feeling of the first bike ride on a beautiful spring day or drinking hot chocolate with my son while watching the first snowfall of winter. It’s the feeling of walking into my favorite restaurant partly for the food and partly to reconnect with the staff who work there. It’s the feeling of riding a bike to the Farmer’s Market and seeing the awe-inspiring talent of local artists and the hard work of local farmers, gardeners and culinary professionals.
It’s how this city attracts people who are really looking for a community, rather than just a place to live. Every year I’ve been in this city has revealed a new and beautiful piece of what it has to offer.
Visit his campaign website at www.votecynthiaharrison.com.
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