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Meet the 21-year-old U of M student who won a seat on the Ann Arbor City Council

Ackerman for Council

Ann Arbor’s getting a new city council member. He’s 21 and a student at the University of Michigan.

Zachary Ackerman says no one was more surprised than he was this week, when he beat incumbent city council member Stephen Kunselman in the Democratic primary – by just 40 votes.

“I was in shock,” says Ackerman. “I was never supposed to win this race. I was running to push some progressive policies forward. Apparently that message resonated and I worked hard as hell to get that message to as many people as I could."

Ackerman graduates from U of M in December. He took time off school to work on Congresswoman Debbie Dingell’s campaign, and he says he’s worked as a student management organizer with a human rights advocacy group called STAND.

Ackerman says his age made campaigning a bit of an uphill battle.  

"No one naturally trusts a 21-year-old with a $380 million operating budget. That’s why it was so critical that I did knock on 4,000 doors [in my ward,] every house twice. I had to present myself as knowledgeable, as caring and as dedicated to this community, which I am. I think I did a good job, apparently."

Between the mayor's endorsement and the major learning curve he's facing, critics worry Ackerman will be too easily swayed by whatever the mayor and his supporters want.

But Ackerman says, those critics don't know him very well.

"I don't think they've met me. I don't think they've heard my conversations with my supposed allies on council. I'm here to have an open mind. I’m here to build toward consensus, to collaborate. And in terms of my experience, I’ve not spend many years on this earth but I’ve used them to the utmost.”

Ackerman’s now going unopposed into the general election in November. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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