Bookseller Karl Pohrt Runs for Ann Arbor City Council

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Karl Pohrt, owner of Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a member of the American Booksellers Association Board of Directors, has long been an active and vocal participant in his community. For the last nine years, he has been on the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. For the last three years, he’s been the president of the State Street Area Association (his store is on State Street). Now, Pohrt is taking his involvement to a new level and is running for a seat on the Ann Arbor City Council.

It was at the urging of the mayor of Ann Arbor, John Hieftje, that Pohrt finally decided to make a run for city council. "I said no a couple of times," Pohrt said. "I wasn’t sure I’d have time to do it because of my other responsibilities." The last time the mayor asked, however, he felt it was the right time to do it.

Part of the reason Pohrt is running for a council seat is his deep, personal affection for Ann Arbor. As a child growing up in Flint, Michigan, he watched helplessly as the town collapsed, so the idea that he could now make a difference in Ann Arbor has a special urgency for the long-time independent bookseller, Pohrt told BTW.

"In its heyday, Flint had 80,000 people employed by General Motors," Pohrt said. "Now there are about 20,000. The city I grew up in is bankrupt financially and that is due to globalization and the liquidity of capital…. Coming from a community where that happened was a deeply traumatic experience. I’ve made my life here now. I’ve been here 30 years; I have two kids here. Ann Arbor is worth caring for and protecting because of what it has given to me."

Ann Arbor is comprised of five wards, with two council members per ward. Each council member serves two-year terms, which are staggered, with elections for each ward occurring yearly. Presently, a seat on the Ann Arbor City Council in Pohrt’s ward is being vacated, and Pohrt is one of three Democratic candidates for the seat.

Pohrt explained that he and the other two candidates are all "left of center" and share the same ultimate political and social vision. The winner of the Democratic primary on August 6 will gain the seat, since the Republican party has no candidate. (Because Ann Arbor is such a progressive town, said Pohrt, the Republicans are not fielding a candidate as the party feels it has no chance to win.) He expects the primary will garner a big turnout since voters will also be voting for the Democratic candidate for the governor of Michigan.

Pohrt’s campaign strategy has been a "door-to-door grassroots thing," he said. "It’s the most effective way of campaigning." In addition, he tries to go to all the church services in the ward and makes "a lot of phone calls." The experience thus far has been intense, he acknowledged. "I learned about myself, my neighborhood, and the city," he said. "It’s like 20-plus job interviews a day. You knock on a door, make a cold call, and ask somebody to vote for you."

Among the issues at the heart of Pohrt’s campaign are making sure that the neighborhood is clean and safe; supporting low-cost housing; providing a more robust public transportation system; and supporting the health and vitality of the downtown area.

"Each neighborhood in the ward is a special eco-system that needs to be nurtured and cared for," Pohrt said. "For the last 21 years, I’ve been working in a volatile area of the for-profit economy, the bookselling business. I’m right around the corner from the flagship Border’s, and I’ve faced a tremendous competitive environment."
--David Grogan