Dr. Mozhgan Savabiesfahani circulated her nominating petitions, collected her signatures and the Ann Arbor City Clerk judged that the candidate had collected at least 100 valid signatures of Ward 4 voters to appear on the August primary ballot. Along with Dr. Savabiesfahani, Ward 4 incumbent Elizabeth Nelson (D) and Dharma Akmon (D) will appear on the August 2 ballot. On June 20, Dr. Savabiesfahani sent an email to The Ann Arbor Independent in which she alleged John Hilton, co-owner and long-time editor of The Ann Arbor Observer, had imposed a media blackout on her candidacy. In an email shared with The A2Indy in response to Savabiesfahani’s question about the blackout, Hilton wrote: “Given the modest response to your previous campaign, we will mention you briefly in the article but will not be using the photo.”
Unlike the other two candidates in the Ward 4 Council race, Savabieasfahani was neither interviewed by the Observer’s freelance writer James Leonard, nor was she photographed for the upcoming article by the Observer’s freelance photographer.
John Hilton is a former auto worker. He purchased the Ann Arbor Observer and his position as its editor in 1986. He has no college degree and no formal training in journalism. Dr. Savabiesfahani is a woman of Persian descent. She is an environmental toxicologist who has authored over 30 scientific journal publications and a book entitled Pollution and Reproductive Damage. Her research at the University of Michigan has been funded by a National Research Award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In 2015, Savabiesfahani was awarded the Rachel Carson Prize.
In 2020, Dr. Savabiesfahani ran for Ward 4 City Council and captured a little over 10 percent of the vote.
Hilton’s email to Savabieasfahani in which he asserts his blackout of coverage of her candidacy for City Council in Ward 4 is justified by the “modest response to your previous campaign” is not credible in light of the Observer’s coverage of previous repeat City Council candidates.
Savabieasfahani is not the first local to run more than once for City Council or the first repeat candidate whose campaign elicited a “modest response.”
In 2017, Ward 5 resident David A. Silkworth ran for City Council and lost to Chip Smith. In 2020, Silkworth ran for City Council for a second time and snagged 19 percent of the vote. Both times Silkworth ran, the Observer included him in its political coverage.
In 2010 and 2012, former Ward 4 City Council member Jack Eaton (D) ran to unseat the incumbent, Margie Teall (D), and lost. When Eaton ran in 2013 against incumbent Marcia Higgins (D), Eaton won. All three of Eaton’s runs were included in the political coverage of the Ann Arbor Observer.
On June 18 Dr. Savabiesfahani posted the following to social media:
Today something unprecedented happened to me in Ann Arbor. You tell me what it means.
Ward 4 City Council candidate Elizabeth Nelson saw me today, June 18th, 2022, at the Juneteenth celebration in Ann Arbor.
She told me that she was surprised that I was not at the photo shoot for the Ann Arbor Observer a few days ago.
I asked her whether she (Nelson) told the Observer that I was also running for City Council?
Nelson said no, she didn’t tell them.
I told her “You should have.”
Nelson then said that she regrets having not told them.
Later, I finally reached James Leonard of the Ann Arbor Observer, who does their City Council election feature. I reached him on his cell phone. In fact, two years ago, he had interviewed me for his 2020 election coverage.
So Leonard, today, June 18, 2022, told me that yes, he was aware that I am running for City Council.
I asked Leonard why he didn’t contact me for his election article.
Leonard said that he doesn’t make those decisions, his editor does.
Leonard did not offer the editor’s name.
So I asked him.
Leonard finally told me that John Hilton is his editor at the Ann Arbor Observer.
Never, in the last 20 years, have I ever heard of any major Ann Arbor newspaper excluding a candidate from their interviews and photo shoots.
-Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani
Candidate for Ann Arbor City Council, Ward 4
Council member Elizabeth Nelson (D-Ward 4) confirmed that she did have this conversation with her opponent, Savabieasfahani. Nelson, in a phone call, said that she thinks Hilton’s decision to exclude one of the three candidates running in Ward 4 is wrong. Nelson added that excluding one candidate from news coverage “does a disservice to voters.”
The Ann Arbor Observer’s coverage of local politics has been sharply criticized by local readers. In 2020, The Ann Arbor Independent was given dozens of emails from a three-year period by members of City Council as well as Council candidates who ran for local elected office between 2014 and 2017. With the emails, these individuals alleged that The Ann Arbor Observer’s political coverage was biased and frequently included falsehoods about candidates’ statements, voting records, and campaign finances, etc…. The emails shared with the newspaper were to and from the Observer’s editor and co-owner John Hilton, as well as to and from the Observer’s freelance political writer James Leonard.
“Local. Trusted. Journalism.” These are the first three words of the Ann Arbor Observer’s advertiser media kit. The Observer is locally-owned, but its co-owners’ and editor’s focus on what critics say is one-sided, horse race political coverage. To some, this means the Observer’s local reporting can’t be trusted. To others, the Observer’s political coverage isn’t reporting at all. In an interview with Concentrate Media, David Askins, the co-owner and editor of the now defunct AnnArborChronicle.com, said that the Ann Arbor Observer focuses on narrative journalism (storytelling), leaving“a critical gap in journalism: straight, fact-based reporting.”
“I’ve pretty much given up on any journalistic integrity coming from the Observer. Their bias has been repeatedly demonstrated,” said Ann Arbor resident Deanne Neiburger in a public social media discussion of the Observer’s alleged ongoing problems with editorial accuracy and biases.
“Maybe it’s just that I’m not up on these things, but the Observer strikes me as coverage that has a certain slant,” said Tom Wieder, a local attorney.
Libby Hunter is a retired music teacher who lives on the city’s west side. Her father was a newspaper editor and she grew up in the news business. She said, “Since I follow local government, I summon up the courage to read the Observer most months, if only to see how Jim Leonard has decided to present things. Then I can explain to friends what really happened. Unfortunately, it’s not a publication that seeks to report truth, and usually represents issues from the angle of the reigning majority power players. What’s disturbing at times is Leonard’s gratuitous nastiness, and that John Hilton is fine with it, year after year.”
According to research by the non-profit Pew Reearch Center, “Overall, about eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say news organizations tend to favor one side when presenting the news on political and social issues, according to a survey conducted Feb. 18 to March 2, 2020. Far fewer (20%) say these organizations deal fairly with all sides. The share of Americans who say news organizations tend to favor one side has increased 7 percentage points since early 2019.”
The Pew research revealed that, “The most common reason that Americans see for unfair news coverage is the pushing of a political agenda.”
City records show that over the past several years Taylor has been mayor, the City of Ann Arbor has given the Ann Arbor Observer almost half a million dollars in advertising revenue. It is by and far the most money given by the City of Ann Arbor to any media outlet in the County. [The Ann Arbor Independent doesn’t accept advertising from local governments, public K-12 schools, colleges or universities.]
Dr. Savabieasfahani has been sharply critical of Ann Arbor’s Mayor Taylor, as well as his allies on City Council. She has, for the past several months, published a series of cartoons lampooning Taylor and his Council allies about a variety of issues, including their poor records on creating affordable housing, their refusal to adopt a $15 minimum wage for city workers, and Taylor’s opposition to involving the EPA in a cleanup of the 1,4 dioxane plume creeping toward the City’s drinking water source (Barton Pond). The Ward 4 candidate has accused Taylor openly of self-dealing and corruption. Former City Attorney Bruce Laidlaw agrees. He recently filed a formal grievance against Taylor with the Michigan Bar Association.
In a 2020 piece about the Observer’s political coverage published by The A2Indy, John Hilton replied to accusations of bullying and misrepresenting the views of Council candidates with, “How politicians feel about us is beyond our control. All we can do is encourage them to articulate their positions, then describe those positions accurately to our readers.”
Thanks to Hilton’s decision to exclude Dr. Savabieasfahani, she won’t have the opportunity to articulate her positions to the Observer’s readers.
“…Savabieasfahani is concerned Ann Arbor has become ‘a segregated town for the rich.’
“For decades, city government has favored private development over the needs of working people, she said.
“ ‘Single-family zoning drives Black residents out of Ann Arbor,’ she said. ‘Single-family zoning, which has been abolished in Grand Rapids and Minneapolis, is racist to the bone, from its earliest days until now. Ann Arbor needs to abolish single-family zoning to facilitate public housing.’
“Savabieasfahani clarified she doesn’t want to see neighborhoods become ‘hunting ground for private developers to gentrify,’ but she does support public housing.”
ANN ARBOR (The Arab American News) —A former board member of the Friends of the IDF (FIDF), a group that calls itself the sole representative of the Israel Defense Forces and is its biggest donor in the U.S., has expressed his objection to the candidacy of Ann Arbor City Council candidate Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani.
For decades Savabieasfahani and others have been strong and public critics of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and the U.S.’ military and economic support of Israel’s apartheid rule in the region. Savabieasfahani is a fixture during City Council meetings and wasrecently successfulin pushing the body to consider discussing a possible boycott resolution.
Though that resolutionnever passed, Savabieasfahani has decided to run for a City Council spot representing Ward Four in the August 4 primary election, to make sure the official body declares support for Palestinians. Other long-term goals are for the City Council to bar Ann Arbor police officers from being trained by Israeli security forces, a movesuccessfully madeby the City Council in Durham, North Carolina last year.
Neal Elyakin, a past FIDF board member, has made contributions to Jen Eyer, one of Savabieasfahani’s opponent, and has publicly called Savabieasfahani’s platform anti-Semitic. Eyer herself was embroiled in a “dark money” scandal around running negative campaign ads against opponents, using money from undisclosed channels.
Hannan Lis, one of the FIDF’s Michigan chapter’s founders, has officially endorsed Eyer. Lis is board chairman of Detroit Public Television.
A longtime activist vies for an official seat
For a long time, Savabieasfahani and other anti-Israel protestors in Ann Arbor have maintained that their opponents have carefully conflated any criticism of Israel’s widely known and internationally condemned practices with racism and bigotry against Jewish people.Israeli forces like the IDF are recognized and condemned internationally for committingregular violence against Palestinians, including children.
Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani at an Ann Arbor City Council meeting
Pro IDF residents have tried unsuccessfully to insert themselves or their preferred candidates into the City Council and previously lost a campaign against Ann Arbor’s first Palestinian City Council member, Ali Ramlawi.
“I have to talked to several people in my city who are keen on what I am proposing,” Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist by training, told The Arab American News. “$15 hour minimum wage, investment in public housing, the immediate clean up of Gelman dioxin contamination and an end to military aid to Israel.”
The City Council can pass its own resolution to end military aid to Israel, Savabieasfahani said. It can the press the state’s government to do the same and both bodies can push Congress to end support for Israel’s human rights violations. The Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement has made significant headway in Ann Arbor in recent years, especially on the University of Michigan campus.
Big corporations and big military states who are behind the corporations, they benefit from raping the environment; and people like me that stand against apartheid states and pollution, we want to stop their toxic impact on our community and the environment — Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani
Savabieasfahani also said Ann Arbor’s government has had a troubling history of allowing industry to pollute the city. She is seeking an immediate end to thelong runningand massive dioxin (a carcinogen) contamination of the city’s groundwater by Gelman Sciences and PFAS contamination by the Wixom-based company Tribar.
Savabieasfahani connects the destruction of the environment by industrial capital at home to imperial ambitions abroad that have tied the U.S. to its ally Israel in the Middle East as one singular drive against humanity and the planet.
“The powerful do not hear people with no political power or wealth,” she said. “They are more prone to hearing the rich and that has to change. Big corporations and big military states who are behind the corporations, they benefit from raping the environment; and people like me that stand against apartheid states and pollution, we want to stop their toxic impact on our community and the environment.”
ANN ARBOR, MI (MLive.com) — After many years of speaking out before City Council, Mozhgan Savabieasfahani is eyeing a seat at the table.
The Ardmoor Avenue resident publicly announced her campaign this week, vowing to challenge 4th Ward incumbent Jack Eaton in the August 2020 Democratic primary.
An Iran native, Savabieasfahani hasregularly demonstratedbefore council, decrying the killing of Palestinians by the state of Israel and calling on council to pass resolutions to boycott Israel and to call for an end to United States military aid for Israel.
Dr. Mozhgan is an award-winning environmental toxicologist. She has been an Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences, and the Managing Editor of a global health journal. She has published over thirty environmental toxicology studies in scientific journals and has gained worldwide media attention for her work in that field.
Dr. Mozhgan fights for environmental and human rights. She has long demanded an immediate city cleanup of the toxic Gelman dioxane contamination of our water, declaring that it’s time to “put the shovel to the ground and clean it up now.”