Ypsi Votes is a new series from the Eastern Echo featuring candidates up and down the ballot in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Get accessible and in-depth information on the candidates on your ballot. Note: The Echo does not endorse any candidate for any office.
Denise Kirchoff and Justin Hodge are running in the Democratic primary for the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, District 5. The 5th district encompasses Ypsilanti Township and Augusta Township.
There are two other candidates running; this is the first of two articles featuring the candidates from the 5th district. Check out our coverage of the other two candidates, Karen Lovejoy Roe and Michael White.
The Board of Commissioners is the governing body that administers the county-level government. The commissioners act as both the executive and legislators, meaning they both pass legislation and administer that legislation.
Denise Kirchoff seeks to bring accountability and transparency as a county commissioner
Denise Kirchoff sees herself as a fierce community advocate ready to bring transparency and accountability to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.
Kirchoff has long used her voice to promote the issues of others. When she started attending local government meetings in the county, Kirchoff said she became known as the one to ask questions about community issues.
“I started to become the person that people would call on because [I] actually want[ed] answers,” Kirchoff said in an interview with the Echo.
Soon, people from other communities began asking her to come to their own local government meetings to advocate for issues in that community.
Kirchoff is a lifelong Washtenaw County resident, mother of two, and is currently one semester away from earning her Bachelor’s in Social Work from EMU.
She was brought up with a strong union background because of her father, and her mother was a social worker and nurse who was always advocating for the rights and concerns of others. “She was always out there trying, always out there helping,” Kirchoff said.
Kirchoff is running her campaign focusing on increased access to various resources in eastern Washtenaw County. She says that residents in eastern Washtenaw have been struggling with access to resources, especially involving healthcare.
Free and income-based clinics in the county are one such resource. Kirchoff says many in the community have complained about not being able to find accessible and accurate information about the location of these clinics, and that there’s been confusion on how to utilize these resources.
“Everyone I talked to was complaining about access, they couldn’t get access, and they couldn’t reach anyone in office to get anything done,” Kirchoff said. “I found out that a lot of people in our area were actually just going to Ann Arbor to do a lot of things.”
Kirchoff would like to partner with EMU and Washtenaw Community College to utilize the resources they could provide to residents of eastern Washtenaw County.
“A lot of people in our area want to develop businesses. EMU has one of the best business schools in the country, why aren’t we partnering with them?” Kirchoff said.
EMU’s Physician Assistant program is also a point of interest for Kirchoff, with local offices available in Ypsilanti.
Kirchoff’s campaign is also focused on transparency and accountability; if elected, Kirchoff says she will make herself available to her constituents and to provide easily accessible information on the resources and services available to residents of eatern Washtenaw County.
“I think we all need access to our local officials. I don’t think you should just move into an office and you don’t see people again, until it’s time for them to vote for you,” Kirchoff said. “People can influence local officials through their offices, and I think people need to know you have a right to see your local officials, not just every 2 or 4 years when they’re running.”
Other key parts of Kirchoff’s campaign platform include:
More clinic access and extended hours
County financial literacy center, financial literacy programs in schools
County sponsored after school activities and summer programs
Improving internet and phone access throughout the county
Justin Hodge’s campaign addresses “health, wealth, and safety inequities” in Washtenaw County
Justin Hodge’s education and career have centered around psychology and social work, and he wants to bring this expertise and his experience working with the county-level government to represent Ypsilanti Township and Augusta Township on the county Board of Commissioners.
Hodge grew up in Lansing and earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan. He then earned a Master’s degree in social work and received a clinical license and advanced generalist license in social work.
He worked at Community Mental Health System, where he was a case manager for kids and adults with developmental disabilities. He also did home-based therapy, where he met with kids at home, school, or in the community, for therapy. Eventually, he started doing outpatient therapy services at Michigan Medicine and Ypsilanti Health Center. Today, he is a professor of social work at the University of Michigan, where he teaches policy courses.
Hodge said he is running for office to address the “health, wealth, and safety inequities in Washtenaw County,” especially in eastern Washtenaw County.
Pointing out that Washtenaw County is one of the most economically segregated regions in the country, Hodge said, “I’ve been working to address these issues as a non-elected official, I serve on a number of different appointed boards . . .,” including the county’s Board of Health, and the Community Action Board, which focuses on addressing economic inequality in the county. Hodge also chairs the Sheriff’s Community Advisory Board for Law Enforcement.
Hodge is proposing a children’s savings account program as one way to combat economic inequality, “what we’re hoping to do is start a county-wide children’s savings account program where all kids that start kindergarten or first grade get a college savings account and we would seed it with some amount of money based on what we’re able to fundraise.”
Hodge says he has already worked to implement such a program in Lansing. Research suggests that kids who contribute any amount to a college savings account over their lifetime are three times more likely to attend college.
Addressing predatory loan practices in the county is another initiative that Hodge is championing to address economic inequality.
“We need to do something about [predatory lending practices] so we can help people be able to build wealth. It’s hard for anyone to build wealth when they’re trapped in cycles where they have to pay this absurdly high-interest rate on a small loan, and then some people have to get another loan from another [lender] just to pay the previous one, and then the interest just skyrockets. . .” Hodge said.
To address this, Hodge acknowledges a permanent solution would have to come from the state government, but he aims to work with local governments to utilize zoning laws that would reduce the number of payday lending businesses. He also wants to partner with banks to create low-to-no-interest loan programs to replace the need for payday loans in the first place.
“They’d still need to get that money, I mean when you take something away you have to replace it with something, so replacing people’s reliance on payday lending with low-to-no-interest loans would help solve that,” Hodge said.
Other key parts of Hodge’s campaign include:
Providing better access to broadband internet, especially to Augusta Township
Partnering with surrounding counties to provide better regional public transportation
Providing more home-based services, as well as better access to telemedicine and teletherapy
Hodge thinks his experience as a social worker is especially valuable for this election, and he said he won’t be going anywhere if elected. “I’m not running for this to try to run for something else later, I have a lot of experience working with county-level government and I feel that’s an area of expertise of mine and I would be able to bring a lot to the table.”
Hodge’s campaign has been endorsed by many local elected officials, including:
- Sheriff Jerry Clayton
- Ypsilanti Councilwoman Annie Sommerville
- Six currently sitting commissioners
- Former state Rep. Adam Zemke
Previous Ypsi Votes articles:
- Eli Savit for Washtenaw Prosecutor
- Hugo Mack for Washtenaw Prosecutor
- Arianne Slay for Washtenaw Prosecutor