I've been a Detroit area resident all of my life. (No, I'm not asking for sympathy.) Both of my parents lived and grew up in Detroit. I've had a close up view of the disintegration of a once fine city. I suppose there are a lot of reasons for the current failure of Detroit. Many say its decline began with the 1967 riots. I remember those riots well, even though I was safe in my suburban home, and got no closer than newspaper and TV reports. Except for the first day of the riot. I was at a baseball game at Tiger Stadium, a short distance from 12th Street, where the riot began. We knew nothing at the time, but we did notice smoke rising in the distance and paddy wagons on the drive home.
Between then and now, the city has suffered through the long reign of Coleman Young and the abbreviated reign of Kwame Kilpatrick. Both of these men were freely elected, so one would have to assume that much of Detroit's downfall is self imposed. Yes, there was also the generation of "white flight" after the riots. Detroit public schools are so bad that parents who can, take their children out to my district and other suburban districts. The antics of the Detroit School Board have been news fodder for decades. They've hired, eaten, and spit out superintendent after superintendent. And some of those superintendents were less than stellar. Right now, they're in the process of firing the latest one.
As embarrassing as the Detroit School Board has been over the years, the city council has set the standard for lunacy. That's clear from this editorial by Nolan Finley of the Detroit News, which I'm reprinting in its entirety. Read it and weep for Detroit. Or laugh. After all, these people were freely elected and reelected by Detroit's citizens.
Nowhere is Michigan's brain drain on greater display than in the Detroit City Council chambers.There they are, exposed as both stupid and racist.
My hopes for Detroit's future faded as I watched the tape of last Tuesday's council meeting, the one that considered the Cobo Center expansion deal.
It was a tragic circus, a festival of ignorance that confirmed the No. 1 obstacle to Detroit's progress is the bargain basement leaders that city voters elect. The black nationalism that is now the dominant ideology of the council was on proud display, both at the table and in the audience.
Speakers advocating for the deal were taunted by the crowd and cut short by Council President Monica Conyers, who presided over the hearing like an angry bulldog; whites were advised by the citizens to, "Go home."
Opponents were allowed to rant and ramble on uninterrupted about "those people" who want to steal Detroit's assets and profit from the city's labors.
A pitiful Teamster official who practically crawled to the table on his knees expressing profuse respect for this disrespectful body was battered by both the crowd and the council.
When he dared suggest that an improved Cobo Center would create more good-paying jobs for union workers, Conyers reminded him, "Those workers look like you; they don't look like me."
Desperate, he invoked President Barack Obama's message of unity and was angrily warned, "Don't yousay his name here."
Juxtapose the place and the faces and imagine a white Livonia City Council treating a black union representative with such overt racial hostility. The Justice Department would swoop down like a hawk, and the Rev. Al Sharpton would clog Five Mile Road with protesters.
But in Detroit, dealing with the council's bigotry is part of the cost of doing business. As is dealing with its incompetence. (I'll pause here and excuse from that indictment Sheila Cockrel and Brenda Jones, who supported the Cobo deal, as did Kwame Kenyatta, who although he's an avowed nationalist, most often votes in the city's best interests.)
Emmet Moten, the developer who just opened the Fort Shelby Hotel downtown, was at the meeting and found it appalling. Moten went to Lansing in 1983 on behalf of Mayor Coleman Young to successfully lobby for a regional tax to support Cobo.
"And now we're saying, 'We don't want your money,'" Moten says. "If Coleman were alive today, he'd be outraged. It hurts, it really hurts."
Now, Moten says, "we Detroiters gotta be outraged."
Outraged enough to go to the polls in November and elect a brighter, more responsible council. Moten and others I talked with this week are encouraged that mayoral primary voters picked Dave Bing and Ken Cockrel Jr., the two most rational candidates on the ballot.
The test now will be whether it's those primary voters or the angry council crowd who represent the real Detroit.
As Moten notes, "You can't fix this for us. We have to fix it ourselves."
Nobody can help Detroit if voters again elect a City Council composed of separatists, clueless dowagers and the apparently insane.
It gets better though. Union leaders in Detroit are willing to excuse Monica Conyers blatant racism.
Union officials agree that Conyers, who is black, was likely trying to make a valid point -- a desire to see more minorities in construction jobs -- but her presentation could have used some polish.and
"I think she spoke without thinking, and it was totally unnecessary and something that should have not been said," said Leamon Wilson, chairman of the 18 presidents of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees locals that represent city employees. "Building trades have not integrated like we would like to see, but I don't think that comment should have been made like that. "That was totally improper," said Wilson, who is black.
John Riehl, president of AFSCME Local 207, representing hundreds of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department workers, said there is a separation of growth in the labor movement between public employees, auto workers and steelworkers -- more diverse unions -- as opposed to the building-trade and construction unions.So what is the message here? Union leaders who depend on the largesse of the Detroit City Clowns - uh - council will excuse hatred, racism, and outright stupidity.
"President Conyers touched on an important issue that is a global battle, and really an affirmative action issue," said Riehl, who is white. "Her point is that we must keep the employment levels up for black Detroiters, both as public employees and construction workers, and that is totally supportable. Detroiters are very keen on keeping as much work in Detroit as possible and keeping black Detroiters employed. Detroit is an 85% black city, and people want to see their neighbors working."
Also, this hasn't been made public, and I'm betting that there is a serious effort to hush this up, and I may be the only person to realize what's going to happen, so listen carefully. It's obvious to me, that in the name of Affirmative Action and diversity (which has replaced skill and competence as the defining factor in hiring workers) the construction trades need more workers who look like Monica Conyers. Are there blacks and minorities - oh, and women - who are seeking these jobs? I don't know, but if not, here's what's going to happen. Union leaders will be staking out bars and lounges where men (and women) gather. They will buy these men (and women) drinks. The drinks will drugged. Men (and women) will disappear, only to reappear as apprentices on job sites around the city. They will claim to be voluntarily working these jobs, but in reality, they and their families will be hostages of the unions, forced to labor for long hours at union wages (and benefits) so that Detroit and its unions can claim a racially and gender based diverse work force.
So Detroit is destined to remain the armpit of the nation as minority members get shanghied into working construction, and Detroit voters continue to elect incompetents. It will continue until Detroit is completely empty and some brave citizen explorers go back into the deserted city to reclaim it.