200: Another example from the city of self-destruction
by Keith Yancy
Ever make a mental connection that, once inside your head, you can’t seem to forget?
A few days ago, there was an article in our local newspaper about a political rally in a Detroit park called Belle Isle. Obviously, this park is an island on the Detroit River, and like many landmarks in Detroit, was once beautiful. It’s now — again, like many landmarks in Detroit — largely falling apart. Bathrooms renovated only a couple of years ago are shuttered due to lack of funds. An aquarium that should be a wonderful attraction for tourists and citizens shuttered due to lack of funds. Roads that lately have been used for Grand Prix racing have huge potholes and repair issues (even during the race) due — you guessed it — to lack of funds.
Well, three Detroit Council members (try not to snicker) held this rally to save Belle Isle from the state, which offered to let Detroit retain ownership while negotiating a 99-year lease for maintenance, upkeep, etc. The local newspaper described it this way: “About 200 city residents and supporters sent a resounding message to state leaders Wednesday: Keep your hands off Belle Isle.”
What a joke.
Let me be clear: what’s NOT a joke are citizens who care, and I believe Detroiters should have a say in what happens on Belle Isle. I can even respect the fact that 200 Detroiters oppose state intervention for Belle Isle’s preservation. I don’t agree with them, but I respect their right to their opinion.
No, the joke here — or rather, jokes — are these:
- The silly newspaper article, first, for declaring 200 people — from a city of around 700,000 residents — to be a “resounding message” of anything. For the junior journalist at the Detroit News who whipped up that little puff of hot air, that represents exactly .0003% of the Detroit population — and I rounded that number UP.
- The utterly lame and incompetent three City Council members, second, for showing the world the power of their political and social influence by focusing their collective might to rally .0003% of the population to their so-called “rally.” For good measure, these three — Kwame Kenyatta, Joann Watson and Brenda Jones – put an ideological cherry on top of this mess by describing themselves as the “just say no trio.” This mentality, one that is rampant on the embarrassment that is the Detroit City Council, can be summed up thusly: ”Leave your money at the door, go away and let us mismanage it like we have done for the past 40 years. Repeat as needed.”
- And, finally, the complete absence of alternative ideas to save the park from further decay. In a city that cannot keep streetlights functioning, cannot pay its bills, cannot even demolish burned out homes (with federal funds that risk being lost due to lack of use), what alternative ideas does those like the “just say no trio” have to offer? The only one they could come up with was — you guessed it — having the state give them money and provide maintenance and upkeep while allowing Detroit politicians to have overall control. Given their horrific track record and “it would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic” leadership, why would anyone give that Council any money for anything?
This episode is just a glimpse at the total circus that is Detroit city politics. Multiply this in number and scale and extend it for decades, and you can understand why Detroit has such incredible problems, and why the city has fallen so far from what it once was.
So… what was that mental connection again?
It was this: just before I read this story, I found an interactive map of Detroit in the Detroit News. A map that showed, by location, all of the “major homicides and shootings” committed inside the city between May 14 — MAY! — and the end of July. (Is there such a thing as a “minor” homicide or shooting?) You can see it here: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/99999999/SPECIAL01/120606001
And, by my count, for every person who bothered to endure the ”just say no trio” at Belle Isle, there’s more than one shooting or murder in Detroit. And that’s just in the last 75 days or so.
I’m still wondering why I connected these two stories, but I think it’s because I’m so incredibly frustrated with politics in Michigan and Detroit. It’s so bad, so short-sighted, so divisive that we not only can’t seem to help each other anymore, we can’t even agree if help is needed… in a city that’s witnessed over 21,000 murders since 1969. 21,000! Trust is virtually gone, the political parties are an embarrassment, the so-called “jewels” of the city rot and crumble while political dullards point fingers, and progress seems further away than ever before. How bad is it? Reading the comments in local political stories, and you’ll find a lot of people HOPING for bankruptcy, and many who sum up their despair like this recent three-word comment: “Let Detroit rot.”
Maybe that’s why I’m open to the idea of Emergency Managers — individuals appointed by the governor to have near-absolute political power in cases of municipal bankruptcy. As much as I’m concerned about the seeming inconsistency with democratic process, I’m increasingly convinced that local governments in Detroit, Benton Harbor and elsewhere – specifically, the incompetents and even criminals elected in these cities — have failed so completely, for so long, that such a drastic “reset button” measure like an Emergency Manager appointment is the last alternative to bankruptcy court. These politicians have failed the people, and there are no political leaders (see the “just say no trio” above) who have the vision, intelligence, courage and political independence to make the hard decisions.
I don’t care what party they’re from, what color they are, what gender or sexual orientation they are — just find people who will DO THE JOB and be a leader. And if it means such a person assumes the temporary role of Emergency Manager, so be it.
200 protesters. 200 “major homicides and shootings” since May 14. To the journalist at the Detroit News: if you’re looking for a resounding message, 200 “major homicides and shootings” is a real resounding message… a message that the days of “just give us money and leave” politics is simply another verse in Detroit’s 40-year road-to-oblivion dirge. A message that it’s time for the rotten local, regional and state politicians to — at last — drop off the political tree once and for all, and for local and state government to work together to benefit the citizens, city and state.
Stop fighting about control and ownership when you’re on the brink of bankruptcy and the forced sale of city assets. You’re holding a losing hand in this game of political poker, and it’s time to accept it and make the deals and compromises needed to put Detroiters first and re-build the city. Otherwise, you’ll be hearing some new “resounding messages” from an Emergency Manager, or in bankruptcy court. And your power, what little there is, will be gone.
Perhaps — gasp — it’s even time for Detroiters and the suburbs to admit that they need each other, and accept the fact that we need solutions that help both Detroiters and suburbanites. Wake up and smell the coffee: suburbanites enjoy the benefits of Detroit’s sports teams, landmarks (DIA!) and businesses… just like Detroiters enjoy the shopping, landmarks and businesses in the suburbs. Anyone who thinks we’re not all mutually dependent upon each other is fooling themselves.
Until next time…