Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Detroit to Suburbia: So There!

This is a bit old news-wise, but it kind of falls into the "notes" section for the Detroit project, so I'll have a go at explaining this to our readers outside the Detroit metro area...
The mayor's job in the city of Detroit was up for grabs this election season, with the young and brash incumbent, Kwame Kilpatrick, up against the cardboard-bland but competent Freman Hendrix. Kilpatrick has had, shall we say, a bit of controversey following him during his first term. The stripper party at the mayoral mansion that never happened, the firing and hushing of police officers because it never happened, the purchasing of luxury personal items on the taxpayer's tab, going to the national mayor's conference flanked by six armed security guys while no other mayor had even one, the ongoing budget crisis which the mayor has not, shall we say, handled too well, etc... Kilpatrick's reply when asked about this stuff has been a familiar one: because he's a young (mid 30s) black man who wears an earring (a big diamond one), people will believe anything... you fill in the blanks.
Freman Hendrix, a vanilla bureacrat who served with an earlier mayor's administration, played himself up as the voice of reason. And it worked, too. He held double-digit leads all the way up until the final week, when his percentage slipped into the single digits. Still, no problem. He led by 6% going into election day.
So what happened? Kwame won by 10%. Even a controversey over some absentee ballots and screwed-up voter rolls (allowing certain deceased residents of Detroit to vote, in the ultimate show of equality in suffrage) would not make any difference to the large margin. There were no signs of fraud, either... at least, not nearly big enough to cover the margin of vistory. Obviously, something odd had happened...
It was the reason for this oddity that got me to write this entry. It seems that the mainstream Detroit media, which is mostly aimed at the suburbs, had universally endorsed Hendrix and ragged on Kilpatrick. Detroit has, shall we say, a unique relationship with its suburbs. Each one blames the other for its woes (both are wrong). Each one believes it can survive without the other (both are wrong). Detroit is the most racially stratified suburb-city combo in America, and neither side really wants to work with the other. During the administration of Coleman Young, which lasted 20 years (1974-1994), suburb-bashing was made a sport, the refrain from which he built his political agenda. The suburbs hate us. The suburbs are full of racist whites who want to see the city sink. Yeah, yeah. The sad part is, Young was at least partially right...
Now Kilpatrick has picked up the refrain. He insinuated during the campaign that it was the suburbs that were really pulling for Hendrix (even though, of course, they couldn't vote for him). The suburban-controlled media were trying to influence a Detroit election! And we Detroiters all know we can't trust the suburbs. It got pretty ugly, with a few of Kilpatrick's people even suggesting that those Detroiters who didn't vote for their man were either supporting the white elite... or just "not black enough".
It worked. The youth vote turned out in droves. They voted overwhelmingly for Kilpatrick. He's back in power until at least 2010.
And so it was... an election turned into a huge bronx cheer, aimed at the suburbs.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I am not a resident of Detroit myself. I'm not going to judge. But I wonder if the people of the city really looked at how Kilpatrick has managed their wonderful town, or if they indeed felt powerless enough that they would sacrifice the city's financial solvency simply to say "stuff it" to the suburbs. It may have felt satisfying, but with receivership looming for the city and Kilpatrick's track record of budgetary incompetence, it may prove to be a costly "nyah-nyah", indeed.


SafeTinspector said...

Receivership is inevitable. Was inevitable. Even the best politico possible couldn't reverse the trend.

The city simply doesn't have enough people living in it to support the size of the place.

More importantly, those people who DO live there generally are not contributing much in the way of tax base or civic responsibility.

Entitlement seems the prevailing mood, and lack of responsibility is the general rule.

I think it is good that the reelection happened. It will hasten the collapse of the city government and possibly invite the rebirth of the city.

Hatrax said...

Just be careful what you wish for... hastening the collapse of Detroit to hasten its rebirth would involve the loss of a lot of good people and institutions. There should be a middle way...

SafeTinspector said...

Would that there is.
Revenue generating population loss is such a prevalent problem that only business taxes can even help a wee bit.
But business taxes just serve as stimulus for dispersing businesses outward to more friendly harbors.
The end result will be a large city with a large, expensive and decaying infrastructure without enough people or businesses to justify said infrastructure and city.
Only reversing population loss can help, and Detroit is so poorly managed, and the suburbs still so cheap to live in, that there is no sign of gentrification anywhere on the horizon.
As it sits, as soon as a person is making enough scratch to afford it, they move their family to the suburbs. In the end the only ones left will be the elderly and the unemployed.