Recently Peter Bergh wrote a letter using the experience of Detroit’s bankruptcy to predict the future of New York City under the new mayor, Bill deBlasio. While I know little of New York and its success, I know a lot about Detroit and its successes and failures. Detroit’s bankruptcy is due to poor elected leadership at both state and local level. This leadership transcends both the Republican and Democratic administrations at the state level. Detroit’s plight can be attributed to the social, economic and racial prejudice that continues in American society. It is not just about unions and Democrats.
Recently there was a deranged man shooting at vehicles along I-96, the freeway that connects Detroit with Lansing, the state capital. The shootings took place 40 miles from Detroit in the area around Milford, Mich. Michigan’s GOP political leadership organized local and state police forces and after several weeks captured the person. Several vehicles were struck and several people were injured. During the same period, scores of people were murdered in Detroit and the state did nothing. The state has done nothing to assist Detroit and protect its citizens from violent crime and continues to do nothing. The legislative and executive branch of the Michigan’s government has been under the control of the GOP for several years. The prior leadership, under Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm, also did nothing.
Detroit’s bankruptcy is the result of decades of economic flight from a city that could not provide the basic services of education, security, lighting, transportation and recreation. Its local government was corrupt and unwilling to make the hard decisions to right-size the city. Its population dropped from 2 million to 700,000 over many generations. During this period of constant decay, state government was unwilling to provide any leadership. State government actually facilitated ongoing distrust between Detroit and its neighboring communities by not addressing the regional issues of transportation, water, education and safety.
During this period of constant decay, state and local government found the funds necessary to build two major sports arenas in Detroit, Ford Field for the Lions and Comerica Park for the Tigers. Recently these same governments approved a plan to build a new sports stadium in Detroit for the Red Wings. Combined these stadiums reflect an investment in the billions, most of which is government money. At the same time the Detroit Institute of Arts is being threatened with liquidation by bondholders in Federal Bankruptcy Court. The court is attempting to find $500 million from nonprofits (Ford Foundation, Kresge Foundation, etc.) to throw to the bondholders to maintain the art collection as a public trust. The state can participate in building a new hockey arena for the super-rich but cannot find a way to financially participate to protect the people’s art at the DIA.
Detroit elected a new mayor, Michael Duggan, who has significant turn-around experience in the business world. He also is an experienced politician with a reputation of making tough decisions to accomplish the task at hand. He won the election in a landslide and overcame significant odds. He is white man in a black city and was on the ballot due to a write-in success during the primary.
The Detroit Free Press published a story on Jan 5 about Henry Ford’s $5 a day wage. This story documents the great things progressive leadership can accomplish. It is the story of Detroit, the auto industry, and the middle class. Perhaps the Vail Daily can publish it for its readers. Even Republicans can find a way to be successful while building a strong middle class.