Detroit priorities forgotten while council members and mayor bicker - 06/09/02
- In the six months since Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick first greeted the Detroit
City Council with mutual promises of cooperation, council members have
thwarted his every move.
They nixed budget and staffing cuts, and vetoed his casino plan. Now
members are squawking about "home rule" and the democratic process,
instead of working on what really matters.
The council is in a tizzy over the state Legislature's move: enacting
a law that would plop a referendum on the August ballot to change the
way the city's nine-member council is elected.
The law may have been a high-handed move on the part of legislators,
but ultimately it's democratic: Detroit voters decide.
If city voters approve the measure, future council members will be
elected by district. No more citywide popularity contests and jobs for
In a perfect world, voters could demand their council member turn on
the streetlights, get the garbage picked up, straighten out the
neighborhood city hall -- or get lost.
OK, so it won't be perfect. But could any new system conceivably be
worse than the current one?
Council members claim that such a change would further enhance
mayoral power. That Kilpatrick would get to hand-carve and handpick the
districts. That the hunt for better government is a carefully
orchestrated ruse crafted by term-limited state representatives seeking
a new roosting spot.
That the city's voters already rejected such a system, defeating a
similar referendum in 1996.
And when those arguments don't work, they slip in the "home rule"
argument, inciting anger against the state for interceding in a local
issue -- even though a ballot referendum is a pure expression of
The posturing, the name-calling, the intensity of this fight between
mayor, Legislature and council is procedural, not productive.
"This is advanced politics," says Detroit political analyst Mario
If politics is just another word for getting nothing done, then I
agree with him. But the residents of Detroit deserve more than just
politics: They deserve a government.
The mayor, whose globe-trotting first six months included trips to
Dubai and London, should tend to his sinking city, where prospects for
greatness -- or even goodness -- contract by the minute.
He ought to stop pretending he knew nothing about the legislative bid
to change his city's government: It's time to lead, not duck.
Kids are being shot in the streets and in their beds. Schools are
still failing. The challenges -- the urban problems for which Detroit
has earned its international reputation -- remain.
The City Council loves to just say no. Its members demonstrate
extraordinary commitment to the status quo.
Instead of fighting to resurrect the city, they're ready to go on the
stump to keep their jobs. And to keep fighting over nothing but process
Laura Berman's column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at
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