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Detroit priorities forgotten while council members and mayor bicker - 06/09/02

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    In the six months since Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick first greeted the Detroit City Council with mutual promises of cooperation, council members have thwarted his
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 11, 2002
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      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
      grass-roots democracy.
      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
      and pride.
      Laura Berman's column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at
      lberman@.... <mailto:lberman@...>

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