Sunday, January 30, 2005
Kilpatrick channels the worst of Young's personality
By Nolan Finley / The Detroit News
Nolan Finley <http://www.detnews.com/pix/folios/voices/finleynew.jpg
David Eberhard slipped out of his chair at the Detroit City Council
table, crossed the room to press row and tapped me on the shoulder.
"Check out the parking lot," he whispered.
So I did. There in the VIP spaces adjacent to the City-County Building
was a long and gleaming, baby blue Cadillac limousine.
It was the summer of 1980 and Detroit was in the midst of a budget
crisis, asking its employees for concessions and its residents for
sacrifice. Surely Coleman Young hadn't ordered himself these expensive
There was only one way to find out for sure. I hopped up on the hood of
the limo and waited. After an hour or two of enjoying the sunshine,
Young finally pushed through the doors flanked by his usual contingent
of body guards. He froze when he saw me perched on the Caddy.
"Get that (*&%$*&) off my car," he growled to his muscle. They did and
not gently. But I had the confirmation I needed that the mayor, who had
advised senior citizens struggling with property tax bills to "eat more
beans," was still reserving for himself a steak and champagne lifestyle.
The then and now parallels are obvious. Young had his limo; Kwame
Kilpatrick has his shiny red Navigator.
And both had the mistaken notion that the mayor's chair is a royal
throne that lifts its occupants above the rules that apply to everyone
else in the city.
The late Walt Stecher, who was Young's budget director, waved me into
his office one day during that same period, visibly mad as hell.
"He's ordered me to give Joyce Garrett a raise," Stecher fumed. Garrett
was a city department head and Young's longtime romantic interest.
At the time, there was a pay freeze on all city employees, and Stecher
reminded Young of that, to no avail.
"He said, 'She's my (x#%$) girlfriend and I'll give her a (#$@%*)
raise if I want to,' " Stecher quoted the mayor.
Not all that different from Kilpatrick's defense of a chauffered ride
and two security officers for his wife's shopping trips to Somerset and
Sunday brunches in Grosse Pointe.
There is a difference in stature, though. Young was the city's first
black mayor, and many saw him as a Moses.
The more we in the press banged away at him, the more the people
Young knew his audience, and it wasn't suburbanites or the business
community. He played to those who loved to see him flip off The Man.
Kilpatrick doesn't have that luxury. His success depends on building
regional confidence and alliances. And his most fervent critics come
from the city's African-American establishment. That makes it useless
for him to throw the race card on the table.
Kilpatrick says Young is his hero. Many in Detroit feel the same way.
But Detroit was a bleaker place after 20 years of Young's reign, and
much of the blame goes to the divisive tactics he used to maintain
If Kilpatrick really wants to fulfill the vision he has for Detroit, he
might want to think about getting a different role model.
Nolan Finley is editorial page editor of The News. Reach him at
or (313) 222-2064. Watch Nolan Finley at 2 p.m.
Sunday and 5:30 p.m. Friday on "Am I Right?" on WTVS-TV (Channel 56).
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