Category: Community Written by Nancy Derringer
Alok Sharma analyzes data for a living. In 2010, he had a client, a politician, who was running for office and wanted to know if it was worth his time to campaign door-to-door in Detroit’s high-rise apartment buildings. Sharma thought the answer might be found by running a high-rise address through the Qualified Voter File, a public document of every registered voter in Michigan. He chose his own: the Kales Building, with 18 floors overlooking Grand Circus Park and 116 one- and two-bedroom apartments.
It is, Sharma said, full of young professionals like him, as well as empty-nesters — just the type of middle-class people who are likely to be engaged, active voters. When Sharma looked, the building was fully occupied.
Yet he found only nine names in the Qualified Voter File, counting his own.
With Detroit facing a city election this year under the shadow of a newly appointed state emergency manager, Bridge magazine performed Sharma’s experiment with six other buildings in Detroit’s hot neighborhoods of downtown, Midtown and Corktown.
The results, while not as dramatic as Sharma’s at the Kales Building, show voter participation rates far below 64.7 percent — Michigan’s turnout in the 2012 general election — and even below the city’s turnout of 50 percent.
LARGE BUILDINGS, SMALL ELECTORATES
What’s more, there’s a widely agreed-upon reason for this self-disenfranchisement:Not politics, but the high cost of auto insurance. In insurance, a Detroit address is costly
Vince Keenan, founder of Publius.org, a Michigan voter-education and civic-participation program, says the link between insurance rates and one’s registered address is “the most well-known single fact” about voting in Detroit. And he doesn’t like it.
“It’s an unintended consequence of Motor Voter,” he said, or the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which tied voter registration to one’s driver’s license.
“It was very successful at getting people registered, especially in Michigan, because we drive so much. But by marrying the two, we have to think about (the auto-insurance issue), and we shouldn’t have to. For a voter to have to worry about where their car insurance is, is stupid. We’ve made it easier to commit community fraud, where you’re living and working in a community that you’re not voting in, than to commit insurance fraud.”
Keenan knows the price of honesty from experience. In 2002, he moved two blocks — from one block north of Eight Mile Road, in Ferndale, to one block south, in Detroit, and saw his annual premium jump from $1,700 to $3,700.
“We need voters in Detroit who are active and engaged about it. Where you choose to vote should not be governed by your car insurance, period,” he said.
DETROITERS PAY HOW MUCH MORE?
Michigan residents pay the eighth-highest prices for auto insurance in the country, according to the Insurance Institute of Michigan. But Detroit residents can pay even significantly more than that; as Keenan discovered, double or even triple what suburbanites pay. No one knows for sure how many people live in the city who carry driver’s licenses with addresses outside it. City residents, though, are sure the problem is widespread.
“Everybody talks about it, obviously it’s something a lot of people are doing,” said one 25-year-old man we’ll call Scott.
Scott lives downtown, but is registered to vote in a suburb west of Detroit. The same address is on his driver’s license, and his insurance company believes that’s where his car is parked. He is politically active in Detroit, and has worked for candidates. But when he does the math, he has to ask himself a question:
“Is my vote worth the few thousand dollars it would cost me? No campaign (from a Detroit candidate) could ever convince a significant number of people to suffer that pain.”
The Insurance Institute of Michigan reports the average Michigan auto-insurance customer pays $1,073.52. IIM’s Pete Kuhnmuench said his group does not calculate separate figures for individual urban areas, due to wide disparities between insurers’ quotes and discounts. The State of Michigan also does not provide data on city-level averages.
If detected by their insurers, people like Scott could face consequences ranging from cancellation of their policies to recovery of the higher premiums they should be paying.
INFLUX OF PEOPLE, BUT WHERE ARE THE VOTERS?
Amid the catastrophic financial news coming out of Detroit in recent months, the in-migration of younger people has been a bright spot — and a national story. A 2011 New York Times story proclaimed an influx of the “young and entrepreneurial” downtown, describing a pair of 37-year-old men yearning for apartments in the nearby Broderick Tower. At the recent Detroit Policy Conference, held by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, keynote speaker Matt Cullen touted the 97 percent occupancy rate of downtown and Midtown apartments, with new construction in the works and the beginnings of a vibrant, tech-based entrepreneurial culture in the same neighborhoods.
These new residents have helped breathe life into the central city, but, at the same time, many are depriving themselves of the simplest tool of democracy — their vote.
Studio 1 Apartments on Woodward Avenue offers “urban living at its best,” according to its website, “an artsy, safe, vibrant place to live, study, work, play and proudly call home.”
Out of 124 units, just 30 people voted in the November 2012 election.
The precise number of voting-age adults living in those buildings isn’t public record, and changes often.
But using census data, Bridge was able to calculate a rough estimate of voter participation in these high-density units, based on how many votes were cast in the November 2012 election, divided by the number of units multiplied by the city’s approximate adults per household — 1.38.
The result was 32 percent. Even assuming the leanest possible occupancy of one adult per unit, the rate only rises to 45 percent.
To be sure, voting rates in cities can be less than impressive. A recent municipal primary in Los Angeles, for instance, turned out only 21 percent of registered voters. But 2013 promises to be a pivotal year in Detroit, with a mayoral race shaping up, as well as the first city council elected by district in nearly a century, following a rewrite of the city’s charter. Detroit residents have more reasons than ever to vote where they live.
CAN AUTO RATES BE THAT HIGH?
But how much would voting cost the many who now sit out elections? While rates vary widely from company to company, and from customer to customer, the state published, in 2008, a rate-comparison survey, covering several different customer profiles — married, single, with and without children.
It shows customers with Detroit addresses pay sharply more than those in other metro areas, and even cities like Warren, which abuts Detroit on the other side of Eight Mile Road.
The rates are an irritant to those registered in Detroit, many of whom say they don’t blame the scofflaws, mainly because they were once scofflaws themselves.
“When I first moved down here, I kept my permanent address at my mom’s house,” said Peter Van Dyke, 31, who owns two condos in the Midtown area, living in one, renting the other.
“When I lived in the Park Shelton, and worked one mile away, I drove from one 24-hour secure parking structure to another, where I would leave my car,” Van Dyke explained. “And the rate was triple. My car spends 24 hours a day in a secure parking garage. It’s probably one of the safest cars in Michigan.”
He was eventually able to negotiate an affordable rate with his agent, but it took some hard bargaining, relying on goodwill built through years of business with his family, to put in place. It’s not something everyone can do.
CITY’S VOTER RECORDS QUESTIONABLE
Detroit had, as of the November 2012 election, 568,854 registered voters, although Janice Winfrey, the city clerk, believes about 100,000 of those are inactive, individuals who have left the city and vote elsewhere.
Inactive voters may remain on the rolls for years. Two long-gone ex-Detroiters who appear in the Qualified Voter File as Park Shelton residents are former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his wife, Carlita, who very publicly moved to Texas after he resigned in 2008.
Winfrey said her office can only purge voters in cases of death or if at least three mailings are returned as undeliverable, at which point they’re put on a countdown and, after two federal elections, may be removed.
Winfrey doesn’t see the self-disenfranchisement of the city’s new residents as a widespread problem, however.
While she’s troubled by the idea of potential voters taking themselves out of the pool, “based on our numbers and what we see on Election Day, no, it’s not a problem.”
DETROITER SAYS AUTO BARRIER CAN BE SCALED
Matt Clayson thinks it’s a problem, however. One of the roughly 30 conveners of Declare Detroit, a political movement speaking for many of these new arrivals, sees it as fundamentally undermining the process.
“Any healthy political environment needs an inflow of new ideas and perspectives,” Clayson said. “When those new ideas don’t engage in the process, it makes it difficult to have representation that addresses their needs.”
Clayson, like most young Detroiters, is well-acquainted with the insurance problem. But he thinks it’s not as big as many think it is.
“There are some myths around insurance rates in the city,” he said.
“If you shop around, you can find very reasonable rates. Maybe not Brighton rates, but at the same time, it won’t be a 100 percent increase.”
Clayson, who lives in the Indian Village neighborhood northeast of downtown, found his coverage through Progressive, and pays about $2,000 a year to insure two cars. That’s about 20 percent more than he would pay outside the city, he estimates.
“To me, an hour shopping around is worth the right to vote in Detroit, and to make one’s voice heard,” he said.
Others think the problem may be one of demography. Younger people move often, and often don’t feel rooted to a place — and hence, inclined to vote on local issues — until they settle down.
“When (residents buy rather than rent), people take more pride in the property and in the city,” said Ryan Cooley, owner of O’Connor Real Estate in Corktown and, along with his parents and brother, an investor in the steadily gentrifying neighborhood.
“People move in, test the waters, and then they end up coming back and buying. Then they participate,” Cooley said.
In the meantime, their non-participation does them no favors.
Former state representative Tim Bledsoe, who left office in 2012 to return to his work teaching political science at Wayne State University, remembers walking the Detroit part of his district, using registered-voter lists to find homes with likely voters.
“You’d see a car in a driveway with political stickers on it, but the lists said no registered voter lived there,” he said. “It’s frustrating, You’re looking for voters, you know there are people there who are politically engaged.”
What’s more, he said, the shortage of younger people in voter rolls “shapes the thinking of politicians. Any politician campaigning in Detroit who knows what he or she is doing, ends up focusing on seniors.”
Editor’s Note: Nancy Derringer s a regular contributor to Bridge magazine, an editorial partner of the Michigan Chronicle. Derringer has been a writer, editor and teacher in metro Detroit for seven years.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 March 2013 15:30
Category: Community - Original Written by Donald James
Riding on a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from disbelieve and outrage to blissful and elated, Detroiters witnessed a historic moment in the city’s 312-year history on Monday, March 25, when Kevyn D. Orr officially took control of Detroit as its new emergency financial manager (EFM). Appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder several weeks ago to fix the city’s enormous financial crisis, Orr now stands on the hallowed grounds of a proud city often called the “arsenal of democracy.” With each step, the eyes of the city, nation, and world are upon him.
Orr’s presence as the EFM has been heavily criticized by some Detroit residents, community and civil rights groups and advocates, as well as national figures, saying that he represents “the disfranchisement of voters’ rights and their choice to have elected officials serve the people of Detroit.”
While there certainly has been an outcry against an EFM seizing control of the city, there has also been a significant sector of individuals who have cheered Snyder’s bold appointment and the arrival of the EFM.
In a recent poll conducted by the Michigan Chronicle, there were some interesting findings. The poll showed that of the 400 Detroiters surveyed to gage their views on the appointment of an EFM, almost 50 percent said that they approved the course of action. Opinions of the poll voiced by Detroiters are interesting. “I applaud Orr’s arrival as the EFM,” says M.J. Williams, an African American woman who has lived in Detroit for more than 40 years.
“What else can you do to bring this city back when our elected officials, like our many mayors and many city council members over the years, have continued to fail us miserably? We are drowning here in Detroit…I don’t care who throws us a lifeline, we need to get out of deep water onto dry land. Give Orr a chance!”
Henry T. Jackson, a 71-year-old retiree, agrees. “We can shout and march all day long about somebody taking our voting rights away, but enough is enough,” says Jackson, an African American who has lived in Detroit his entire life. “We should have been shouting and marching about this mayor and this council’s abilities — or lack of abilities — to get things done a long time ago. While I may not like the total picture of this EFM thing, I want to give the EFM process a chance to work. We have to bring Detroit back, sooner, not later.”
Darren Woods, 64, an African American and Vietnam veteran who has lived in Detroit for most of his life, disagrees. “I don’t think we should have an EFM coming in here telling us how to fix our city. Weren’t there reports in the news about his (Orr’s) financial problems in Maryland?” Woods asks. “Our ancestors fought and died for us to have the right to vote for who we thought would best serve us. If the people who we voted for are not serving us then we need to vote someone else in, not have a governor dictate that one person is coming in to make all the calls about our city. The last time I looked, the state of Michigan had some financial issues. Does that mean the United States government should come in and take over the state? Power to the people of Detroit to solve our own problems.”
The Chronicle’s poll also revealed that the overwhelming majority of those surveyed said that public safety is the big issue facing Detroiters. “I don’t care who is running the city, I just want a city that’s safe for my children and other folks’ children,” says Markita M. Mason, a 32-year-old African American professional who lives and works in Detroit. “While bringing in an EFM may not be democratic, getting mugged, killed, or carjacked in Detroit is not democratic either.”
Additionally, 70 percent of those polled said that they will remain in Detroit, regardless of what the city is going through. The decision to stay is welcome news for a city that currently is experiencing roughly the same population it had in 1915 (around 700,000), after peaking at almost 1.9 million in 1950, according to Census Bureau figures. Yet, people are beginning to gravitate to the Motor City.
“I moved to Detroit about a year ago,” says Jon Larson, who is a young, White professional working in the region. “While growing up in the Upper Peninsula, I always heard bad things about the city, but when I moved here, I found that was not the case. I love the city’s atmosphere and that there’s always something going on. I’m not going to move out.”
On Detroit’s new EFM, Larson says, “It’s frustrating that we had to get a financial manager. I’m sure no one really wanted one. However, I’m not sure how many other options we had. It seems that the mayor and city council have had their chance to turn the city around. I don’t want to see the city go through bankruptcy, so if this Kevyn Orr can come in and right the ship, although it’s going to make some people unhappy, I’m all for it.”
Like Larson, other Detroiters want the city to prosper, but realize that with or without Orr, there is an eminent need for better public safety, working street lights, better schools and education, revitalized neighborhoods, and a major influx of jobs by the thousands.
“If Detroit can turn its financial situation around, while making people feel safe and creatively find jobs for its people, that will go a long ways in showing the nation that Detroit is on the rise, and a good place to live and work,” says Detroiter M.J. Williams.
While Orr is still in the early stages of analyzing Detroit’s massive and complex financial crisis and strategizing his plan of action that will rescue the city and hopefully rebrand it, he will be met with opposition and legal challenges to his “one man show” of authority. However, Orr will have a significant number of Detroiters who will be cheering him on, hoping that his unprecedented presence, financial acumen, and bold plans will turn this storied city around.
When Orr was named EFM several weeks ago, he called his appointment the “Olympics of restructuring.” If true, all Detroiters, whether for or against Orr, must hope and pray that he delivers a “Gold Medal performance” to the Motor City, a performance that will return Detroit to the victor’s circle and return to city voters having the right to elect local officials — and hold their elected officials accountable to effectively serve the people of Detroit.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 March 2013 15:25
Category: Community - Original Written by Patrick Keating, Chronicle Staff Writer
In a recent poll of 400 Detroiters, one question asked about city services or functions that would have an impact on whether they’d stay in the city or leave. Only 4.75 percent cited the mayor’s office and only 5.25 percent mentioned the city council as playing a role in such a decision.
No one mentioned the Detroit Public Library.
Wayne State student Andre Harris said he doesn’t find the poll results surprising.
“Not very many people use the public library system anymore,” said Harris, a sophomore studying global supply chain management. “Especially because most people that use them (libraries) are in school and they have school libraries at their disposal.”
Harris said that not only would most students use their school libraries, people are also more likely to download books from the Internet.
Harris, who isn’t a Detroiter, didn’t comment about the mayor and council.
Detroiter and Wayne State student Sam Sillmon said he wasn’t surprised at the low results for the mayor and council because, in his opinion, no one cares about politics in Detroit.
“And the library is a non factor, now that we have the Internet,” he said.
He added that politics aren’t as big a factor as they used to be, because people aren’t involved in the city as much today.
“People are more concerned about their safety than they are about the politics,” added Doc Dennard, also a Detroiter and WSU student.
Chad Dresden, a sophomore studying dietetics and nutrition, and who lives in Warren, said he wasn’t surprised by the results about the library.
“Education doesn’t seem to be too much of a priority in the city limits,” said Dresden. “It can’t be. I mean, sadly, they have enough to worry about.”
He added that Detroiters should be worried about education, but the reality is that when a single parent has three, four or five kids, education isn’t at the top of the priority list at that point.
“You’ve got to feed them, you’ve got to take care of them,” he said.
On the other hand, Dresden does believe the mayor and council should be bigger factors in determining whether people would stay or leave.
He also said he believes every mayor Detroit has ever had has been corrupt to one degree or another and have contributed to the city being in its present condition.
“You would think that people would notice a trend,” he said. “It’s the only city in history that loses a million people, so it’s gotta be saying something.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 March 2013 00:04
Category: Community Written by Huffington Post
It’s hard to pick up a paper or browse online without stumbling into Shinola – and with good reason, Detroiters are thrilled about the idea of manufacturing in Detroit.
It’s a concept that while we’ve strayed from, we still identify with. And it’s outright exciting to see a company that’s still interested in manufacturing in the city that started
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 March 2013 13:34
Category: Community - Original Written by Patrick Keating, Chronicle Staff Writer
In a recent Michigan Chronicle poll, 400 Detroiters were asked about city services that would influence whether they would stay in the city or leave. Forty-one percent cited public safety as the most important.
The Chronicle asked some Wayne State University students what they think needs to happen with respect to public safety to make more people want to stay in the city.
Andre Harris, a sophomore studying global supply chain management, said if he were a resident, he’d like to see more police presence, more community policing.
“I think presence could deter a lot more than showing up after it’s happened,” he said.
Harris also said if the emergency manager can, he should hire more officers. But he should also make better use of officers.
“A lot of my family are Detroit police officers,” Harris said. “You just have to use them properly. Don’t put the newest guy in high risk areas. Put the more experienced guy in the high risk area.”
According to Harris, newer officers are assigned to high-risk areas.
Detroiter Sam Sillmon said that in order for people to want to stay in Detroit, the crime must be lowered.
“I don’t know how they’re going to go about doing it, but it’s just not safe,” said Sillmon, who spoke at Wayne State’s student center. “People get robbed right up the street in a certain time frame.”
He added that people don’t hear anything good about the city.
Cornell Ewell, a student who lives outside Detroit, added that people who hear he goes to Wayne State, automatically think of crime.
Asked what the emergency manager should do with respect to public safety, Detroiter Doc Dennard said he’s not sure what he would do to get the crime rate down.
“At this point, most people have a mindset of ‘I don’t care. I have to get what I have to get. I have to feed my family,’” Dennard said, adding that most people won’t care what police who are brought in might have to say. Instead, he said, their reaction would be that these police officers wouldn’t be feeding their families.
Dennard believes the answer lies in there being more jobs.
“While you’re at work you can’t rob anybody,” he said.
Sillmon, Dennard and Ewell all said they’d like to see more recreation centers opened.
“For that matter, any after-school program,” Sillmon said.
Chad Dresden, a sophomore studying dietetics and nutrition, said he’s also a competitive power lifter, and that most of the people he competes with (and is friends with) are Detroit firefighters and policemen.
He sees how they’re treated and how they’re worried about their jobs.
“I mean, there’s a steady (level) of crime and fires, but there’s also a steady layoff of police and firemen,” said Dresden, who lives in Warren. “The two have to equal out at some point. You can’t have a steady increase in crime and then keep getting rid of cops and firemen. I do agree that that is a contributing factor as to why people don’t want to stay.”
He said the city will eventually need to bring laid off police and firefighters back.
Senior Kaitlin Muklewicz said response time needs to be better. She added that her brother is a Detroit police officer, and that police deserve better treatment.
Senior Jacquelyn Tramer believes the March 25 announcement of contributions to replace the fleet of 23 ambulances for the Detroit Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Division and provide 100 new patrol cars for the Detroit Police Department will prove beneficial.
Neither had a comment about the emergency manager.
The city’s corporate community is providing $8 million to support Mayor Bing’s active and Safe Campaign.
The participating corporate donors are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan; Chrysler Group, LLC; Ford Motor Company; General Motors Company; Quicken Loans, Inc.; The Kresge Foundation; Penske Corporation; and Platinum Equity, LLC.
FirstMerit Bank is serving as the financial partner.
In a statement, Detroit Fire Commissioner Donald Austin called the “generous contributions” from the city’s corporate leaders “a gift to the residents of Detroit, as well as our EMS division.”
For his part, Detroit Police Chief Chester L. Logan indicated that an additional 100 police cars will greatly enhance the efforts of officers who patrol the city streets.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 March 2013 23:46
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