It’s amazing to watch how hurriedly elected officials in Detroit are responding to the threat of an emergency manager. We hear all sorts of meetings being held all in a bid to prevent what seems to be the inevitable: an emergency manager is coming unless city officials are willing to make drastic changes NOW.
What is interesting about this last minute preparation and responses is the sense of urgency it has when two years ago it was a different conversation and political climate.
The Detroit City Council and the Office of Mayor Dave Bing waged battles incessantly as if each other was the enemy. With political venom they opposed each other traded insults often like kids just because of political disagreements. Yet in all of these exchanges that we saw as hallmarks of the relationship between the city council and the mayor, there was no real sense of urgency.
But now that the city is on the verge of a seismic shift in operation with an emergency manager after Gov. Rick Snyder has made it clear that there is financial emergency and something would be done about it, all hell is breaking loose.
Detroit is a city where blame is a staple of the daily politics. Officials like to point fingers at who is responsible for epic failures in this city from one administration to another. But we have to be honest in this case of financial emergency that it is the city council and the mayor that mostly could not come together on so many issues that has got us to this point.
Blaming Gov. Snyder for the financial mess will not stop the financial emergency. The governor was elected to run the state not Detroit. The city council and the mayor were the ones elected to run Detroit and ensure that the next generation of Detroiters have a better and a proud place to live in. But they did not do so. They squabbled, fought all day long when they should have been crafting ways to stop the city from financial bleeding. The times spent trading jabs at each other could have been spent discussing ways to generate revenue for the city so Detroit can be on track to financial solvency.
When the city council and the mayor can only be known for the antagonistic relationship that dominated their discussions about moving Detroit forward then something is wrong with Detroit leaders. Hard pressed taxpayers are not getting their fair share of investment in the city.
While the city is on the road to the UNKNOWN, it is important to bear in mind that much of this would not happen today if Detroit’s elected officials have done due diligence and truly answered the call of public service by working to generate revenue, balancing the budget and saving the lives of children dying in this city because either ambulances failed to come early or public safety was not there in time.
After Gov. Rick Snyder declared financial emergency in Detroit this week setting the stage for the appointment of an emergency manager for Michigan’s largest city, it remains to be seen what will happen to turn around Detroit’s finances. An emergency manager for Detroit is being touted as the best bet for the city aside from bankruptcy but it is still a huge gamble for a major urban center like Detroit. But if the governor feels this is the right away for the city the buck stops with the chief executive of the state because every city is a creation of the state.
This is the single biggest issue that will define the legacy of Gov. Snyder because whether the emergency manager succeeds or not will largely depend on the kind of mandate he receieves from the governor.
Yes, the finances of the city are messsed up. The mayor and the city council have turned out to be more of the same than those they replaced when they were elected. It’s hard to point to one single big issue with gigantic positive impact for Detroiters that the mayor and the city council achieved during Mayor Dave Bing’s term in office. The two entities have been in more fighting than mapping out a plan to financial solvency.
But is an emergency manager the magic bullet?
It will depend on that individual and the governor as well as the people of Detroit. In a city where home rule is touted rightly so as the determining factor for Detroit’s governance structure, replacing that democratic system with an individual empowered to make decisions on his or her own is part of the strong opposition to an emergency manager for Detroit. Others are asking who will the emergency manager answer to?
Detroit is part of the state and because of its centrality in this region we don’t expect Gov. Snyder to walk away or abandon the financial crisis that’s holding city services hostage. Something has to be done and the governor has to ensure that he is calling the right shot.
Perhaps things would not have been more complicated and the opposition would have been willing to hear the the governor out had Snyder not passed right-to-work law after initially denying he won’t touch it. Part of the skepticism about Snyder and his administration that many in Detroit have, is that he broke his word on right-to-work which now leaves his critics wondering if he reversed on right-to-work, can he be trusted on Detroit’s finances getting right under an emergency manager? Or will this be a case where consultants jet in from out of state and make millions of dollars in fees and telling the emergency manager where to cut?
The passage of the right-to-work bill doesn’t leave Snyder’s critics with no room to give him the benefit of the doubt on an emergency manager for Detroit. In fact it reinforces their suspicions of the governor and makes it hard for the emergency manager to operate in an atmosphere where the opposition and political spears coming at the individual become so obvious.
Detroit cannot wash its hands of this mess. City leadership is a big part of the reason the city is in financial hardship. Yet the state also has a responsibility and perhaps the governor’s strategists should have been thinking a little bit more futuristic when they made Snyder sign on to right-to-work when he repeatedly denied he would ever touch it.
After that legislation became law, it made it difficult for a city like Detroit, called the home of labor to believe that the governor no matter his good intentions for Detroit ( spending a lot of time speaking to the future of the city) has any serious interest to see Detroit progress. The influence of labor on the fight against emergency manager for Detroit is written all over the arguments against an emergency manager.
Gov. Snyder has indicated he wants Detroit to be front and center of his agenda. Now he owns it and this will define his legacy. He has to call the RIGHT and POSITIVE SHOTS and there is no room for mistakes here because the consequence will be greater than where the city is already at.
It is hard to be in the position that the high priest of the Michigan Democratic Party Mark Brewer is in right now. But the signs on the wall were clear, and this day was sure to come when Democrats themselves would wage a battle to unseat the longest serving party chairman in history.
I thought Brewer would have made a graceful exit after the 2010 election that saw Republican control of all the major branches of government in Michigan. Brewer’s argument at the time was that the losses in that election were a national pattern because many Democrats took a beating after the debates on the national health care reform.
Yet it was clear in anyone’s mind that any military general who leads an army to war and lost that general has to turn in his or her resignation right away. That is just the principle standard. If Brewer was a football coach for a college team he would have been long gone with that many losses in the games played. If he was a CEO of a private firm he would have been fired by the board with that many deficits to his resume.
Why didn’t Brewer resign then?
Because the powerful United Auto Workers (UAW) always had his backing. In fact his closeness to the UAW was so evident that anytime Brewer’s name came up in the political chattering class, the UAW was always mentioned as his biggest ally. He was tied to the UAW at both the joint and the hip. And that explains for many of the Michigan Democratic Party’s colossal and epic failures in terms of how one powerful entity had dominant control of the party leading it in one direction. With the UAW as Brewer’s personal political bodyguard it prevented the party from trying candidates that would expand its reach and also helped put real meaning to it as the party of the big tent that is welcoming to everyone.
For instance, the epic failure of the Michigan Democratic Party in denying Richard Bernstein nomination to become Michigan’s first blind Attorney General was in large part due to the dominance of the UAW and Brewer. So much for a party that calls itself the party of the big tent. Bernstein, an incredibly brilliant lawyer who did not take the LSAT to enter law school, but instead wrote a thesis arguing how the LSAT was discriminatory against the blind and got into law school as a result of that would have made by all accounts a strong attorney general.
But now the very UAW that protected Brewer all along is undergoing a political transfiguration itself with its new exciting leader Bob King who is now openly pushing for Brewer’s final exit. Did it have to take the arrival of the King for Brewer to exit the stage now?
The Michigan Democratic Party cannot blame their failures alone at the feet of Brewer who is undergoing a public political crucifixion in a way no one imagined would happen to a man that commanded the stage that long. But if you observe how dictators in third world nations are overthrown, it is normally through very public political crucifixions where their own people crying out in the streets finally saying they’ve had enough call for their resignation. Though Brewer is not a third world dictator, he stayed this long because the party leadership including institutions like the UAW allowed it to happen. They cannot blame Brewer alone because their hands are not clean either.
The political Damascus or the tipping point for the party should have been in 2010 when they lost the Governorship, the Legislature, Supreme Court, Secretary of State and Attorney General. Added to that was the late lackluster fight to prevent Congressional redistricting even though the issue was never made a political voting incentive before the 2010 election.
In a rare move the Michigan Democratic Congressional delegation is abandoning Brewer which is perhaps the biggest blow aside from his former ally the UAW. The vote of no confidence expressed by the delegation could be Brewer’s undoing even though the man created by the UAW is insistent on seeking another term. He’s headed to the party convention Feb 23 at Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit for a real floor showdown either to show his mastery of the institution he led for decades or to nakedly shame and expose the party that wants him out now.
Brewer is setting a historic precedent because if he prevails at the convention then it shows how weak the Michigan Democratic Party has become all these years. From there the Michigan Democratic Party can change its name to the Mark Brewer Party.
Brewer is employing a Tea Party strategy hoping that delegates from around the state can see what he has done and he’s got some real support for it. He can describe his fight for re-election as a battle against the Democratic Party status quo even though he himself is the status quo. And all voters need to see to believe is to cynically read into the Michigan Democratic Congressional delegation’s opposition to Brewer and call it the status quo/Washington type battle against Brewer. This is a classic Tea Party battle that Brewer is waging.
The next leadership of the Michigan Democratic Party will have to step up and reach out to minorities and young voters. The next leaderhip of the party will have to do more than just engage Detroit three weeks or months before the next election.
The next leadership of the party will have to stop buying into the narrative that minority candidates or candidates who push minority issues are not electable on the other side of the state.
In the past qualified African Americans and other minority candidates seeking higher offices have been relegated to the dogma or old narrative that they can’t be elected statewide. As a result they are hardly assisted in fundraising and their efforts are minimized to that effect rendering them virtually unable to win. If the party leadership believes in their ability to govern and knowledge of the issues affecting Michiganders then it should support these candidates without resignation or reservation.
When newly sworn Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack first began thinking about the idea of running for the Michigan Supreme Court some in the party were afraid that her association with the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic which she co-founded would have been a major sticking issue for voters on the west side of the state.
Because of the sentencing disparities most of the people the clinic has helped so far to gain their freedom as a result of wrongful convictions have been African Americans and other minorities. So some were already pushing the narrative that a candidate with a resume of fighting for minority issues won’t have a chance even though the party should be working to change that kind of deep seated narrative not promote it.
But McCormack did the unconventional and reached out to those very minority groups including Hispanics, African Americans, Arab Americans, Jews and others across the state as well as white voters and got their support to earn the title Justice McCormack. With the support of some outside-the-box thinking leaders in the Michigan Democratic Party looking for change coupled with a diverse community support McCormack waged an uncoventional and an inclusive campaign that landed her on the state’s highest court.
If Brewer must go then Democrats have to be ready to install a leader that will offer real change, unconventional ways of expanding the party and no longer play to the same old lines of associations that often has hurt the party more than it helped. A real change not the same old tactics that weakened the party and rendered it almost impotent in winning elections in Michigan.
Democrats, you have your work cut out for you. Feb 23 will prove if the party and the army of delegates expected to descend on Cobo Hall get it.
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