My earliest memories of my mother scolding me contain the words (nicely phrased here), “…with your contrary self.” However, mom pronounced contrary so I thought she was saying I was stubborn instead of meaning I went against the opinions and wishes of my siblings. In fact, she pronounced it with a pause, “cun-trarie”. I think I was in my thirties before I realized what she meant. This came to mind recently when the subject of a Consent Agreement and possible financial manager for Detroit came up in a conversation. I have followed the threat from Governor Snyder for a few years and especially, Mayor Dave Bing’s series of responses. From the moment I heard of the idea, I wasn’t alarmed, disturbed or even remotely bothered by the possibility of the Governor disenfranchising the voters of Detroit by removing the elected government and replacing it with hand-picked administrators of his choosing.
OK, this seems pretty crazy at first glance. Yet, when you have been in a city as long as I have, and watched from a front row seat the machinations of the political machine here, you may understand my position. My grandmother and mother were both in love with the political process and were grassroots community organizers for the political party and political candidates of their choice. Mom was at our school so much that many thought she was a substitute teacher. My grandmother and mother held meetings with neighborhood residents who knew and respected them and hosted political campaign cookouts and parties. One of my earliest memories was helping decorate my grandmother’s backyard for Congressman John Conyers’ (currently the longest reigning African American Congressman) very first neighborhood campaign event on Mackinaw street in Detroit. On the day she passed away, my grandmother’s suitcase was packed for President Carter’s Inaugural celebration like the one she had attended for President Lyndon B. Johnson a few years before. My mom followed in her footsteps and, like her, became the precinct delegate for her district.
My mom was an outspoken supporter of Mayor Coleman Young, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Senator Stabenaw, Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, Congessman Conyers, City Clerk Jackie Currie and a host of other local, state and national politicians. We, her children, were mom’s unpaid campaign team. Well, actually they did pay us – with a firsthand educational experience that few in our circle could profess. We stuffed envelopes, walked the neighborhood, up and down stairs, posting campaign materials, working the polls each election day hawking our candidates, distributing lawn signs, you name it. Nothing was too much for our candidate of choice. And, for the most part, mom received a level of respect and heightened response times from city hall, as well as local police and fire personnel. During her last ten years, she had front row seats at the most exclusive political events and was treated like royalty. This meant a lot to mom, especially when her candidates took care of business and brought services, jobs and construction to Detroit.
Mom would not have appreciated Snyder or the idea of a Consent Agreement. She marched along with Dr. Martin Luther King when he visited Detroit to protect our rights as citizens, with our voting rights at the top of the list. It Just Occurred to me that I am not the least bit disturbed by the governor’s threat of usurping the power of our current elected local government because I have watched what I suspect has been a compromised voting process in Detroit for many years. In politics, winners are ‘selected’, not elected, by the political machine with the most money and power. From the thousands of absentee ballots that go uncounted and unaccounted for, to the coercive tactics requiring the purchase of campaign event tickets, I do not understand how we decide where to draw the line.
It also Just Occurred, that if I could see why Detroit needs a nine-member council, with all the usual perks and a Mayor with an executive staff that should be unnecessary as long as we pay for department directors, I might care if this system was eliminated. I do have compassion for the families who will lose some, if not all, of their income if the size of city government is reduced as the result of a Consent Agreement. But, I expect the actual elected officials will have a cushioned job waiting at one of the many corporations that have benefited most from their position on the council or from their connection to the mayor, the minute they are kicked off the public payroll.