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A heartbeat away from the mayor’s seat

With Bing in the hospital, an emergency looming, Pugh may be the most worrisome specter of all



Could you imagine a worse time for a mayor to have emergency surgery? Here Detroit is desperately struggling to try to reach a deal on a consent agreement to preserve some role for those in power before the governor has to send in an emergency manager.

Then, with the clock ticking — boom. Suddenly the mayor, a legendary athlete who takes excellent care of himself, falls ill. They take him to the hospital, figure out he has a hole in his intestine, and perform a desperately needed operation Saturday.

The mayor emerges from the knife work fine, but is now flat on his back for what, they said at the time, would be at least a week. Meanwhile, the burden of trying to keep the roof from falling in rests with Kirk Lewis, the mayor's chief of staff.

Mayor Bing has designated that Lewis is his deputy, and, according to spokesman Bob Warfield, "will act as mayor until Mayor Bing is able to resume his normal activities." Well, that might be good enough in "normal" times, though it has been a long, long while since anything about Detroit was anything in the realm of normal.

The mayor is alert and aware, and nobody's suggesting otherwise. Presumably he's in constant touch with what's going on in terms of negotiations. Still, this is high-stakes stuff, and nobody in the city ever cast a vote for Kirk Lewis.

So you might think there would be some calls for Mayor Bing to step down and let an elected official deal with what just might be the most important decision the city will ever make.

In fact, if an emergency manager does end up coming in, it will be the last real decision any mayor will make for a fairly long time.

But you aren't hearing anybody suggest that.

Know why? Because the new acting mayor would be none other than the narcissistic Charles Pugh.

Three years ago, Detroiters gave Pugh more votes for council than anyone else, which, under the city charter, makes him council president and put Pugh first in line of succession. They did this, though it was clear even then that he knew no more about how government works than a salamander does about basketball.

What was also clear is that Pugh had no idea how to manage his own financial affairs, something that hasn't changed. Last month, he walked away from his Brush Park condo, which was in foreclosure.

Pugh couldn't pay his own bills, nor could he manage to keep his house on a job that pays him a "mere" $76,500 a year. Well, actually, he couldn't pay his bills when he made a lot more money.

Five years ago, he defaulted on another mortgage on the same condo, almost did so again, and was reportedly served with multiple eviction notices back in the days when he was living in an apartment.

That's when he was a local TV anchor, making six figures a year. But even if he can't pay his bills — regardless of his salary — there was something he felt he could do as council president:

Last fall, he wrote in large capital letters on Facebook that "THE CITY OF DETROIT DOES NOT NEED AN EMERGENCY MANAGER!!!" Instead, "BING JUST NEEDS TO SHOW SOME DAMN LEADERSHIP," he added. Despite the enormous moral authority Charles "Foreclosure Man" Pugh undoubtedly possesses, that evidently didn't solve the city's financial problems.

Not to worry. Last week Good Time Charlie was back with something really special to, if not exactly help his city, make us admire him.

Pugh, you see, has lost weight, toned up his bod, and wants us all to see how great he looks. In a masterfully understated column, The Detroit News' Laura Berman elegantly revealed what a clueless, self-obsessed weenie Detroit's City Council president is.

Remember, the city is about to run out of any cash whatsoever. Thousands of residents are worried that their pitifully inadequate city services are about to become no services. Nobody knows what to do, how to act or react, and a lot of people are scared.

And Charlie Pugh is showing off his abs. "Some say I have a six-pack. Some would say an eight-pack," he told Berman.

Whatever the hell that means.

You can't make this stuff up, you know, which is why most journalists aren't really tempted to write novels. Nobody could invent Kwame Kilpatrick or Monica Conyers or Charles Pugh.

Detroit as we have known it is about to end, as a governmental entity, anyway. My money is on an emergency manager, then the equivalent of a hopefully soft-as-possible bankruptcy.

Then, the chance for a new beginning.

For Detroiters, this won't be easy. They aren't entirely to blame for the city's problems by any means. The power structure used the city up; abandoned it; didn't leave Detroit with enough resources to survive. But Detroiters have been failed by their leaders too.

Now, whether it is consent agreement or emergency manager, all of us should think positive; think Chrysler; think General Motors; think Germany starting anew after World War II.

Think of the fact that you'll be able to watch Charles Pugh's moronic buff video (, meet his personal trainer, and, in his words "learn how to sculpt your body."

Secure, that is, in the knowledge that he is no longer allowed to decide how taxpayer dollars are spent.

Someday, hopefully in the foreseeable future, a Detroit cleansed of the legacy of years of financial mistakes will be able to start again. There really is no other choice.

Having what amounts to a state takeover makes sense from the standpoint of the rest of us too. Joe Harris, now the emergency manager in Benton Harbor, told me this a few days ago: "Wall Street doesn't mind when the state takes over a city." 

"They think that's a sign the state has it together, is taking positive action," he explained. "What they don't like is when the feds do it." 

By that, he meant having a federal judge take over the city and preside over what would amount to bankruptcy. That would hurt Michigan's bond rating, Harris indicated. But a federal judge is almost certainly what will happen, absent the state taking charge.

Within a few days — perhaps as early as the time you are reading this — we'll know what the next step is for Detroit. There is an old cliché that things are always darkest just before the dawn.

That's not always true. But clichés enter the language for one big reason. Sometimes, they actually do turn out to be true.


Ethical cesspool: Last week, a new study by the Center for Public Integrity ( found that Michigan is one of the worst states in the union when it comes to ethics, integrity, and accountability in government.

Lobbyists spend tens of millions of dollars each year to seduce legislators, while most lobbying or campaign finance reporting requirements are either non-existent or can easily be evaded.

Rich Robinson, the principled director of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network, called this "an honor system in an environment where there isn't much honor."

No kidding. Over one six-year period, no member of the state Senate was willing to admit any conflict of interest on any vote.

Years ago, a local candidate in the Lansing area used to run on the slogan, "No Worse Than the Rest." Our state is different.

"We are worse than the rest," Robinson quipped. "We could call it, 'Michigan Exceptionalism.'" 

And you thought we weren't special.


Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Write to

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