Well, we're still here, damn it, and that's saying something. This issue of the Metro Times is devoted to the Best of Detroit, and, frankly, it is amazing that we've got so much that is great in this wonderful crazy town and surrounding sprawl, even after all we've been through.
And you know what? We're still fighting to make it better, to build a better present and future. Not to bring the city back to the way it used to be.
Last weekend I was walking on Woodward Avenue downtown with my closest friend. "Wouldn't you like to see the city, just for an afternoon, the way it looked when we were born?" in the early 1950s, I asked.
Sure, she said, then reminded me sweetly that not for one moment would we really want to live in that long-vanished past. She is a Jewish woman, for one thing, and would have faced discrimination of a kind unimaginable today. Blacks were second-class citizens, or worse, even in Detroit. There was polio — and other diseases and pollution of a kind we can't even imagine now. And while there were more jobs and you could still get a Stroh's, restaurants didn't have no-smoking sections.
Nah, I don't think so. Even now, there are signs of hope, signs of progress. The country has a president who inspires us to be better and do better and doesn't make us ashamed to be Americans.
Whoever wins the mayoral race next month, we'll have an honest, decent man who is a vast improvement on the self-indulgent criminal man-child we were saddled with only a year ago.
Yeah, the auto companies are sick financially. General Motors is headed for almost certain bankruptcy and rebirth as a smaller company selling mostly Chevys and Cadillacs. Chrysler is going to be melded with or absorbed into Fiat, it seems. Ford, the original ancestor of the domestic auto world, hangs on with the stubbornness of its founder. But you know what? These car companies have been sick for years, in large part due to being terribly mismanaged. (Read Paul Ingrassia and Joseph White's 1995 book, Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Auto Industry, for proof.)
Now at least we all know the diagnosis, and what's happening just might be a blessing in disguise. That is, if the auto companies survive, learn from this, and start being smart again. And there is no reason they can't — that is, if they finally realize the old ways can't work. If you want General Motors to survive, you better hope Fritz Henderson is just a transitional figure, and the board or the feds force them to get a long-term CEO, as Ford and Chrysler have, from outside that poisoned, incestuous auto industry culture.
Meanwhile, moving on for balance to the Worst of Detroit — here's further evidence of why our present governor just isn't fit to govern.
Mostly, Jennifer Granholm is guilty of sins of omission. She too often doesn't take the actions she should or fight hard enough and loudly enough for the right things. But here's an outrageous case of her doing what was very clearly the wrong thing at the time:
Four years ago, she horrified those in the know by firing the emergency financial manager for Highland Park, an accountant named Ramona Henderson Pearson, and appointing the utterly notorious Arthur Blackwell II to run that stricken, impoverished city. This what I wrote about it here at the time (March 30, 2005):
The Detroit News, which I agree with editorially about once per papacy, called him "a nickel-grasping bottom feeder." That was too kind. ... Forget the fact that his father, ex-Mayor Bob Blackwell, famous for having his jaws wired shut and sometimes running the city from a strip bar called the Tender Trap, did more than anyone else to ruin Highland Park.
Forget the fact that Alibi Art abandoned Highland Park to run for mayor of Detroit a dozen years ago, losing badly in the primary despite tacit support from Coleman Young.
This is a man who hid consulting fees, used leftover campaign funds to build a deck on his home, and couldn't explain $27,000 in "travel expenses" back during his days as chairman of the Port Authority. This is a man who once had a $42,000-a-year mayoral appointment with the Detroit Fire Department, but seldom showed up for work.
This is a man, in short, whose appointment to handle Highland Park's finances makes as much sense as appointing a child molester to run kindergarten sleepovers
What Jennifer Granholm's motives were in ousting Pearson aren't clear. Some say it's because Pearson took on the unions, and organized labor tugged at Jennifer's sleeve. Her motives in replacing her with Crafty Art are also unclear, but are clearly bad. He was a cog in Ed McNamara's oily Wayne County political machine at the same time she was. Since she doesn't really know or understand the black community very well, my suspicion is that she somehow felt the appointment would help her popularity with black Detroiters, with whom she has never had exactly the warmest of relationships
Last week Blackwell was fired from his Highland Park job for making improper payments to himself. State Treasurer Robert Kleine said Blackwell had committed an outrageous breach of public trust by authorizing $264,000 in such payments
The one hilarious touch was that even Alibi Art essentially admitted $66,000 of his loot was improper, and said he paid it back. As for the rest, it was a "misunderstanding.
"The truth will come out," he said. I devoutly hope so. But even if they prosecute the wolf, let's not forget who let him into the barn.
Come to my wake: As we all know, traditional printed newspapers are dying everywhere, here perhaps faster than in most places, as witnessed in the announced closing last week of five of the biweekly Eccentric newspapers at the end of next month. What seems most bizarre about this is that Gannett is, at the same time, starting a new South Oakland Eccentric, replacing the old Mirror newspaper. It will target communities like Clawson, Berkley, Southfield and Ferndale, plus my own Huntington Woods.
But why would they do this while abandoning better-heeled communities like Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Troy? My guess, as a vice president of the company that published the Eccentrics before Gannett, is this: They want to replace union with nonunion labor. They can always extend the reach of the new paper further, if it catches on and survives
Anyhow, Women in Communications of Detroit has decided to hold a wake of sorts called "Farewell Detroit: Hello Digital Media," at the recently resurrected Fort Shelby Doubletree Hotel on Lafayette Boulevard. I will be the master of ceremonies; there will be clips from neat old newspaper movies, and food and tours of the hotel
Deb Scola, the community affairs director of the Detroit Media Partnership, will presumably tell us how great the new format changes are and assure us they are working very well
They'll charge ya for all this ($30 members, $35 nonmembers), but it is for a worthy organization and just might be fun: Check out womcomdetroit.org or just call 248-652-1460. Tell 'em Jacky sent ya.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org