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Freman Hendrix

Freman Hendrix, 54, has worked in government for 25 years, starting in an entry-level position in the city of Detroit’s Finance Department. Hendrix’s last job with the city was as former Mayor Dennis Archer’s deputy. Hendrix has also worked in the Wayne County government, as the director of community development and in legislative affairs. He chaired the Detroit Public Schools’ reform board for just under a year. Hendrix holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Eastern Michigan University.

Metro Times: The first topic is the budget, which is throwing a shadow over everything. What’s the main thing you would do if you were mayor to address that point and address it immediately?

Freman Hendrix: Forty-three departments are going to have to become 30 or 31 or 32. I’ve been asked which departments you have to eliminate. Well, let me tell you which ones we have to keep. You have to keep police, fire, EMS. We have to keep DPW because that’s how we clean up the city. We have to keep Building and Safety because that’s how we redevelop the city. We’ve got to have transportation because 30 percent of our residents don’t have a car and they’ve got to get around. We’ve got to keep recreation for the obvious reasons. After you get past those, everything else needs to be on the table. And we have to reorganize those seven departments I mentioned because they can’t keep running the way they’re running. They’re all top-heavy right now from a management standpoint. Every single one of them has way too many deputy directors, assistant directors, supervisors, managers, administrators to frontline employees. We keep getting fatter up here and then when the layoffs come we take off the people who are making the phone calls, driving the buses, cutting the grass, filling the potholes. So I’m going to go in and significantly ratchet that, and flip the script in a way. We’ve got to do something else because we can’t afford to run and organize the city that way.

That is what has to happen as far as restructuring city government. Merge, consolidate and then eliminate where we cannot afford to do it anymore. Which means we’re going to have to rely upon institutions and other entities that are established throughout community to help shore up that service delivery. If human services isn’t working in the city — and I maintain that it’s not — what about those entities that are out here in the neighborhood every day with food programs, with warming shelters, with clothes closets, literacy programs, teen pregnancy programs? Our faith community does a lot of that, especially the small, the mid-size guys that nobody knows, that toil out in the toughest parts of the city. They never get invited downtown and they get no federal help and no city help. They’re just out there. I’ve been visiting these churches for the last 18 months. Those guys are out here. What I want to do is link up and help provide more resources so they can do more of what they’re already doing.

I would bring in frontline employees during transition and form the turnaround team and ask them to tell me: Where is the efficiency? Where’s the corruption? Where’s the waste? Where’s the productivity? How do we make it better? I know they’re going to be very aggressive, and say, look, we’ve been doing this, we shouldn’t be doing it, this is what we’re doing to demolish a house, you need to bring it back over to DPW. … I know some of the things they’ll offer up, but if you bring into the transition process frontline employees in those key areas and ask them for suggestions on how do you get things to work better, they will provide a whole lot for us right off the bat so that in 60 days, now you’ve got a template there you can get started with on where you start slashing away.

MT: How important is regional cooperation to you and how do you get it?

When we’re talking about regionalism, we’re also talking about racial issues being central to that.

Hendrix: To me it’s up to the leader. If the leader plays the race card, race becomes the big issue. If the leader sets it up in such a way where, for their failures, they have to reflex back to race as an excuse for why they can’t get things done … we see a lot of that finger-pointing blame-placing on both sides of Eight Mile about why things aren’t getting done. I think we’re at a place now where our survival really depends upon the cooperative regional approach to certain things, on our parks, on our cultural arts facilities, on Cobo Center, on transportation. Because when you really cut through it right now, what we’re talking about are people who cannot get to work at midnight, who cannot get home from their job at midnight. So the question is, crudely, do we want to be queen of the pigs, and control something that is meaningless, doesn’t serve us and doesn’t do us any good? Or do we want to put citizens first, taxpayers, children, seniors, residents?

I’m not interested in being mayor for life. This isn’t a stepping-stone for me to go be governor, I don’t want to be the vice-president of the United States. I come to this position with one agenda and one agenda only: to make this city and this region a better place for the voters and the residents of Detroit. My agenda on every issue — I’m putting residents and taxpayers first, before everybody, big corporate, big labor, big vendors, big church, big contractor, before everybody. If your agenda is to somehow squeeze what you’ve got to do in front of children, in front of parents, in front of residents and taxpayers, I may not be your candidate, you see, because you think what you have to do for you is more important than what the citizens of Detroit need. I’m not going there. And every single organization, every single individual I’ve spoken to, labor unions, corporations and others, in trying to explain what my leadership philosophy is, how I want to lead this city, I’ve been very candid and very up front. I’ve been asked, "Would you sign this letter saying you won’t lay anybody off, you’ll hold us harmless on the pension?" I say, "No, I can’t promise you that." And this issue of regionalization it really comes back down to, the reason why it’s an issue of race is because politicians have made it an issue of race because it becomes their buffer zone, their safety net, the place they reflex back to protect themselves so they can stay in office.

MT: Do you think that’s happening now?

Hendrix: It’s happening now, it’s always been that way, and yes, it’s happening now, for different reasons. When you get right down to it, you’ll even see it through this campaign. Where am I getting my money from? I’m getting my money from the same place Kwame and Sharon’s getting theirs. Some in Detroit, some in Oakland County, some in eastern Wayne County. I’m getting it from the same places, but somebody decides in their desperate attempt to get traction and hold on, they decide to play that card first. What I do and how I respond to that attack is going to determine the kind of race we’re going to have out here, the kind of campaign. And if I get into mutual political destruction, which is what politicians do, then nobody cares what it does to the city, to the community, to the region, to the image. It’s all about me and can I be the last person standing, no matter what I say, what attack I make. And I’m saying, I’m trying to do something different here. I’m not going there. I’ll figure out a way and I’ll always defend and respond appropriately, but I’m not going to get into this where we go down this path and that’s what’s been happening with regionalization.

MT: As a political reality in Detroit, can you take race out of the equation?

Hendrix: I don’t think you have to take race out of it, I just think we have to be healthy and honest and up-front and keep things in their proper historical context, why we are where we are today. Let me give you a quick example: transportation. People want to vilify L. Brooks. Folks get pissed off down here. You can’t get full funding for Head Start. George Bush is the president. We can’t get light-rail transportation, L. Brooks Patterson won’t let us have it. Somebody’s got to be the villain, follow what I’m saying? I’m saying L. Brooks is like any other politician. And here’s where I believe we change the discussion: by changing the way the debate is being framed.

In the past it’s been black-white, city-suburbs, Republican-Democrat. Everything’s been framed around that. Today it’s different. And I’m saying the issue today is more aging community, aging infrastructure vs. sprawl and moving out, you follow what I’m saying? I believe we have more in common today with Southfield, Redford, Warren Berkley, Royal Oak, Dearborn — we have more in common in terms of we’ve become an older community, which means many of our needs are going to be very similar, the transportation, social services and the infrastructure of our communities is getting older. If we can change the discussion to the common ground with those communities, to say, "You want to know what you’re going to look like in 20 years? Look at me today. This is what you’re going to look like." So, Ferndale, let’s get together and talk about reordering the SEMCOG agenda on how dollars come into this region and let’s start having a serious discussion about light rail.

If we let these old paradigms exist and when we disagree we say, you’re just racist, man, or you’re just rich and we’re poor, you know what I’m saying? Then where are we? We’re nowhere. But if I want to bring L. Brooks Patterson around to change his regional agenda on transportation, I just have to go into his community and change what their leaders and their voters are saying in lower southern Oakland County. And guess what? The Oakland County executive starts listening to the people who vote for him. So my coalition is with Southfield, Ferndale, it’s with Warren, it’s with Redford, it’s with Royal Oak. Those are my allies now because their issues are closer to mine than when you get way out there to 22 Mile Road — they’re not feeling what we’re feeling down here. So we can take the discussion out of city-suburb, black-white, Republican-Democrat, and start talking about what’s in our best interest south of 15 Mile Road. Now we’ve got a different discussion. That’s an example of regionalization. That becomes less about race now and more about what’s in our mutual interest.

MT: As we all know this city developed from the river up, and the neighborhoods were the last thing to grow up. Nobody has explicitly said whether or not the plan is to redevelop the city the same way. If so, what does that say about the neighborhoods that will come up last? Listen to this answer

Hendrix: I don’t think that’s the way it needs to be. I think the mechanism’s in place for communities who have become almost self-sustained despite the lack of support they’ve gotten from the city. I keep talking about these CDCs and these faith organizations, I think that’s really where the foundation is for the re-establishment of these neighborhoods. One thing we have to think about — because we are a city of what 830,000? 850,000? 880,000? — we need to have a development strategy that’s going to build us around what we’re ultimately going to be, which is probably a city of somewhere between 750,000 and 800,000 people. Which means we’ve got tons of infrastructure and land in this city we’re never going to occupy in the next 40 years. Right? So, to even talk about rebuilding to a city that was 2 million, or 1.5 million, that’s not the kind of rebuilding we are going to do in the city or that’s going to make any kind of sense. But I do think a development strategy that says, we’re 750,000 to 800,000 people, and that here are the enclaves of development, the cities-within-cities where we’ve got the schools and we’ve got the recreation centers and senior towers, we’ve got the things that can sustain a community where people can be safe and they can be productive and they can move about in relative comfort. I think that kind of development makes a lot of sense in the city of Detroit.

MT: If it is a city of 750,000 or 800,000 with a large number of that population being in poverty, how is it not an intractable problem? How do you ever pay for the infrastructure costs that don’t go away?

Hendrix: See I think that, at the risk of sounding like I’m talking about grabbing 150 people in a 10,000-acre area and shepherding them to a different part of the city, we’re going to have to incent the residents of these desolate areas to move into areas where they can upgrade their lifestyle, they can get a better house, they can be closer to a neighborhood school that’s doing some things. Start cleaning these areas up. I don’t know if we turn them into parks, if we turn them into golf courses, if we turn them into development tracts that somebody might want to come in and get creative about what to do with them, but that’s exactly what we have to do: start making the revenue and infrastructure of the city fit 800,000 people. You do it with sensitivity, but I think you do it with a real solid plan that identifies these areas. … And now, you’re starting to free up tracts of land in that city that doesn’t require the same kind of policing and same kind of garbage pick-up, the same kind of infrastructure maintenance, while we decide what do you do with that.

MT: What’s the mayor’s role in the Detroit Public Schools? What can the mayor do? Listen to this answer

Hendrix: The mayor has the leveraging authority, he’s the most powerful political figure in the city, he’s one of the top three or four most powerful political figures in the state. He has the capacity to go to Washington and leverage for full funding for Head Start and other education dollars, he has the capacity with the right stakeholders to go to Lansing and lobby for legislation and policy changes and so forth. Classrooms should never exceed 25 children. How do you mandate something like that? Do you do it legislatively? Who’s got the strength and the political will or the political power to do something like that? The school board chairman doesn’t. A mayor does. A mayor has the capacity with the right stakeholders in Detroit to go to Lansing and say, "Look — I’ve got the Federation of Teachers on one side of me, I’ve got I don’t know who else on the other side, we know if we can force all but 6 cents out of state aid funding that comes into education into classrooms, that means there’s more money for teachers, more money for principals, more money for instruction, more money for smaller classrooms." Who wouldn’t be in favor of that?

Those are things I believe the mayor has the capacity to do. It’s not a matter of forcing it. Proposal E was about forcing your will on the district.

MT: So was that a bad idea?

Hendrix: No, it didn’t work. But was it a bad idea? I didn’t support it. I didn’t support it because of the manner in which it was being forced. I thought the agenda was less about children and more about something else.

MT: But you wanted that appointment to become chairman of the appointed Detroit Public Schools board.

Hendrix: Yeah, I did. We’ve got 183,000 kids. The law had passed. We’re a country of laws. You can shout, scream and throw rocks, there are places where you can lob Molotovs and have insurrections and revolutions. That’s not this country, by the way.

MT: You had protests at the school building at least once or twice a week, didn’t you?

Hendrix: Not much, once or twice but I got that stopped pretty quick, OK? The problem is that 183,000 kids had their education hanging in the balance once the governor and the Legislature decided that was the direction they were going in. They passed the law and they had the votes to do it. Once you’ve got a governing structure, you’ve got two things you can do: You can keep protesting, and I’m OK with that, but while all of this is going over here, and political careers are being either destroyed or lifted up, there’s 183,000 kids over here that have got to get up and go to school every day and they got to get an education. Which means somebody’s got to make some sense of the governing structure for them, right now. And I saw that as my role, to help try to deal with that, to try to marshal whatever limited authority that structure gave to the school board, which was really nothing beyond appointing a superintendent or CEO and his staff. Which was probably one of the biggest frustrations that I had in that process was you got the responsibility but you got no authority. It was kind of nice to finally get away from it, because people do look to you — "Can you do something, can you do something?" Well, legally I can’t force anything, because there’s no say on contracts or anything. I don’t want to digress here but my point is that I believe the mayor has a tremendous amount of leveraging ability within the public school system.

MT: Sharon McPhail has said that if she’s elected she’ll reduce crime by 50 percent in her first term. Is that realistic, do you think, and what’s your plan to reduce crime?

Hendrix: It’s always dangerous to start quantifying in numeric terms what you’re going to do about anything. It’s not the approach that I would take. My prescription for dealing with crime in the city of Detroit, is first of all, we need to reorganize the department, we talked earlier about being too fat in the management, there are not enough specialized units. Our gang squad, our narcotics units, they have all but been decimated over the past few years. Most crime that takes place in city of Detroit is drugs and guns. You’ve got to have these guys out in the street, chasing down bad guys who are dealing death in these communities. Strengthening our specialized units is important and getting our mini-stations and our community policing budgets back up between neighborhoods and the precincts. I think that’s important. I want to also say recruitment is a big challenge for us in the city of Detroit. I have proposed a junior police cadet program starting in the seventh grade in every one of our schools in Detroit so every boy and girl gets the opportunity to participate in this program to gain a respect for the work police officers do in our city. In five years, we’ve got a pipeline of young men and women coming out of high school that if they decided to stay on that path, can go right into the academy or right into policing. That’s one of the biggest challenges we’ve got right now, we’ve got hundreds of openings, and we can’t find the young men and women in the city to fill those positions.

MT: If you want to put more officers on the street, how are you going to pay them?

Hendrix: I’m saying that when you order your priorities, using a zero-based approach, you place the most important department at the very top of your budget requirements, and police for me is the most important department. You budget up, you staff up and you source up the most important department, and then the second most important department, then the third most important department, until you get down to that seventh department. When you run out of money, you’ve got to say how do we do those other things over here, but you don’t not source up and staff up police to the optimum, I didn’t say maximum, the optimum level to provide the policing services we need in our community. Which is gangs, narcotics mini-stations, community policing, taking the fat out of the top, getting the waste out, getting our efficiencies and so forth in place. These are the things you’ve got to do with police. Now, you can have a $350 million budget deficit, you can have a $100 million budget deficit, you can have a $1 billion budget deficit. But there’s some things that if we don’t do in this city we ought to just shut it down. There’s no sense in having a city if you don’t have police, fire, EMS, those six things I talked about, in that order of priority. I will do without a lot of things but we’re going to staff up our policing unit in the city of Detroit. And we’re going to do it such a way that the training is there, and that we involve the community in every way that it’s necessary so that we’ve got the kind of partnerships and cohesiveness that’s going to make this thing work.

MT: During the Archer administration there was a secret report identifying problems within the department, and the extent to which police officers were shooting people, and the administration sat on that report. It didn’t implement the recommendations and it denied that there was a problem until the report got revealed. At what point did you become aware of that? Listen to this answer

Hendrix: Let me just be real clear. I accept all the responsibility of being in the Archer administration even for the things I didn’t know anything about, okay, I don’t think I can go out here and cherry-pick and say, well, the good things I want to take credit for and the bad things I didn’t know anything about. But the way we were siloed, from the executive leadership standpoint … police wasn’t under my group.

MT: Nevertheless you were the deputy mayor.

Hendrix: Put whatever title you want on it, the way we were siloed, these are the things I was responsible for. Budget was one of them. Labor relations was another one of them, finance was another one of them.

MT: Our last point is character, and that is a very big issue in this campaign. We’re concerned about your intimate ties to the McNamara machine [which is the subject of an ongoing federal corruption investigation]. You worked for that administration — which, certainly the open suspicion is, that that the only way to get contracts was to make it a two-way street, pay to play —and you’re in business now three of the top guys in that administration. Does that sully you at all? Listen to this answer

Hendrix: I left that administration in January, December of 1993. I don’t know what happened after I left, but that kind of heavy-handedness wasn’t going on at my level at all from 1990 to 1993. What was going on after that I can’t speak for, but that was not the M.O. inside of that administration. So I don’t know what was going on after 1993 in that administration, and certainly some of the things that came out publicly in the media, politically, were startlingly different from the administration that I joined in 1990. I make no apologies for that three-year period. They were three good years for me. I learned a lot. The exposure was important. I got involved in some pretty significant projects, and frankly, it prepared me for the run that I made with Dennis Archer.

MT: Is the business [Mulligan’s golf facility] making any money?

Hendrix: I will tell you that I’ve got a minority interest and it was always an investment. I’ve never been a part of the day-to-day operations. Never. I’ve got Ford stock, I’ve got General Motors stock, I’ve got money markets, and I’ve got businesses I’ve invested in and I’m not involved on a day-to-day basis in the operations of any of them.

MT: What was it, the first or second year that Mulligan’s dome collapsed?

Hendrix: It was further in. Things were going gangbusters when that thing went down. The good news is that there’s tremendous real estate value. At this stage of the game, everybody’s just trying to get out with their shirt. That was supposed to be my 401k, when I started it 15 years ago. And now it’s turned out to be just kind of barely hanging on.

Here’s one thing, you guys — you can look wherever you want. Here’s what you’re going to never find with me. You’re never going to find anything illegal. You’re never going to find any wrongdoing. You’re not going to find any cheating, any stealing from me. You might disagree with me on my politics. You might take issue with my judgment. But what you will never find is anything that remotely looks like I’ve been padding my pockets using the influence of my position and my title to enrich myself.

You can keep looking, but there’s nothing there. I’ve been in this business for most of my career and if there’s something going on, it wouldn’t be too hard to find. Because word seeps out. Nobody keeps their mouth shut. And if something’s going on, you’ll find it. If you think you got something, go look. I’m trying to do something different here. I’m trying to run a different kind of camp because I’m trying to be a different kind of mayor in this region. I said it earlier, I made my money. This is not a political stepping-stone for me. This is my last big job. I’m not trying to get reelected or get elected to anything after this. I think it puts me in a position to do the right thing, to make some tough decisions I think are in the best interest of the citizens of Detroit, and I don’t have to worry about ramifications or repercussions from special interest. I’m not anybody’s "boy." The money that I’ve raised, I’ve got no sponsors. Look like this [mimes thick stack]. Because there are hundreds and hundreds of $1,000, $2,500 contributors. You’re not going to see anybody in there that raised me $250,000. I don’t have anybody like that. There’s not a $100,000 person in my campaign, not one, ’cause I’m running a different kind of campaign. I want to be free, I want to be independent to make the kind of decisions we need in this region, and if the heat comes down, what’s the worst that can happen?

MT: You won’t get re-elected.

Hendrix: That’s not my objective coming in, and that’s my point. My objective coming in is not to get reelected, and I know that’s different for most folks who come into these offices. Because they say what does a first term president want?

MT: A second term?

Hendrix: Damn right. It’s not where I am. You can say, "This guy is not dealing in reality." I’m saying your reality is skewed because of what’s been happening in this country, in this city, in this culture where politics are concerned. And I said I’m trying to do something different. Brick and mortar is not the legacy that I’m interested in leaving if I’m given the privilege to serve in this city. I would like to usher in an era where young, idealistic enthusiastic Detroiters and young people in this region want to come in and do some service. Either serve in city government or volunteer in city government or run for public office. That’s what I’d like. I want to excite people to say, you know, I want to go and do that. That would be a great thing to say, I helped contribute to the legacy of my community. Send comments to

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