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Hip-hopcrisy to the Max



A gap between rhetoric and reality yawned wide last week when Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick took the stage at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit to enthusiastically introduce economist Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class.

It’s easy to see why Mayor hip hop is a big fan of the Carnegie Mellon professor. After all, Florida (read more here) claims that of all America’s big, decaying cities, none is more poised for an economic revival than Detroit. We’re cutting edge and we’re cool, says Florida. And, in today’s economy, cool is what counts, because it attracts the creative class, which in turn attracts businesses that thrive on such talent. Kilpatrick is hip to that, saying his administration is one where wing tips and running shoes can both kick up at the same conference table. Plus, he winked, Detroit is a city cool enough to have a mayor who sports a diamond stud in his ear.

We hip.

Earrings aside, what makes a city truly cool, what attracts the much-valued creative class, explained Florida during Wednesday’s lecture, is a willingness to not just tolerate diversity, but to embrace it, celebrate it, promote it. Give us your bohemians, your artists and musicians, your caffeinated computer programmers and Red Bull-swilling scenesters, and the Hewlett-Packards of the world will come knocking.

One of the hallmarks of a so-called cool city, Florida found, is its gay culture. Check the demographics, he says, and if there’s a high concentration of gays there will also be a bustling high-tech economy. Cities that embrace this population as part of the mosaic of diversity are by definition tolerant.

In introducing Florida, Kilpatrick boasted that his administration epitomizes that sort of open attitude.

There were about 100 people marching outside City Hall a few hours earlier that same day who didn’t quite see the Kwamster as being all that cool, even if he does wear an earring. Seems our hip mayor went on Bill Maher’s HBO show “Real Time” and revealed he shares the same political bed as the Prez when it comes to gay marriage. GW and KK believe The Lord — or, Their Lord, anyway — won’t tolerate any homosexual hitching in His house. Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that there were vociferous opponents to mixed-race marriage who thumped the Bible as proof that miscegenation, too, was frowned upon by their Big Guy.

As the Detroit protesters — a group that included six or seven couples politely turned away when they tried to obtain a marriage license from the county clerk — noted, they only want to enjoy the same rights and privileges granted married heterosexuals. A particularly poignant sign held by one protester declared: “Discrimination hurts whether you are black or gay … but especially if you are both.”

A beleaguered George W. Bush, bogged down in Iraq and battling economic problems at home, is obviously hoping the gay marriage thing will serve as a distraction and a wedge. Isn’t it wonderful that he can now point to Detroit and say, “Hey, even the mayor of a city that had 95 percent of its voters go against me in the last election is with me on this issue.”

Contrast the Kwamster’s pious stance to that of Greg Nickels, mayor of Seattle, a city Florida describes as one of the nation’s leaders when it comes to prosperous cutting-edge cool. On Monday, Nickels signed an executive order granting same-sex spouses all the benefits of their heterosexual counterparts.

“The basic message is one of fairness, and that is that people who are willing to make a commitment to one another, who love one another, and who are willing to take on the responsibilities of marriage ought to be able to, regardless of their gender,” Nickels said.

Did our mayor really hear what Florida has to say? Tolerance and compassion are truly cool. Bigotry in any form, even when it comes wearing a sparkling diamond earring, ain’t hip at all.

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