De mortius nihil nisi bonum, which means, if my high school Latin teacher wasn’t lying, that one should never speak ill of the dead. Not before they have been room temperature for some time, anyway.
Curiously, this is one of the few ancient customs that has survived almost intact, which was evident last week when Detroit City Councilmember Kay Everett left us on Thanksgiving, courtesy of kidney disease, to be with the angels. The newspapers outdid themselves in praising her courage, and noting her trademark funny hats. Less mention was made of the fact that she was laboring under a massive federal extortion indictment that, among other things, alleges that she took 17 pounds of sausage from a city contractor for a vote.
Politicians who loathed her, or who thought she was frequently a raving nut case, and a likely crook to boot, issued sanctimonious press releases, saying this was not a time for politics, etc. Her loving family was mentioned. However, the late son who burned down someone’s house for money a few years ago, but who was evidently too stupid to realize that he needed to not get caught inside, got less ink.
By this time you may have concluded that I’m being horribly brutal and nastily inappropriate. You’re right about the brutal, because that’s precisely what Detroit needs. The city is in terrible shape and getting worse, and the newsmakers and the media are talking far less about the real issues than they do about Kay’s hats and the mayor’s goddamn diamond earrings.
Kay Everett was, in many ways, symbolic of Detroit itself. Occasionally on the right side of the issues, but too often incoherent and hysterical — admirably defiant and an appalling mess at the same time. Loving the city, or pretending to, but without any real practical agenda.
For years, the shell of an abandoned building next to the Lodge Freeway sported a sign saying “Dream Detroit. Kay Everett.” That was significant, as much so for the fact that no one ever had a clue as to how she intended to make her dream happen, or even just what her dream was.
Fact: Nobody wanted to see Kay Everett dead. Yet everyone knows that having her off council is an enormous blessing, since we will be spared the distraction and cost of her bribery, fraud, conspiracy and corruption trial. Naturally, she was entitled to the presumption of innocence, tra la, and one can imagine her being totally exonerated. I can also imagine picking up a hooker in the Cass Corridor, and having her turn out to be Julia Roberts.
Not likely. Listen, people: Detroit is dying.
The schools are failing, even if the current natty CEO wears very expensive cuff links. The neighborhoods are crumbling eyesores, the downtown is a shell, and anyone who can afford to is leaving. What’s needed are civic leaders who are willing to tackle this, and do something about it, as Malcolm might have said, by any means necessary.
Let’s say this much for Kay Everett: She was one of only two council members who had the sanity and the guts to vote against the horrendously stupid proposal for an “African Town” business district. Hello. Detroit is African Town. There aren’t any whites left, to speak of, and what’s far more significant is that there isn’t any money. Whites in the suburbs feel, wrongly or rightly, that they aren’t welcome in Detroit, and that they are discriminated against if they try to do business there.
Everyone with the sense of a salamander knows that the idea for an “African Town” blacks-only business district wouldn’t bring in one dollar from Oakland County. Reality-check news flash: Detroit badly needs the suburbs. What Detroit needs most is money, and jobs. Detroit needs people moving in — especially white people, because the city needs diversity, as does everywhere else. We need money and investment to clean up the rotting and collapsing neighborhoods, and to fix the schools.
What we have in Detroit is a real wartime situation. Sorry, but I couldn’t give a damn about Fallujah, a city we are currently spending billions to destroy before we spend billions to help rebuild. We have to do the same for Detroit.
President George W. Bush isn’t going to help us, comrades. Lansing doesn’t seem much more inclined to do so, though an effort ought to be made to get Gov. Jenny’s attention. But we’re going to have to do the heavy lifting.
Which means, first of all, asking very harsh questions and facing harsher facts. Detroit is the way it is in large part because of white flight from the city, white racism to a degree and, most of all, economic selfishness. But it’s also being held back by pigheadedness, irresponsible behavior and corruption on the part of the black politicians who run the place.
Everyone needs to face both things, and do it soon.
What everybody needs is some form of metropolitan government. What every right-thinking person ought to be doing is fighting for that concept. There are morons in the suburbs who think they can be secure living on the edges of a once-great city that has largely become a desperate ghetto.
Within that city are other morons who think they can make this city work without the suburbs. The last time I saw Kay Everett in person, she was grocery shopping — at Holiday Market in Royal Oak.
The next week I bumped into Sharon McPhail at Westborn Market a mile north of that. What does that tell you?
Listen, people: We’re facing a citywide election next year. Dream Detroit, yes, absolutely. But you can’t dream comfortably unless and until you know where you want to go when you wake up, and have some idea of how to get there.
Let’s figure that out. Folks, we’re in a mess. We’d all be better off if we regarded the city as having been flattened by a long war, which, in a very real sense, it has been. We need solutions. Not slogans. What we need are candidates for office who, given a choice, would rather that the city improve than that they win. We need politicians who would do the right thing for the city and its future even if it cost them election.
Next year’s campaign is about to begin. Let’s all be watching.
Speaking of HAITI: For those who want reminding that there’s a wider world of hurt, Bishop Tom Gumbleton and super-activist Rudy Simons are now in Haiti, and will talk about the state of human rights there at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 7, at St. James Church on Woodward in Ferndale.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org