Detroiters have managed to get the full attention of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick like never before — at least for the moment.
Last week, a handful of Detroit voters sent a shock wave through City Hall when they rejected Gil Hill, the mayor’s preferred candidate for an empty City Council seat, and chose JoAnn Watson.
And all but one of the four bond propositions that the mayor put to voters went down. Out of $131 million in bond money requested, only $6 million squeaked through — to help the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
Residents voted against Proposal M, which would have raised $55 million to overhaul Cobo Center, the People Mover and the Herman Kiefer health complex. Voters also gave a thumbs-down to Proposal N, $25 million for neighborhood development and economic revitalization. Proposal S, a $45 million bond for renovations to various police precincts and fire stations as well as a new public safety mall and some other capital improvement, was also clipped. Of the three, Proposal M was least popular, losing by a margin of 22,780. Proposals N and S lost by much narrower margins of 3,803 and 2,117, respectively.
That’s not exactly a resounding endorsement of support for the Kilpatrick administration.
Granted, there wasn’t a tidal wave of voters that overwhelmed the polls in anger. Only 13 percent of the city’s registered voters turned out. When my wife and I went to vote we were the only two voters in the building. One of the poll workers was actually nodding off to sleep, and we saw no one else coming in as we left.
Still, anyone who thinks the big story is how few folks made it to the polls is missing the point. The story is that finally there were enough concerned Detroiters who did make it to the polls to send a long overdue message to City Hall, namely that they are sick and tired of being taxed to death without having a damned thing to show for it. Detroiters are tired of being taken for granted, of being asked to bend over again and again to take it just one more time for the team. Just because only a few made it to the polls to express that potent opinion doesn’t mean only a few feel that way.
Also, in a city where so many live in poverty, the diminished number of residents who show up on the tax rolls are already being stretched to the breaking point to cover for those who have either slipped off the radar screen or slipped off into the suburban wonderland. (And now, the inner ring of suburbs is beginning to develop some of the same problems that plague Detroit.) In short, those brave souls who remain, determined to stick it out, feel as if they are being punished for their loyalty.
It would be wrong to say this is all the fault of the Kilpatrick administration — or that his administration hasn’t made noticeable progress. Furthermore, the backlash of fed-up anger that reared its head at the polls should not be considered as a finger pointing solely at him and his administration. The gradual erosion of trust that has developed between the city’s voters and its policymakers has been a long time coming. As Malcolm X would have said, this is nothing more than the chicken coming home to roost after years of watching questionable decisions. To be sure, some of Detroit’s problems are not the city’s fault and were created by forces beyond its control, but to say Detroit bears no responsibility at all is way off the mark.
Predictably, the mayor has indicated he will reintroduce these ballot proposals once again next year, and he concedes that his administration didn’t exactly do a stellar job of educating the voters about why these new taxes are needed. He essentially said, “Look, I’m the mayor. Haven’t got time to explain right now but, hey, you gotta trust me on this.”
Yeah, well. We now see where the I’m-too-busy-for-my-constituents approach got us. But even if Mayor Kilpatrick does take more time to explain the need for more taxes, he will have to do considerably more than simply say Detroit needs the money. Everybody knows Detroit needs more money. How to get more money with a steadily dwindling number of taxpaying residents is a massive challenge. We know that too.
What needs to be better explained is why the voters can finally afford to believe that this time the money will be properly spent — and that without it there is no hope of a turnaround.
Detroiters need to know that they can trust their elected representatives before they give them another dime.
Perhaps you’ve seen those neat TV ads featuring our newest cabinet member, Tom Ridge, head of the newly created Department of Homeland Security, telling us all to be ready in case of a possible terrorist attack. To find out how you can be more ready, Mr. Ridge asks that you either call 1-800-BE READY, or log on to www.ready.gov, where there are all kinds of neat, easy-to-follow tips on emergency preparedness that any Joe Citizen can follow.
I’d like to take this time to thank Mr. Ridge for a job well done. Not only has his new department offered all us Americans necessary advice on how to survive possible retaliatory attacks from terrorists, but he has also answered a very important question that has yet to be answered and that, strangely enough, you don’t hear being asked much anymore by the mainstream media. The question is this: Where the hell are those pesky chemical and biological weapons that President Bush just knew would be found in Iraq? Quiet as it’s kept these days, those yet-to-be-found weapons were kind of the reason we went over there in the first place.
Besides, the U.S. government and corporations contributed materials and technology that allowed Iraq to create those chemical and biological weapons in the first place.
The point here is that, after all this time, after all these dead bodies, after all the nifty slide shows provided to us by our “embedded” journalists, no evidence of chemical or biological weapons has yet been found in Iraq. These weapons were supposed to be a huge threat to American security, remember?
So if they can’t find anything over there, why all the precautions over here? If the threat of chemical attack were more likely to manifest itself on these shores, then what the hell were we doing wasting our time poking around over there? And if our government still has not been able to even locate Osama bin Laden — remember him? — how much confidence are we supposed to have in its ability to find anything/ anyone else?
But hey, we can always call 1-800-BE READY if things get really scary, right?
God Bless America!Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org