Metro Times: What would you do about the budget?
Sharon McPhail: We need to look at what government does, what it has to do and do really well, and rank those things by priority. And then we need to create what we’re calling result-oriented budgeting, by which we fund those things fully that need to be funded first, and at some point when you run out of money, the stuff at the end — it just doesn’t get done.
MT: What would be the things at the beginning?
McPhail: In general, everybody knows what they are, there’s public safety — police, fire and EMS. There’s education — since we will have an elected school board again (yeah, I was on the right side of that one, the only candidate who was), we will be able to have an interface with the school system in certain ways. Obviously, transportation. We have job-creation as an issue, and then the city services that absolutely have to be provided. And the rest of this — strategic management and all of that, those are things you won’t be doing. If you look at the structure of city government, there is a massive management structure that has been for years getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I understand politically why that happens. Because people come into office and they feel like all the people that they went to school with who helped them with their campaigns, they have to bring them in, so you’ve got lots of those positions, hundreds of them. The fat management is because of the relationships that have been built over the years, and I’ve really been independent of the political machine. I’m not required to do any of that.
MT: The city certainly needs someone with a great deal of political courage.
McPhail: If you look at everywhere I’ve been, you see that what I’ve been is a public servant — and outside of that for which I get paid and what I’m supposed to do. For example, in the City Council, I run 182 homeless shelters in this community; it’s called the One Night Initiative. Homeless people don’t vote, so it’s not political. I run that out of my office with no extra money.
People get redlined here, really bad, on insurance. So we did a study in my office and we found a company where we can lower the rates 30 to 40 percent. And we’ve been moving people toward them and getting their rates lowered. And I also did a resolution to file suit for redlining, and I also did a model for an insurance fund owned by the city, which they’re doing in New Jersey. And then I went out and visited Brooks Patterson about two things out there. One, our community is being used as a dumping ground for everything, and these strip clubs, everywhere you look. And they were getting ready to move two nude barbershops into the city. So I went out there and asked Brooks, how do you do this in Oakland County? How did you get them out of here? And he showed me how, brought the lawyers in that he used.
MT: Do you have a handle on what Detroit’s financial problems are?
McPhail: Well, I sit there and I watch it and I analyze it as it comes to the table and I don’t always have the votes to do what I want to do, but I know what’s going on. I know that the last administration borrowed $60 million against the demolition funds so we have 60 million bucks less — we’re having to pay that back. And I also know this administration is paying 2 1/2 times what the other administration paid to tear down one house. I’m talking about those that are bombed-out, not that can be rehabbed. And we’re paying $15,500 instead of $6,000 to take down that same house now. I know that’s wrong.
MT: It’s been nothing but borrowing and bond issues and everything else.
McPhail: And there’s nobody who’s said, "How much money do we owe everywhere? Let’s put a chart over here, and let’s figure out how we’re getting out of this mess."
MT: I heard Rudy Giuliani on the radio this morning …
McPhail: When he went into office in New York, he had 10,000 felonies a week; he had 2,200 murders a year. The very first thing he said was I’m going to be a different kind of mayor than you’ve ever had before. Times Square was a mess. He turned all that around and had a 60 percent crime reduction in his first term, and he did it with a lot of things that people would have said, "Aw, that won’t work." Remember the squeegee men thing? There are a lot of things like that: If you look at it differently, and you find the thing that will tip the situation into something that works, some sort of cultural revolution, you can do it by doing a small thing.
That is, for example, what we are going to do with the Detroit Children’s Fund. Somebody always says you can’t do it. They are doing it in Denver; they are bonding it out.
Listen to this answer The Detroit Children’s fund is modeled on the I Have a Dream Foundation, that middle school in New York where Eugene Lang, the wealthy businessman, said, "If you graduate from high school I will pay for you to go to college." They were middle-schoolers with a 90 percent dropout rate by the ninth grade. Well, guess what happened? A 98 percent graduation rate, same kids. The next thing that happens is absenteeism drops; the parents start coming to parent conferences.
The Detroit Children’s Fund is where we take all the gross receipts that we’re going to be getting from the permanent casinos, and we start the fund with that. And it’s going to take eight years — because it’s eight years to grow the fund. So kids from fourth-grade down would be eligible. It’s our plan to retain population and repopulate. It’s a linchpin to the plan. If you know now that your kids get to go to college for free — which is what the fund does if you live in Detroit for eight years or more, your kids go to school in Detroit and graduate from any school located in Detroit — then you have to think about it before you move; and if you live across Eight Mile in Oak Park or Lincoln Park or Allen Park or you live in Taylor and you know that if you just move one block into Detroit all your kids get to go to college for free. We won’t get the rich, but it begins to move young, lower-middle income families back into the city, and they begin to pay taxes, and you’re populating your city again. You stop the bleeding.
MT: So it’s a tested program? They’re doing it in Denver?
McPhail: They’re doing it in Denver, it’s not tested yet, but the program I’m talking about is tested because it’s the New York I Have A Dream Foundation. It changes the whole dialogue in education. So that kids coming in are talking about what college they’re going to. As it did in that situation, it will change it here. It impacts education. It’s the tipping point as it relates to education, like the squeegee man that was the tipping point as it relates to crime in New York where Giuliani did it. Also, there are all kinds of opportunities if you create opportunities for kids to do things that are productive, athletic, in the arts, and you create those around the neighborhood resource center. People said I would never be able to do what I did with the shelters, but I’m telling you, that’s going to go on and on and it’s going to go on without any resources. They’re already working to try and pull it together when I’m not on council, but I’m going to be helping them wherever I am.
MT: How do you get regional cooperation? Listen to this answer
McPhail: I think you start where you can. It’s been used as a political football so that with regards to Detroit, for example, everything that comes up that involves regionalism involves Detroit giving up something and Detroit paying for everything. You know that’s not right.
I think at the last debate it was Kilpatrick who said it doesn’t matter whether you like each other. Yes, it does. You build relationships with people. I’ve already built one with Brooks Patterson. And some people would have thought that’s a strange duo, that could never happen. But I’ve done that because you’ve got to give it to him. NU He runs that community. You go out there and walk into that office and you know who runs Oakland County. And he does it well, and he does it without a whole lot of resources. You build those relationships, and you don’t disrespect people, and you understand the political realities. But you can work together to get some things done. I’m not the mayor and I’ve done that already. We’re talking about starting a regional authority to deal with solid waste disposal and the creation of a recycling system, which also will create jobs. The incinerator needs to go, we all know that. It’s horrible. We pay 10 times as much as anyone else for solid waste disposal.
MT: But you have all that debt
McPhail: It will be paid off in four years, three years it will be paid off. And you don’t renew it like they keep doing. You let it drop off people’s tax rolls, and then they get a tax decrease because the four mills or whatever that you pay for the incinerator, you don’t pay any more. So it’s a perfect time to create this authority to deal with the issue of solid waste disposal. You’ve got four years to put that together, and it won’t take that long. Same thing with transit — we need a light rail transit system. You put together an authority to do light rail transit. You don’t wait until you can clear up all this mess about buses and all of that; you do something that you can do, get that done. It builds trust and cooperation in an area where there isn’t a lot of debate, and then you can go into other areas.
There are a lot of things you can do about the buses, the bus system. You hear from Detroiters, well, bus drivers from SEMTA, they leave all the black people standing at the bus stop and won’t pick them up. That’s what you hear when you ask. You really have to make sure if that’s going on, and if that’s going on, you have to deal with that. But, you know, there are also safety issues, and all of this gets confused.
This country is so messed up around the issue of quote: race. There is no such thing as race. There is ethnicity, and, yes, there have been issues around some of us being disadvantaged because we are one complexion over another complexion. But there is one race, and it’s called human. So it’s the leadership that really advances whatever view people take of that.
MT: When you talk about the whole country being messed up, you’ll get no argument from any of us on that. But Detroit is arguably, maybe, the most messed up of all.
McPhail: It’s terrible. I was born and raised in Massachusetts, Cambridge. Cambridge is different from anyplace else, from South Boston or Dorcester or anywhere else. Cambridge is The People’s’ Republic — everybody still wears flowers in their hair and big long skirts, and everybody is married to somebody different. So I never expected what I got when I got here 30 years ago.
MT: What did you see when you got here
McPhail: Just a level of openness about bigotry that was OK, an acceptance of it on both sides. It’s a different problem for people of color because they are the victims. They don’t have the power, so we’re the victims of whatever bigotry there is in terms of not being able to get jobs, not being able to get bank loans, all of that. But it’s the same stuff. It’s just a different effect in some ways. But I found a lot of people who would say things to you, and I’m not one who suffers that kind of thing easily, so people say things to me, and I say don’t talk to me now (laughs). And, of course, people don’t like that. So that gains you some enemies in situations, but I don’t accept that and I never have.
MT: It’s gotten ugly in my lifetime. There’s been no improvement whatsoever.
McPhail: When Erica was little [both McPhail’s daughters are biracial] I used to go places and people would walk up to me and say, "Is that your child?" She just called me mommy, what do you think? She looks just like me, what do you think? I mean people don’t understand just basic genetics. So we have a lot of stuff that happened over the years to us here, and I’d love to be in a position to do something about it.
MT: Tell me if you think you really can if you were elected mayor of Detroit. All kinds of regionalism plan are just dandy and there have been plenty of them.
McPhail: It’s leadership, though, and it’s what you do as the mayor. How you live your life.
MT: But how do you deal with the rest of the state?
McPhail: You clean up your own house first, you make sure you deal with what’s going on around you first. And then you go out from that to building relationships. It’s fine to say, hands across 8 Mile, but if you don’t build some sort of programmatic basis for people to come together, and to get to know each other, you don’t get out there and have possible programs where everybody gets to know each other, then you never get past that. And you don’t tolerate certain things. I don’t tolerate certain things. In my office, I don’t tolerate certain types of behavior. You don’t talk about anybody. You don’t call anybody names. You don’t make racial or ethnic remarks around. I just don’t tolerate it. You just don’t work there if you don’t do that.
MT: You’re talking about leader-to-leader but also things that involve the population as well?
McPhail: All of us. But it’s the leadership, it’s the image of who you are and how you conduct yourself, what your life is about. And people look at that and they follow it. People don’t just change overnight because it’s in the air. They see somebody in leadership who is behaving in a particular way that’s different, and there’s a dialogue, and that dialogue changes things.
MT: You mentioned black people being victims and obviously black people have been victims of a great many terrible injustices
McPhail: … and Native Americans, Latinos … poor white people.
MT: In a lot of ways, black people in the city of Detroit continue to be victims but they have been victims of black administrations for 32 years now. How is yours going to be different?
McPhail: As a government official, my job is to make everything objective and level. That does not mean that you blame anybody who didn’t have anything to do with creating the situation and it doesn’t mean that you create an option that disadvantages any group. But you can hire on an objective basis. You can promote on an objective basis. You can turn anything into objectives. You can take the subjectivity out if you want to and I think government has an absolute obligation to do that. It’s not about whether I like you or I think you’ll fit in or any of that. Can you make 10 of these widgets in an hour or can’t you? And you can really do that with pretty much any job. But that’s a longer range goal. It’s harder to do. You can’t do it all at once because each position has to be analyzed and put into the grid of how you’re going to ultimately make decisions about hiring and promotion. But you have to at least do that (laughs) but I have this approach that I think makes it all better.
Nobody wants to be thought of as special. I can tell you about when I started law school. I registered for all my courses, and this lady said, "You need to go over there to that table you have to register for black contracts."
And I said, "What’s that? What’s a black contract?"
And she said, "You know all the black students take contracts together."
And I said, "No, I won’t be doing that."
She said, "You know we’re just trying to help because you know black students have trouble with contracts."
It was a huge deal. It was a very liberal institution, Northeastern University Law School in Boston. And the class I was in was half women — 30 years ago. But still they had this sense that you needed to get this help, and I refused to do it. And it required a meeting with the dean and all kinds of stuff, but I didn’t do it. I took contracts with the rest of the students, and I passed contracts just fine. It’s like there is a way to get anything done to make sure everybody has an opportunity and everybody has equal access and government has an absolute obligation to do it. Other people — it would be nice if you could talk them into it. It’s good leadership if you can talk a private industry into being like that. Government has no choice — you have to do it.
MT: From the time of Coleman Young, you could say with absolute certainty that the Police Department is a hell of a lot worse.
McPhail: This police department has had some problems because they weren’t given the resources to do the things that needed to be done. For example, we always knew the lockups were a problem. Benny [Napoleon, police chief during the Archer administration and McPhail’s running mate] put cameras in there to stop the stories. Now you have an objective impartial arbiter of what happened, a camera, and it tapes all the time. [He] put cameras and mics on the police officers so now when they stop a citizen there’s not an argument about what happened. It’s on tape, it’s on camera, and that was all that Bennie did. Were there some cowboys during his administration? Umm-hmm. Are there some now? Yes. Will there always be? Absolutely. But it’s what you do about it. Bennie fired people who shot people and the arbiters brought them back and put them back on the job.
MT: I’m sure you’ll remember that Coleman Young once famously said Jesse Jackson’s never run anything but his mouth. What have you run?
McPhail: Well as a police commissioner and chairman of the police commission I was responsible for the police department. You’ve got someone who has done budgeting, has run 80 to 90 employees myself personally, and I’ve been on the council, and I’ve certainly been involved in the management of the city in that regard. I’m a lawyer, I’ve been a lawyer 30 years. Everything I’ve managed I’ve managed well. I’ve managed the National Bar Association budget; I was president of the National Bar.
Or you can have people … you’ve got to look at their record. You can’t just say they were there. (McPhail begins perusing a stack of auditor general reports conducted during the Archer administration covering the time Freman Hendrix was deputy mayor.) And I commend to you — and I will give them to you if you don’t have them — copies of the auditor general’s reports on evaluations of each and every department seven years into the Archer administration. Every one of them horrible ratings. From recreation, which they said miserably failed in its mission, seven years into it, to DWSD to lighting to everything.
And certainly when Kwame Kilpatrick was elected nobody said all you’ve ever been is a state rep.
MT: How do you assess the level of development that has occurred under the Kilpatrick administration?
McPhail: Well there hasn’t been any. It was all development that occurred under Dennis’ administration, which came to fruition during Kilpatrick’s administration. Some of that was development under Coleman’s administration, which came to fruition during Archer’s administration. That kind of stuff happens. It’s the business community that drives that, it’s not you as mayor. As the mayor, what you’re supposed to do is assist where you can and get out of their way so you’re not making it difficult for them, and bring in development that the city has not had for a while.
We’ve all known what’s going on with the auto industry for many, many years. Somebody along the way should’ve looked at diversifying from manufacturing, as a result here we are. We used to be a furniture capital, that’s gone. We could’ve brought that back. In fact, there were these people coming in from Ann Arbor who were going to start opening on the riverfront area, some furniture building, and that could really be supported and supplemented. We went out and talked to a guy in Oakland County who wants to bring a drywall processing plant to the city of Detroit that they developed in China. From what they’re saying, it will revolutionize the building industry. And they can’t get a phone call. They can’t get a call back.
We’re going to set up a regular development meeting, which is open, and everybody can see everything that is going on. And every deal that comes to the city is going to be assigned a number. We’re going to have, what we call for lack of a better term, business ombudspersons who will take those deals and check with them through the system. You will get an answer and when you get the answer you will get the help to make the deal go through the bureaucracy. I hear from these people all the time who want to do things in the city, and they can’t get a call, and when they do get a call it’s all waiting around, and can’t get the bids, can’t get the leases, can’t get the permits, just a mess. Not able to get any progress on their deals.
We’re going to set up a process so that development works openly in the city, it will not be about whether you pay anybody off, or take a partner in your deal, or any of that. The sole criteria is going to be — is this a deal that will help the city of Detroit, can we do it without mortgaging the city to do it and paying for it ourselves, and that’s going to be it. But we’re going to do it in the open so that every month you know where you can go to bring a development project, and it’s going to be numbered, and in the system, and there’s going to be somebody assigned to it, like a caseload of these deals, and you’re going to get an answer, and you’re going to get the help that you need to make it happen if it gets approved. And it’s going to be approved publicly at a public meeting where the people doing development sit down in front of everybody who wants to hear it, and consider every single deal, openly, at a meeting, and you can go and listen if you want to.
MT: You said in your first term, you’re going to reduce crime by 50 percent. How? Listen to this answer
McPhail: First of all, drug trafficking in the city of Detroit is responsible for about 85 percent of the Part 1 crimes. Drug trafficking is a business like anything else, and one of the things Benny found when he came in, they only had three raid teams citywide. He established 15. And we’re going to establish three times that many. We’re going to go from one end of the city to the other, and we’re going to take the profit out of drug dealing. We’re going to hit them every day if we have to, so there will not be an opportunity for them to sell drugs in this city. And as we make it a dry city, we drive the Part 1 crime rate down dramatically. Also, in terms of police response time, people have a sense of not being safe because if you call the police they don’t come. Part of this is because the deployment is not done properly. There’s technology now that will show you where every car in the city is. It’s not really expensive, either, so that the police response time improves immediately. That, together with the targeted crime prevention strategies we’re going to use, will drive crime down. When Benny became chief, and in the three years he was there, crime went down 30 percent, 10 percent a year.
MT: And you’re going to reduce crime by 50 percent without spending any more money?
McPhail: We’re going to spend more money on law enforcement because it’s the number one priority on the pyramid. Without any more resources, Benny was able to reduce crime by 30 percent.
MT: I understand what you’re saying about results-based budget management and eliminating redundancies, but sooner or later you’re going to come an end of what you can do. Do you really think results-based budget management is going to be sufficient to take care of all the budget problems?
McPhail: It wasn’t done under Archer, it’s not being done under Kilpatrick; nobody’s ever tried it. I don’t know how you can say that frankly. It’s not been done. Nobody’s taken a good hard look at government. Nobody’s said OK, let’s see, we have economic growth, downtown development, planning and development, city planning commission, all doing the same stuff, gee, maybe we shouldn’t have all that. And it’s costing millions. Nobody’s done that. We don’t have an effective risk management strategy. No one’s done that.
MT: What do you think is realistic time frame for making these changes?
McPhail: Between the time we’re elected and Jan. 1 we will have the plan in place to go forward. And we will push it.
MT: To completely restructure city government?
McPhail: Yes. And it won’t be perfect, and everything won’t be right, but we’re going to do it. And we’re not kidding. We’re going to do it. And then nobody will be able to say, "Hey, they promised to do something they didn’t do." Because we won’t have it. We’re going to do it. And in our history — Benny’s and mine — you won’t find that. You won’t find either of us saying we’re going to do something and not doing it.
MT: How long do you think it’s going to take to implement?
McPhail: It doesn’t take very long to get rid of stuff. It takes a little bit longer time to maybe organize but that’s what you do in between. That’s transitioning.
MT: What’s your time line?
McPhail: What I’m saying is, there are already a number of departments doing the same thing. There are some departments doing things that aren’t even necessary. One is Strategic Management. It’s the mayor’s job to be strategic and manage. Now we got a whole department doing that. You take a hard look at all this stuff and immediately deal with it. It doesn’t make sense. If it’s not working, not putting something in its place for a month or two isn’t going to kill you. Some things you can’t take out entirely, like police and fire, EMS. But there are things like, if you miss the Strategic Management department, you won’t miss much.
MT: Is the city going into receivership?
McPhail: No, for a couple of reasons. One, we’re not going to have it. We’re going to fix things. Two, politically, it’s not going to be a popular thing for anybody to do so there’s going to be some political will to help fix it. And three, when people see what we do, I mean, everybody’s going to want to help, because it’s going to be a whole new day. We’re going to make sure that all of the complaints that I get — and I get a lot of them — for example, people asking for bribes, all of that’s going away because we’re going to do a citizens’ grand jury and an immunity program, and first person to get to us with a tale of the bribe gets immunity, and everybody else goes to jail, And when you start doing things in a manner that is open and transparent and objective and fair, folks are going to come to the table, and it’s going to be all right, they’re going to help us with it.
MT: When you talk about your repopulation initiative, the only thing I’ve heard specifically about repopulating the city is tied to your children’s fund. What else is there?
McPhail: Everything in the city is going to be aimed at that direction. They misunderstood me on this, but when I said "repopulation czar," what I meant was, I’m going to do this, it’s going to be our analysis and our determination as to how it happens. We’ve got to have somebody’s staff person to go around to each department and make sure all the processes fit. For example, we have No. 1, crime control. And in that regard you have to control the drug trafficking, because 85 percent of crime is related to drug trafficking and it’s out of control in the city of Detroit. So you get control of that. You get control of police response time. You have the Detroit Children’s Fund so you’re offering something. You reduce the tax burden. You do something about the cost of insurance. So all of this works together as a plan that gives you a reason to stay in the city, a reason to come back to the city.
MT: One criticism of Detroit development is that downtown has been developed while the neighborhoods were neglected. What do you think is the right balance between downtown and neighborhood development?
McPhail: We have to swing the pendulum back the other way. I think they have been neglected. But you see, the repopulation initiative takes care of that. Because you bring people into the neighborhoods and you get houses rehabbed and people living in them again.
MT: Do you think the charter should be amended to allow for council by district?
McPhail: I don’t think that’s going to be the panacea people think it is. I think if people want to do that it’s fine. But my reading of the history is that it resulted in incredible corruption. I think it’s a bad way to go for that reason. It’s also a bad way to go because if you end up with an individual as your council person who isn’t responsive and doesn’t do what you need, they say you can get rid of them. But nobody gets rid of state reps, or state senators. So I don’t think it’s what people think it is. What it’s going to do is allow for groups who want to get rid of folks to come together and get rid of them for other reasons. Because the average communities and citizens and neighborhoods don’t do that. If they did that, they’d have gotten rid of some of the state reps they had when they signed on for the school takeover. I don’t have a problem with it one way or the other, but you’ve got to build in a process to make sure there’s no corruption.
MT: What kind of condition do you think the school system was in before the reform board was brought in?
McPhail: I know exactly what condition it was in. It had a $103 million budget surplus; it had a billion and a half dollar building fund; it had just received a National Science Foundation award and a host of other awards for progress in urban school districts. The Free Press had even written, and done a study saying — Lord knows I’m quoting the Free Press — saying that in terms of educating urban poor children the system was way ahead of most other large cities in the country. The MEAP scores had come up every year for four years in a row. The dropout rate was going down, every year for four years in a row. The school reform board came in and took over — everything went south.
MT: You make it sound like paradise before the reform board came in.
McPhail: It absolutely was not. You had a system with 80 percent of the children on free or reduced-cost lunch, which means they’re incredibly poor. One of the things the Free Press study did show, and we all know it anyway, is that poverty is the single biggest predictor of success or failure in school.
MT: Books help, too, and with a $103 million budget surplus, as long as I’m aware of, and that’s a long time now, teachers have always had to buy supplies because the district doesn’t supply them.
McPhail: And I’m not suggesting that that was right or that there weren’t problems—
MT: Not when there’s $103 million extra bucks sitting there.
McPhail: They had compiled that that year, and the year before, so it wasn’t like it was sitting there forever and nobody did anything with it, it was about to be used for exactly those things, including technology, wiring all those schools for the computer age and new books. I knew about it because I saw all the meetings going on with the book companies. The one in Boston called Houghton Mifflin, they were getting ready to do a whole new curriculum thing with all the books and everything. But you’ve got an incredibly poor system. It has issues. Yes, it had issues then, but in terms of educating urban poor children it has really good successes at that point, and they were beginning to really do well in terms of the national reputation of the school system. You’ve got to help them out. You’ve got to move people in.
I went to a public school system that was ethnically and economically integrated. Segregated education is a problem, and even though I was going to school as a kid on public assistance, and my father was dead and there were seven of us and my mother was struggling to help clean people’s houses and help raise us, the kid next to me’s dad was a doctor, and the kid on the other side was a lawyer, and the mother was a teacher or a lawyer. I went to school with all kinds of people and all kinds of backgrounds, and that enriches everybody in the process. That’s what you really need. It’s not the school system’s fault.
MT: While we’re on this topic, what can the mayor of Detroit do to help improve the public schools.
McPhail: Get an elected board. I would have been involved at the time. And, you know, let’s just get clear on one thing. When that board was put out and the reform board came in, they weren’t riding around in limousines and stealing. That was 30 years ago. That board wasn’t doing that. I might not have voted for all those people, but guess what? Detroiters get to vote for who they want, just like everybody else gets to vote for who they want.
Given that there’ll be an elected board, one of the things we’re trying to do right now is to be supportive of people voting, voting for people who have educational background who will be part of the school board. Also, as mayor, we will have a liaison to the school board, and we’ll be watching everything. Everything will be as public as it used to be. Remember you used to go to the school board meeting and there would be a document on the table, with every cent they’d spent during the previous week in it? That’s going to happen again. And if it doesn’t, we’re going to make it happen, because we’re going to get the information, because we’re in a position to do that.
MT: One of the big raps on you and the word most commonly used is "Sharon’s nuts. Give her enough time and she’s just going to self-destruct." Are you nuts?
McPhail: No. Do I appear to be nuts to you?
MT: Not right now.
McPhail: No. No.
MT: What about the electric chair? I’m sure you’re tired of answering that question.
McPhail: No, actually, I think you have a right to know. You have a right to ask that question. Let me tell you what happened there. On that particular day, when I came in, I’m trying to get this massage pad I have on this chair, I’m trying to get it off. So Rick Robinson [a McPhail staffer], who I wish was here, goes over and he tries to pull it off. He gets it off the chair, and there is a space about five inches where the wire is showing and the rubber is off. It looked to him like a clean cut. It looks to him as if it’s been cut. I threw the thing in the corner, because I had refused to vote for the 30-year casino deal, and Kwame had sent Derek Miller down to tell me that if I didn’t vote for the casino deals, they were going to "get me." They were going to file a complaint against me through Kay Everett with the Ethics Board and take "my little Ecorse job away from me." [McPhail was then city attorney for Ecorse.] I said go for it, because I’m not voting for those, and the only way you can get me to vote for them is if you would include the Detroit Children’s Fund as a part of the process, and then they’re worth it to me. Otherwise, they’re not worth it. The news was there, 7 and 2 TV cameras, to interview me about — because I said it, at the table, that he had threatened me. The news was there to interview me about that. At the same time, Rick went down to the guards at City Council and brought them back to look at this chair pad. I’m standing there talking to 7 and 2, talking about Kwame being a thug, which I called him because he threatened me. There were people there who heard him — heard Derek Miller do it on his behalf, so you’re welcome to talk to them — and this chair pad thing’s going on. Next thing I know, here come the evidence techs from the police department, and they’re putting powder all around, taking fingerprints. I’m thinking, oh god, I know what’s going to happen here. This is going to be a problem, and I can see it coming. But the conversation was about the threat and casinos and all of that. Then they start asking me, "Well, what do you think? Do you think he did it?"
I said, "You know what, I wouldn’t put anything past him, but no, I don’t think he did it." We’re here about the casinos. That was the story. They never showed the piece of the tape where — 7 had it too — that answer was given because they wanted to say … I’m just a lightning rod for media people. Those regular media people, the traditional ones. The dailies. And I’ve learned anything I do or say is interesting and news, whereas other people can do it and it’s nothing, nobody even pays attention to it.
MT: Partly because you never know what you’re going to say.
McPhail: I think it’s pretty clear what I’m going to say 99 percent of the time. But that incident? That’s exactly what happened. The incident with Kay Everett—
MT: What do you think it was?
McPhail: What do I think what was?
MT: How did your chair get wired like that?
McPhail: It didn’t get wired, the chair was one of those that turns around, it rotates. The wire got caught—
MT: Oh, the wire got caught under the chair and it was exposed.
McPhail: It got caught under the chair and it was exposed. That’s what happened. No, nothing ever happened. You can’t get in there, it’s locked, and there are cameras in the halls, though I just found out that they don’t tape anything. That never happened. The story you heard about the Kay Everett incident, which was another one. You know what happened that day? I had the strip club thing on for a vote, the adult entertainment ordinance, and it was to stop those nude barbershops from moving in the city. She tried to take it off, she threatened to punch me in the face. You didn’t see that. She had her fist in my face that far from my nose. She slapped her hands in my face. She threatened to "go East Side" on me. In order to try to lighten up the mood, I went, "OK, woo-woo, I’m scared, can we move on now?" What did you see in the media? "Woo-woo, I’m scared."
And when I talked to [Grace Gilchrist] at Channel 7 about that you know what she said? "Well, Sharon, she’s not interesting, and she’s never going anywhere, you are. We just want to show what you do." And I said, you know what, that’s not fair. You’re making me look like I’m the issue there, and what’s really going on is that I pushed this ordinance through, we got it, and finally we have some regulation of this industry where we didn’t before. But no, they wanted to show me going "Woo-woo I’m scared." So on a level, you know, I need to be very, very careful and part of it with me is that I’m amusing, you know, I’m funny. I have a sense of humor. And you can’t have one and be political. I have a daughter who’s a comedian. She gets it from me. I’m amusing, and I like to joke with people, and have a good time and not take things too seriously, but, you know, I have never been able to get used to the fact that when you do that, sometimes it turns into one of these stories that, it’s just, it’s crazy. But I’m learning, I’m learning.
MT: Let’s talk about the Sambo awards.
MT: Was that funny? Listen to this answer
McPhail: I thought it was pretty funny. I didn’t name it. It’s not my award. It was an event I went to. How could I say it was funny? Do you watch Saturday Night Live? Do you watch "Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood"? Do you think it’s funny? OK. How could you possibly say that’s funny? It’s a racial parody.
MT: Because it’s presented as a racial parody.
McPhail: So is this.
MT: You’re telling me that the Sambo awards are parody?
McPhail: Yes! Did you go?
McPhail: OK, then you don’t know, do you? You’ve got to go.
MT: So why was Dave Bing presented with a Sambo award?
McPhail: I don’t know, I didn’t vote for him. Let me tell you. They voted for him because they were very angry with him for going along with this Thompson charter school thing, from what I heard around the room. But, this is a group of about 500 people, 24 community groups are part of this Call ’Em Out thing. What they’re doing, holding elected officials’ feet to the fire, is unbelievably good. Nobody’s doing it.
MT: Dave Bing’s not an elected official.
McPhail: I didn’t say he was. I’m saying that’s what they’re doing. I was as surprised as you to see Dave Bing’s name on there; he’s not an elected official. Dave Bing and I, by the way, are old friends, and he endorsed me the first time for mayor. We were having a running dialogue about this Thompson thing and the charter school thing, through letters. I was writing Dave, come on, you don’t want to do this, here’s some articles about how bad it would be, don’t do it. He was writing me back. We were having a very intellectual dialogue about this whole thing. So I get to this event that night, which lots of people were at, by the way, I’m not going to tell you who they were so you can do a story about them, but a lot of people were there. And it’s funny. It’s a spoof, it’s funny, but it’s also intended to hold elected officials’ feet to the fire. Would I call it the Sambo award if it was up to me? No. But it isn’t. I don’t make those decisions.
MT: Given the state of race relations here, that’s almost as charged a word as "nigger." It’s a highly offensive word. And to participate in something like that—
McPhail: You’re talking to a black woman who was married to a white man about whether she’s a racist or not for going to the Sambo award? Come on, you all.
MT: No, not racist, but do you think it was good judgment to participate?
McPhail: You know what, I think supporting a group that holds elected officials’ feet to the fire is good judgment. Should I have gone to the awards, given the firestorm? Am I regretful that people felt bad about it? Absolutely.
MT: But that’s like saying, I’m sorry I did it because I was caught.
McPhail: No, it’s not like saying that at all. If you want to interpret it that way, I suppose you can, but what I’m telling you is I don’t want anybody to feel bad about anything I do of that nature and certainly not to consider it an attack on them based upon some kind of racial criteria. Look at my life, and you’ll see that couldn’t possibly be what I was trying to do. So, yes, I regret that people were upset by it and felt bad about it, and I certainly wouldn’t do it again if I had it to do over again if that was going to happen. But, for you to take that and interpret it into being some big—
MT: How could it be interpreted as anything else?
McPhail: OK, we can agree to disagree about that. Send comments to email@example.com