As much as we'd like to just flush 2019 down the drain, it's tradition at the Metro Times to take one last look back and dole out the Dooby Awards, honoring "the most dubious, foolhardy, baffling, hilarious, or just plain bad stories" of the year. In that sense, 2019 didn't disappoint. This year's trophy is shaped like a golden toilet in honor of a Detroit Fire Department prank gone horribly wrong, one of the year's most WTF moments, but there were plenty of other stinkers in this year's pile o' shit. Let's dive in, shall we?
January: 2019 gets off to a roaring start, with Michigan's former GOP governor John Engler once again sparking controversy, this time as interim president of Michigan State University. At the beginning of 2018 he replaced Lou Anna Simon, who resigned amid the sex-abuse scandal surrounding the school's gymnastics physician Larry Nassar. Many pointed out that Engler was a bad choice; aside from being connected to MSU, while governor, he tried to derail legal action stemming from a massive prison sex-abuse scandal involving 500 female inmates. It all comes to a head in January, after less than a year on the job, when Engler tells The Detroit News editorial board that he believes Nassar's victims are "enjoying" the "recognition," drawing swift condemnation. He resigns days later.
February: In February, the geniuses behind the Grammy Awards decide to honor the 60th anniversary of Motown with a tribute act starring ... Jennifer Lopez? Though Lopez is joined onstage by Black artists, including Smokey Robinson, Alicia Keys, and Ne-Yo, many question the choice to have a Latina represent the iconic label — and during Black History Month, no less.
March: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposes, for the third year in a row, to eliminate funding for the Special Olympics in her annual budget request — a move that's apparently too cartoonishly villainous even for President Donald Trump. After DeVos spends three days defending the cuts, Trump tells reporters the funding will materialize after all. "I've been to the Special Olympics," he says. "I think it's incredible, and I just authorized funding." DeVos soon releases a statement reversing course. "I am pleased and grateful the President and I see eye-to-eye on this issue and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant," she says, adding, inexplicably, "This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years."
April: After years of playing faithful cheerleaders to Detroit's billionaire Ilitch family, Detroit's mainstream media does an about-face after an episode of HBO's Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel airs examining "whether government officials in Michigan gave a sweetheart arena deal to the wealthy Ilitch family despite Detroit facing an $18 billion bankruptcy — the largest of any city in U.S. history." (MT asked that very question years earlier, in a 2014 cover story.) As the HBO doc points out, the neighborhoods surrounding the arena hardly resemble the bustling renderings of "the District Detroit" that the Ilitches used to help seal the deal and secure hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Instead, we have drab parking lots. (As usual, the Ilitches refuse to be interviewed for the story, and afterward denounce it as a "self-interested, sensationalized and inaccurate report.") After the show airs, The Detroit News demands: "Ilitches owe the city of Detroit answers." In May, the Detroit Free Press acknowledges the "huge gap" between the Ilitches' promise and performance.
May: Ben Carson, Trump's Housing and Urban Development Secretary, is probably fairly smart — he's literally a brain surgeon. But that doesn't mean he has any business heading up HUD. At a House Financial Services Committee hearing, U.S. Rep. Katie Porter (D-California) asks Carson if he knows what an REO is — a common housing term related to foreclosure that refers to a "real-estate owned" property. "Oreo?" Carson asks. A few hours later, Carson sends Porter a box of Oreos as a mea culpa, but, like, yeesh.
June: Though Republican Senate candidate John James presents himself as a heroic military vet, he's been treading lightly when it comes to the issue of toxic Trump. Posts shared on his social media account from a fundraising dinner in Macomb County appear to take great pains to avoid showing the giant metallic balloons behind James that spelled out "TRUMP." Beyond that, James apparently removed previous posts referencing Trump, including one that expressed "2000%" support for Trump's agenda. James spends the rest of the year refusing to talk to local media and has yet to hold a public campaign event in Michigan.
July: Two City of Detroit workers are injured after firecrackers explode when they sit down on toilets at the fire department's apparatus and repair shop near Eastern Market — in what Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell calls "a prank gone bad." At least one of the General Services Department employees is sent to the hospital with injuries to his leg and testicles.
August: Marysville City Council candidate Jean Cramer shocks Michiganders when she says she believes her town should be kept "a white community as much as possible." During a community forum, Cramer attacks Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Hayman, whose extended family includes a father of Syrian ethnic descent, a Black son-in-law, and biracial grandchildren. "[A] husband and wife need to be the same race," she says. "Same thing with kids. That's how it's been from the beginning of, how can I say, when God created the heaven and the earth. He created Adam and Eve at the same time. But as far as me being against Blacks, no I'm not." Days later, Cramer withdraws from the race.
September: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announces, seemingly out of the blue, a ban on flavored nicotine vaping products in an effort to curb teen vaping. At the same time, people around the country are dying of a mysterious vaping-related illness. As evidence grows that the deaths are linked to vitamin E acetate, a product used in black-market cannabis vaping cartridges, the state's health department remains narrowly focused on youth nicotine vaping. (In November, after MT publishes numerous articles on the issue, the state orders all cannabis products to be tested for vitamin E acetate. And in December, the state orders the recall of cannabis products sold at Elite Wellness in Mount Morris for testing positive for high levels of vitamin E acetate, dispelling the notion that the danger was only ever in the black market.)
October: Founders Brewing Co. makes national headlines when MT publishes a leaked deposition of a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by former employee Tracy Evans, who alleges "blatant" racism at the company. In the leaked transcripts, a manager claims he didn't know that Evans, who is obviously Black, was Black — and even worse, he claims he doesn't know if former President Barack Obama, Kwame Kilpatrick, or Michael Jordan are Black either. Swift public backlash ensues, the beer is dropped from menus, the Detroit taproom is temporarily closed, and the company's diversity and inclusion director resigns. Eventually the company settles with Evans, and promises to do better — pledging to donate its reopened Detroit taproom profits to local charities.
November: Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's myriad scandals came to a head in November, when City Council votes against a $250 million bond proposal to fight blight. As the Detroit Free Press reports, the move seems to signal growing distrust with the Duggan administration, which had until this point enjoyed support. Where to begin? There was the Detroit Inspector General report, which concludes that Duggan directed city funds to Make Your Date, a prenatal health program run by a woman with whom he has allegedly been having an extramarital affair. Then chief of staff Alexis Wiley, a former journalist, orders emails related to the scandal to be deleted, and is not reprimanded. There's also the fact that the demolition program itself is the center of a years-long federal probe, revealing other backdoor deals and mismanagement, calling to mind the corruption of the Kilpatrick administration.
December: Little Caesars Arena severs ties with Kid Rock, announcing it will not renew its lease with Kid Rock's Made in Detroit restaurant. The move comes after the rock star goes on a drunken rant against Oprah Winfrey at his Nashville Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock 'N' Roll Steakhouse, in which he appears in a video to be so intoxicated that he has to be removed by security. Ilitch Holdings says it looks forward to replacing Made in Detroit with a new concept "that aligns with our community and company values," and Kid Rock releases a statement of his own suggesting that if the restaurant relocates, it won't be in the Motor City. "I guess the millions of dollars I pumped into that town was not enough," he writes. Don't let the door hit you, Kid. In all seriousness, we hope he gets the help he so obviously needs.
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