Detroiters turn out to question candidates

In a high poverty city with 30 percent unemployment, a lot of negatives abound. But it would be very wrong to carry that description over to the people who live here.

An example of the many things that are good about Detroit took place at a northwest Detroit “Meet the City Council Candidates Night” on October 8, sponsored by the Winship Community Association and Westminster Church of Detroit.

On a cool, rainy night several hundred people from the local neighborhood raced home from work to sit through a three hour meeting for the opportunity to hear and question council candidates in the upcoming November 3 election. This wasn’t a one-time type of event. These “meet the candidate” events take place every night of the week in neighborhoods and churches throughout the city. The turnout shows how much the people of this city care about its fate and are involved and trying to do their part to correct problems created by forces not of their doing.

They are also intent on changing the image that several past elected officials, whose crimes and antics garnered national publicity, have given the city. This has caused a certain anti-incumbency feelings to develop and has given the races a more wide open character.

Questions from the audience showed residents wanted both accountability and problem solving from those running.

Concern about the privatization of city services, threatened layoff of city employees, and insuring the city received all state monies it is due were asked. Of particular importance to the audience was what will happen if more jobs are privatized.

A sampling of their comments:

The enormity of despair that caused of 50,000 of the city’s residents to seek housing assistance the previous day prompted Incumbent JoAnn Watson to comment “we can’t bail out Wall Street and auto companies and not bailout the home of the auto industry.” Watson cited her past opposition to utility rate hikes, foreclosures and privatization.

To a question about experience in public finance, Mohamed Okdie, a Vice President of American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, responded that knowledge about financial matters is not enough, but rather we need council members who “understand how our financial decisions are going to affect people.” As an example of this he said privatization was an attempt to see “how much profit can you make at workers expense.”

For Saunteel Jenkins, former Chief of Staff for Maryann Mahaffey, it is her first venture at running for public office. Both Mahaffey, a beloved past leader in the city, and Jenkins started out as social workers. Jenkins recalled that Mahaffey once told her “social workers put band aids on the problems caused by public policy. We need to get in on the front end.”

Prior to the meeting Jenkins had been with a family who that afternoon had lost their teenager to youth violence. She was visibly shaken and told the crowd that she too had lost her 14 year old brother in the same manner and declared “As a community we have to come together to save our babies.”

Privatization should be the last resort instead of the first resort said current Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. Cockrel said often private companies come in and don’t know how to do a job, relay on city workers to train them, and then get paid four times the amount.

Brenda Jones a current council member and past president of a Communication Workers of America telephone employee local said there is “no accountability and no savings with privatization.” Six months after they’ve won the bid, they are back to say they need more, and back again, six months later.

Of Mayor Dave Bing’s attempt to solve Detroit’s budget crisis by cutting ten percent of the city employee work force, Jones said city employees are willing to sacrifice but they are not willing to “be singled out” and asked to make more sacrifices than others.

James Tate also made it a point to say he was opposed to privatization. The former policeman said he had the privilege of growing up in a union household – his father had been a United Auto Workers member at General Motors and he stated his upbringing made him “understand the importance of unions.”

Adding to concerns about privatization and giveaways to business was the story yesterday (October 10) in the Detroit News that city businesses who had received tax breaks not only failed to follow through on jobs promises but had laid off at least 7500 workers. Included in the companies who had received tax breaks of at least $2.7 billon dollars were two of the Detroit’s largest employers, General Motors and Chrysler.






John Rummel
John Rummel

Activist John Rummel covers events in Michigan. It's not politics-only for John; he loves sports, the outdoors and a cold beer or two!