A Critical Factor

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    In financial debate, RACE is an underlying element

    QR7Q0016webLike the fears expressed by some members of the Tea Party Movement saying “we want our country back,” that President Barack Obama is not one of “them,” among other undignified claims to delegitimize the nation’s first Black president, so in Detroit we see another form of a rising minority who strongly believe that the city is been taken away with the current consent agreement. 

    Their claims that Detroit’s power is being usurped by Lansing is a sentiment deeply buried in the long political struggles that have come to define Detroit’s existence. It is a sentiment that has played out during this city’s encounter with every recent administration in Lansing (including both Democrats and Republicans). 

    Not everyone shares their belief, but many do understand why there is such a passion as this city battles for its financial survival. That passion is anchored around race and the fact that this city, like Livonia, is one of the most segregated in the nation. 

    What we have in Detroit is a mass underclass of poor people further disadvantaged by the economy and already paying taxes with their widow’s mite and not receiving virtually anything in return for it. Every day they wake up hoping that the government (mayor and city council) would represent their aspirations as they struggle to find relief for their despair and break the manacles of poverty. 

    And because they are Black, they believe that the notion of a financial review team or an advisory board is one that is masking as a good doctor, but in actuality they believe is a “Doctor Death” coming at the city. 

    Why? 

    They have watched some Detroit politicians in the past, like the Biblical Nicodemus, cut deals in the middle of the night on their behalf when the benefits never got to them. 

    They’ve watched politicians talk from both sides of their mouths and never take the bacon home. They’ve seen how city hall has literally become a casino for the well connected and the powerful, but not a jackpot for hard-pressed taxpayers and struggling senior citizens who  have become prisoners in their homes because of crime. 

    They watched how Detroit Public Schools started with state intervention in 1999 and the arrival of Dr. Kenneth Burnley, the absolute CEO at the time, and the school boards that followed, all fighting for contracts and personal gigs instead of a curriculum for Detroit children. 

    DPS became a classic example of how things could go wrong when the right mechanisms are not put in place. Today the district is struggling to survive and doing all it can to be a comeback story.

    So in their mind, we’ve been here before whether it was with Gov. John Engler or Gov. Jennifer Granholm, two prominent governors whose legacies are bittersweet in the mouths of many Detroiters. 

    Thus the opposition against an emergency manager in Detroit or a consent agreement is not necessarily an opposition to Gov. Rick Snyder although it looks that way. It is an inherent opposition to a system of “cash and carry” that Detroit politicians have long mastered with their Lansing collaborators and played well to their own personal ends without benefiting their constituents. 

    That is why any proposal that does not clearly stipulate how city assets or finances of Detroit will be guarded under a new agreement,will continue to face opposition. 

    This is part of the reason for the groundswell against an emergency manager or a consent agreement. 

    So let’s not be outrightly dismissive or condescending toward an opposition or any who have witnessed how this city has evolved and changed over time to the detriment of those (residents and businesses) that have remained here. 

    Just as some of us in the media gave members of the Tea Party Movement the benefit of the doubt, dismissing the suspicions of others that their vicious assault on Obama is racially motivated, let’s think and expand our horizons. 

    While the Tea Party was positioning itself to become the third rail in American  politics, we encouraged them in our columns and called it democracy in action, describing them as angry voters who’ve had enough with all things Obama, despite the fact that they hurled insults at Congressman John Dingell, spat on the face of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis and rudely interrupted town hall meetings beating tables and threatening lawmakers who were  determined to pass the land mark healthcare legislation. 

    Let’s learn from all this because it is truly a historic moment for this city. And race is what some in the negotiating room have on their mind, but cannot say because of fear of losing their position or been viewed as not getting along. 

    Plain and simple, the average person, Black or White, and businesses in this city want services delivered quickly and  consistently.  And the city has been deligent . There are people who literary live in fear that in the event there is crime at their home or they need EMS service, they have no option but to get on their knees to pray until whenever that service arrives. 

    There are areas in Detroit where people live that are barely livable, if that. This abject poverty has much to do with failed leadership that has long ignored those at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, dismissed because they have  no power to influence or change policy. And when the economy is in bad shape, some in the middle class joined the poor and the economically subjugated. 

    So while part of Detroit is coming back with all the developments downtown and beyond, this city’s leadership must not ignore the neighborhoods because there are portions in this city that are danger zones.  

    Just as you cannot have a vibrant downtown without a thriving business district, so it is that you can’t have a city that is on the cusp of meaningful community transformation if the majority of our  neighborhoods are in a declining or deplorable condition. 

    Detroit is Michigan’
    s largest city, and we do not expect the state and its chief executive, Gov. Snyder, to walk away from Detroit at this crucial time. What we expect is an honest deal on the table. Let us not repeat the past. 

    Because Detroit is so segregated and yet pivotal to the overall success of not only Southeast Michigan, but also the state, it is important that we approach the conversation around financial transformation with a wholistic perspective and strong sense of urgency. 

    That perspective should take into account this city’s past, present and future. 

    Race remains and will continue to be a factor in how this city functions, how it connects to everything around the state, and its future. 

    Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part series on the Obama presidency, including “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published last year. His latest book is ”Obama and Christian Loyalty” with an epilogue written by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. His upcoming books in 2012 are  “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and ”Obama and Business Loyalty.”  Listen to him every Thursday, 11:30 a.m., on WDET 101.9 FM Detroit and every Sunday, 9 to 10 p.m. on “The Obama Watch” program on WLIB 1190 AM-New York. E-mail  bthompson@michchronicle.com.

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