With the 2012 primary election freshly behind us, Detroiters have plenty political races to look forward to. Even after November, voters will have more important decisions to make, like who should lead the city in through these economic straits?
State Rep. and former Detroit City Council candidate Lisa Howze believes she can steer the City of Detroit out of a financial crisis.
The 37-year-old native Detroiter and former certified public accountant (CPA) says she is the “missing piece” to Detroit’s leadership plans to tackle issues using her financial expertise and her communication skills.
But Detroit is no ordinary city. It’s one facing severe financial woes known around the world for their complexity and seriousness. Next year’s mayoral race is sure to be hotly contested and the city, state, and nation’s eyes will be focused on those candidates brave enough to take on the city’s myriad problems.
Still, Howze says she’s confident that she has a shot at bettering the outlook.
“My run for mayor is tied to wanting to see the city live,” she said. “I want to be a voice of reason for the city.”
For Howze, the hesitation of other candidates to throw their hats in the ring serves as an advantage. She said her strategy is to get a head start by campaigning early as her opponents will likely outspend her on the campaign front.
As of now, the race is wide open. Mayor Dave Bing said in an interview with The Michigan Chronicle recently that he has not considered a 2013 mayoral bid yet “at all”.
And although some rumors hint that City Council President Charles Pugh might run, other rumors claim that he has realized that there is no money in politics and is planning to go back into media work when his term is up. Pugh has not confirmed or denied any of these.
Two other possible contenders are Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and Detroit Medical Center front-man Mike Duggan.
Whatever the case, Howze is the only candidate who has committed to the run thus far.
She ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2009 before winning a seat in the state legislature representing Northwest Detroit in the state’s 2nd house district. There she has been working on legislation to make sure Detroit gets all of its income tax, even from Detroit residents who work outside of the city.
Before her political career, Howze worked for 20 yeas as a CPA. She says she has a firm grasp on finances paired with the skills to relate to people. Her aim as mayor would be to convince union workers and leaders that changes need to be made.
“There’s a problem when we can’t compromise or answer the question ‘Where to we go from here?’ she said. “I will establish relationships with labor, not just unions but the workers as well. I’ll go to the men and women and say, ‘this is what we need to do’.
So far, that tactic hasn’t worked for Bing (and he has tried multiple times), but Howze believes her ability to understand the problems and “break them down in laymen’s terms” will help.
“You can’t count on money you don’t have,” she said. “I think people know what it means to make sacrifices.”
One of Howze’s plans for Detroit is to maintain ownership of Belle Isle by charging an entry fee for the island.
“On any given day, thousands cross that bridge,” she said. “We have not exercised stewardship of our assets. Then, when someone to come in and tries do something, we get all up in arms.”
Her other plan to keep Belle Isle maintained is to designate areas of the island to neighborhoods so that people take ownership of those areas.
“We have to identity areas on the island from a marketing standpoint,” she said. “We can identify a shed for Russell Woods, for example.”
Howze also suggested corporate sponsorships of various sections of the island where companies would pay the city to use space for advertising opportunities and also naming sheds after sponsors.
But above all else, leadership is key, Howze said.
In Detroit, Howze believes the leadership skills of elected officials are lacking. While she is hesitant to be too critical of Mayor Bing, she believes he could do better.
“ I haven’t walked in his shoes,” she said. “But it’s not clear where we are going and what we should do. We can’t defer decisions to the state. As a leader you have to say, ‘This is what we need to do’ versus, ‘This is what the state wants us to do, we have no other choice.’”
Had she been voted to City Council in 2009, Howze said she would not have supported the consent agreement.
“Consent or emergency manager, what’s the difference?” she asks. “With the Consent Agreement, elected officials still get to hold the positions but they don’t have power. They think they do, but they don’t.”
Howze says her commitment to Detroit has been life-long and that she has been living and owning property in the city for the past 12 years. As for her potential opponents come 2013, she says she’s ready to take them on, even the deep-pocketed candidates.
“You never know what the outcome is going to be. I’m committed to running as if these things have no affect,” she said. “It’s about being resourceful.”