Will she become Detroit’s first female mayor?
“My gender and what I bring to the table will transcend the gender gap.
The question is, are we ready to break that ceiling and let a woman go through?”
– Lisa Howze, Candidate for Mayor
Despite recent statistics showing that women are the heads of the majority of households in Detroit and that they vote more than any demographic, Detroit has never had a female mayor.
But candidate Lisa Howze believes one could be in the works if Detroiters give her the transformational opportunity.
Is that a far-fetched dream, in an age where women increasingly are taking on major roles in every dispensation and discipline that were traditionally manned by men?
I don’t think so. But it will take more than a notion for Howze and her team to convince voters in Detroit that after having elected men for ages in the city, it is now time to turn the tide with a female mayor.
It will take a transcending and game changing campaign to make a bold political statement that for the first time in the city’s history, a woman can be the boss on the 11th floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building.
So I sat down with Howze for an in-depth interview on Monday about her candidacy and the female factor given that Krystal Crittendon is also a candidate in the race.
She did not mince her words.
“Anyone would tell you, be they a man or woman, that the city needs healing after all that it went through. And quite naturally women are looked upon as healers and nurturers,” Howze said, echoing Diane Mariechild, author of “Mother of Wit” who said, “A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.”
Howze said, “The goal is as more and more people hear my message, that message will resonate with them that it is time for a woman mayor. To put it bluntly, the men have messed up.”
Howze’s direct rebuke of some of the men that have governed Detroit for so long naturally is a rallying cry to break the glass ceiling in the citycounty building just as former Senator Hillary Clinton tried to do during her 2008 campaign for the White House.
With former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan now out of the race for mayor after being deemed ineligible on questionable residency laws by the Michigan Court of Appeals, conventional wisdom has it that Howze could be a tougher contender for Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon who is widely regarded as the front-runner, according to polls.
The Napoleon campaign told me over the weekend that they are not taking anything for granted, and that their campaign will be as active as it was before Duggan left the race.
Howze said if anyone is questioning the leadership and skill of women to serve at the highest levels of political office, including mayor, they should look at Southfield where Brenda Lawrence is mayor and Atlanta where former mayor Shirley Franklin stood out as a game changer.
“Look at what Brenda Lawrence has done in the city of Southfield in terms of the number of strong businesses that are there. See what happened in Atlanta under Shirley Franklin,” Howze said. “My attitude is if they can do it surely we can do the same.”
The University of Michigan Ross School of Business trained accountant with 18 years experience, former state representative and business owner understands that the odds are against her campaign because “I think people have been used to the status quo.”
She said the timing of her campaign, making the case for a female mayor, is crucial because people are going to ask, “Who is this woman running and what does she bring to the table?” That is something that have been asked of many candidates viewed as underdogs.
“When you look at the Kwame Kilpatrick years, we are moving in a new direction,” Howze said. “My accounting profession is a male dominated career so this is not new for me. So we have to talk about the benefits of female leadership.”
Those benefits, she said, include creating opportunities for every Detroiter from gainful employment to cutting down on the bureaucratic red tape at city hall that small businesses are subjected to when applying for permits. And entrepreneurship is top on her list because, “I operated a lemonade stand at the age of 10 and for three years sold candy in high school to invest in my first semester at the University of Michigan.”
She said that as mayor she wants to ensure that vendors who mostly are small businesses are paid on time, within 30 days, to prevent some of those businesses from failing.
“To the extent that we are able to leverage what a woman brings to the conversation about the future of Detroit, then we are able to open the doors of opportunity,” Howze said. “My gender and what I bring to the table will transcend the gender gap. The question is, are we ready to break that ceiling and let a woman go through?”
How women find real role models in getting to the top of any profession is key.
When I asked Howze which women are close to home for her that have done so much that their work continues to inspire women like her seeking top political leadership in a major city like Detroit, she started rattling off names.
First she cited Faye Nelson, CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy for what she’s done with the riverfront as an example of what women in strategic leadership roles can do.
Nelson is also special to Howze because this year, the mayoral candidate received the Greater Good Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners, the organization that gave Nelson the same recognition five years ago.
She also cited Comerica Bank senior vice president Linda Forte whom she said mentored her when she interned at the bank during her formative years before pursuing public accounting, and Trisha Cole, founder of Women’s Informal Network who, like her, is a business owner.
Howze recently honored women she believes have “achieved greatness” by contributing to the city of Detroit, including Judge Lucille Watts, who served on the Wayne County Circuit Court, Ramona Pearson a certified public accountant, Beverly Smith of the Detroit Black Pages and Sabrina Nelson, a Detroit artist.
“What I find about many of these women is that they asked why were they being honored. The things that they did were never to get a pat on the back. We’ve always been supportive of the political process and leadership. Now we want to lead in those positions,” Howze said.
And to lead in a position as mayor of Detroit, Howze said she was first inspired to look at political leadership during the 2008 campaign of President Barack Obama
“When Obama was running it heightened my awareness and interest in politics,” she explained. “After he was inaugurated I was inspired and wanted to bring change in my own sphere of influence.”
Howze said she began to think about tackling many issues including vacant homes and buildings, young people walking around the neighborhood without any meaningful engagement.
That was her Damascus experience.
“There was something in me saying you’ve got to do something,” she recalled while noting that the police and the community must come together to address public safety because “if other people outside of Detroit can feel comfortable getting gas at a gas station early in the morning, why can’t it be that way in the city?”
If the next chapter of leadership fails to address public safety, Howze said the city will keep “running away those who are educated and gainfully employed because we are not able to meet their needs in the city of Detroit.”
Howze also plans to address the high insurance rates, which she said is a key factor in the exodus from Detroit, as well as a shortage of recreational facilities and library services for families and seniors.
Restoring Detroit precincts and ending the virtual precinct system, she said will be among her public safety reforms so that residents can feel that their issues are being seriously considered when they physically walk into police stations to report crime.
Howze is vigorously defending her candidacy against critics saying, “I attended vigils outside crack houses on Detroit’s east side, stood with small business owners evicted from Cobo Hall, built homes in the Morningside community with Habitat for Humanity.”
Howze said the Kwame Kilpatrick era has taken the city back and that there are mothers who understand that their sons could fall into similar predicaments and the trappings of power.
“The question now is how do we restore the family and raise our children properly? That’s a conversation you don’t hear from the mayor’s office. It’s time for a woman and I’m that breath of fresh air,” Howze posited.