By John Corvino
Detroit is in the midst of a mayoral campaign, and it’s a crucial one. While I’m not going to say “this is the most important city election of our generation” (don’t people always say that?), there’s no doubt that the city is in serious trouble.
As someone who both lives and works in the city, I am especially concerned about its future. But Detroit’s success matters beyond its borders: metro Detroit is metro DETROIT, after all, and the city’s condition affects the entire region – and ultimately the entire state.
The incumbent mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, has been a disaster. Forget the fact that he’s terrible on gay issues, having insulted us not only during his first mayoral campaign but also while in office. Frankly, gay issues are relatively far down my list (after crime, schools, taxes, and city services) in this election. Put simply, Kilpatrick has been asleep on the job for the past three-and-a-half years. (Hey, if you partied like he does, you’d need sleep too.) And don’t even get me started about his administration’s ethics.
The two main challengers are Freman Hendrix and Sharon McPhail. Hendrix was deputy mayor under Dennis Archer and chairman of the state-appointed reform Board of Education. McPhail is a Detroit city councilwoman, attorney, and former mayoral candidate. They’re both good people, but I’m supporting McPhail.
When I say mention this, the typical reaction is “Are you crazy?”
McPhail may be a controversial figure, but she’s also our best bet for moving the city forward. Here are five reasons for thinking so:
1. Personal attributes: McPhail is intelligent, compassionate, and courageous. Even her sharpest critics don’t deny that she’s smart and hardworking. Her record on council is indicative of her values. To take just one example, she spearheaded the One-Night Initiative, which provides services to countless homeless people in Detroit at virtually no cost to the city. She clearly wasn’t doing it for the votes (the homeless are not a huge voting bloc). She has also been a consistent supporter of the gay and lesbian community, having publicly opposed Proposal 2 last fall.
2. Effectiveness: The Detroit City Council is a dysfunctional body (to put it mildly). McPhail, who is the only attorney on the council, has been responsible for much of the legislation that goes through it. It is unfortunate that many people associate her with the clownish atmosphere of the council. (Councilwoman Everett: “I’m going to go east-side on you!” Councilwoman McPhail: “OoohÉI’m scared.”) McPhail is blunt and she has a sense of humor, but she also works hard and gets things done.
3. Benny Napoleon: McPhail is running with Benny Napoleon, who will become deputy mayor if she is elected. (Their slogan is “Elect the Power of 2.”) Napoleon, also an attorney, was Chief of Police under Mayor Archer and reduced crime substantially during his tenure. Detroit’s rising crime rate is one of the biggest challenges to attracting and retaining residents, and Napoleon brings something important to the table.
4. Policy initiatives: Unlike the other challenger, whose copious website includes not a word on property taxes, McPhail has made lowering taxes a central theme of her campaign. (Full disclosure: I volunteer on McPhail’s campaign as an advisor on property-tax issues.) McPhail understands that Detroit competes in a marketplace where taxes, insurance rates, and similar costs all contribute to population drain, and her plan for the city addresses these issues as interrelated factors. (The plan will soon be posted at www.sharonandbenny.com.)
5. I want a new mayor: McPhail has the best chance to beat Kilpatrick in a general election. (There will be a primary election in August, and the top two vote-getters will compete in a November run-off.) Talk to many Hendrix supporters, and their main reason for backing him seems to be that he’s not Kilpatrick and not McPhail. That’s hardly a rousing endorsement. Although some of McPhail’s supporters are ABK’s (Anyone But Kwame), she also has a strong base of her own.
It’s true that McPhail is not a perfect candidate. Her recent appearance at the “Sambo Awards,” an annual roast sponsored by the grassroots organization Call ‘Em Out, raised questions about her judgment. McPhail is not a racist Ñ her staff is one of the most integrated in city government Ñ but she needs to do a better job of communicating her integrationist commitments.
That said, McPhail is our best hope for fixing the corruption in city government. She may not be the most media-savvy candidate, but Detroit doesn’t need more savvy. Detroit doesn’t need more bling. Detroit needs someone who can get the job done.
By John Corvino