Detroit

Susan J. Demas: Young Goes Scorched Earth in Detroit Mayoral Race

Michigan state Senate sessions tend to be rather drab affairs.

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With Republicans holding a vice grip on the chamber since 1984 and currently controlling 71 percent of seats, there typically hasn’t been too much drama in the hundreds of sessions I’ve sat through. When the GOP wants to pass something, there’s usually not much Democrats can do.

That’s never deterred Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit), who consistently delivers the most memorable speeches on the floor, often as an act of protest. With his hypnotic preacher-like cadence, Young usually begins with a quote from a dizzyingly long list of luminaries, which has included former President Richard Nixon, Albert Einstein and poet James Weldon Johnson. (This ritual even inspired a @SenColemanQuote Twitter account).

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In case you drifted off or checked your email while Young was at the podium, he’d make you regret it by busting out a gem, like he did last term by announcing with a broad grin, “I’d like to start out with a quote … from myself.”

Many politicos and pundits have been inclined to write him off as a goofy millennial riding the coattails of his legendary father, the late Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young. But the senator happens to be one of the few legislators I’ve covered who actually reads most of the bills he votes on. And he’s surprised quite a few lobbyists and policy wonks who expected brief, joke-filled meetings with him and instead were treated to a barrage of thoughtful, detail-laden questions.

Young will be term-limited next year at the ripe old age of 36. So it makes sense that he decided to follow in his papa’s footsteps this year and embark on his second Detroit mayoral campaign. Name ID would never be a problem.

But taking on a popular incumbent has been. Mike Duggan, the former Detroit Medical Center CEO, became the city’s first white mayor in decades after the near unheard-of feat of winning the 2013 primary as a write-in candidate.

There’s no question that Detroit has made progress under Duggan, especially since emerging from bankruptcy three years ago. All you have to do is stroll through downtown and Midtown, flecked with the kind of hipster-haven bars and restaurants you’d expect to see in Chicago. Real-estate developers are gobbling up property and rents are soaring. And some of your out-of-state relatives have probably stopped asking if you got carjacked every time you go to Ford Field.

But many of the city’s longtime residents living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods far from the glitzy new Little Caesars Arena aren’t feeling the love. And progressives have never liked Duggan, a business-friendly pragmatist who’s not afraid to cut deals with Republicans, like with his auto insurance package crafted with House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt).

Young should be a solid Duggan alternative. He’s young, charismatic and consistently one of the Senate’s most liberal members in Inside Michigan Politics’ annual rankings.

But his campaign was greeted with a yawn from much of the metro Detroit media that’s always been convinced Duggan is a lock. In the eight-way Aug. 8 primary, Duggan won 67 percent of the vote, trouncing Young by 40 points.

So it’s not surprising that Young has opted to make race his closing argument before Nov. 7. That’s what everyone expected when he hired felonious former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick whisperer Adolph Mongo.

There’s the SuperPAC ad accusing Duggan of Kilpatrick-level corruption, but noting only Kwame is behind bars. The reason? “It’s as simple as black and white,” the ad intones. Young went back to this well repeatedly in last week’s mayoral debate, prompting Duggan to frequently call him a “liar.”

And Young has announced a “Take Back the Motherland” rally on election eve. If you were trying to brainstorm an event to make the Fox News, Infowars and Breitbart outrage machines go berserk, you probably couldn’t do much better than this. We should all pray that the neo-Nazis who periodically parade around Charlottesville, Va., don’t decide to take a road trip up to Motown that night.

But if you’re a talented politician with a great name and decades left to make your mark, as Young is, this scorched-earth strategy probably isn’t helpful. It’s a shame that more people around the senator haven’t told him that.

And it’s a shame for Detroit, a city that’s still grappling with serious problems of poverty, poor schools, blight and crime. Citizens deserved a mayoral race that addressed those issues, not a sideshow with theatrics destined to become an ominous segment on “Fox and Friends.”

Maybe next time.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: House GOP’s Detroit Public Schools Scheme Could Give Us Gov. Mike Duggan

Hey, Republicans. Would you like to get Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to run for governor in two years?

Then by all means, keep pushing the punitive state House version of Detroit Public Schools “reform” –– which almost certainly won’t do anything to fix the mold, rats and terrifying safety issues plaguing the state’s largest school district.

Duggan, a pro-business Democrat credited with turning around Michigan’s biggest city, has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to be Michigan’s next CEO.

It’s not hard to see why. The former Detroit Medical Center chief relishes in getting things done –– and he’s been able to make a real impact in his city. As Gov. Rick Snyder knows all too well, change often comes at a glacial pace in state government.

But many Democrats are still begging him to run in 2018. Duggan is well-known where the votes are in Southeast Michigan, he’s a strong fundraiser and he’s assembled a solid field operation. No wonder he led the Democratic field in the latest gubernatorial poll, completed by Inside Michigan Politics and Target Insyght.

And Republicans really, really don’t want to run against Duggan, who has enviable crossover appeal. That’s why conservative Detroit News editorial page Editor Nolan Finley whacks Duggan whenever he can. The man’s a threat.

Now the mayor just a hit a big roadblock in Detroit’s comeback story, courtesy of House Republicans playing politics.

DPS schools have been a mess for decades. Unfortunately, being under state control for the last seven years hasn’t helped, as Snyder says the district needs $715 million to escape fiscal insolvency.

Duggan has been a fierce advocate for a bipartisan DPS turnaround package that passed the Senate before spring break. Snyder was on board, as were staunch conservative Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) and stakeholders in Detroit.

The Senate plan would shore up DPS’ finances and get $1,100 more per student into the classroom –– which is where it’s needed most. The package also created a Detroit Education Commission that could regulate charter schools, a boon industry in the city. While Duggan and others support education choice, they refuse to turn a blind eye to the myriad abuses and failures that have rocked some schools.

In other words, it’s perfectly reasonable compromise legislation –– which is why radical House Republicans rejected it. Their package passed in the wee hours this morning is partisan politics at its worst.

The bills didn’t even bother to come up with all the money needed to save DPS from the fiscal abyss. House GOP leadership decided it was more important to reward a special interest group near and dear to their hearts, the education choice lobby. So they scrapped the quality-control education commission.

And they took the hatchet to a big political enemy: teachers’ unions. Under the plan, educators would be made to reapply for their jobs, uncertified teachers could take teaching jobs, unions couldn’t negotiate the school calendar, and unions and teachers would face heavy fines for strikes.

This all amounts to exacting revenge on teachers, who have had the nerve to organize sickouts in recent months to protest schools’ deplorable conditions and the real possibility that they wouldn’t get paid.

Trust me, no legislator or Lansing lobbyist would ever put up with any of that.

Moreover, there’s something deeply disturbing about demonizing teachers, which we’ve seen time and time again under total Republican rule. There are few tougher jobs than trying to inspire the love of learning in young people. It’s a noble calling and should be treated as such.

In Detroit, teachers are on the front lines of an educational apocalypse. So many are trying to advocate for students struggling with crippling poverty, violent crime and severe health problems due to lax environmental standards.

But too many Republicans just see them as union stooges, not people dedicated to making a difference in children’s lives.

Teachers may sadly be an easy political target in Michigan, but Republicans should probably think twice before tangling with Duggan. He’s been around a lot longer than House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) and his posse. He knows how to broker deals and deal with his enemies.

And he knows Detroit will never fully recover without a functional school district where residents want to send their kids.

If House Republicans insist on standing in the way of his city’s progress, Duggan won’t forget it.

And he may just decide that the only way to really get things done is from the governor’s chair.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Modern-Day Journalism and the Surrealness of Internet Hate

I’m a political columnist, the owner of a well-established publication, and yes, the owner of ovaries. So Twitter trolls, online harassment and even a couple death threats (though not recently) are nothing new.

But the last few days have been nothing if not surreal. I published a longform piece in Salon on the Flint water crisis, Gov. Rick Snyder and his predecessor, Jennifer Granholm –– which was excerpted by Deadline Detroit. It started as a column and blossomed into something more. It was a labor of love about the state I love, which has been torn apart by horrible decisions and indifference in the current administration. I have to say, the positive reaction from readers –– especially from some who have been my frequent adversaries –– has been humbling.

Now there are always naysayers. Not everyone agreed with my decision several months ago, for instance, to cut ties with Bill Ballenger, from whom I bought Inside Michigan Politics in 2013. But Bill’s comments about the Flint water crisis weren’t just insensitive; they were inaccurate. The main issue was, as CNN put it in a big subhead: “Scientists not in agreement with Ballenger.” As a journalist, I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

Susan J. Demas: The whole world is watching Flint

When national and international attention becomes fixated on Michigan, it's rarely a good thing.

Starting in the '80s, our huge auto job losses caused media to periodically flock to ogle ruin porn in Detroit. Jack Kevorkian's attention-grabbing antics made Michigan the assisted-suicide capital in the '90s (and probably set the cause back decades).

Three years ago, it was Gov. Rick Snyder's decision to sign Right to Work in the birthplace of the UAW (which began to tarnish some of his moderate sheen).

Today, it's Flint — the once-bustling auto mecca that was home to the 1936-37 sit-down strikes at GM.

Susan J. Demas: Big government saved the auto industry –– and Michigan

As people from around the globe descend on Detroit for the annual auto show, signs of the 2009 auto bailout's success are everywhere.

That's why President Barack Obama is scheduled to drop by for a victory lap.

In 2015, U.S. auto sales hit a record 17.5 million, with General Motors sales up 8 percent, prompting the once-collapsing company to revise its '16 earnings forecast upward.

Chrysler, whose new Pacifica has been dubbed the unlikely "star of the auto show," saw sales rise 7 percent last year.

Read more.