Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Posted: March 10, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog explores topics beyond the work world in “Sabbath.”]

Detroit and Democracy

I wanted to do more to prepare more to write this post, but I’ve had work responsibilities this week and weekend that would not let me dive into research and numbers.  Even so, I feel a need to express my less than informed opinion on a vital topic – the impending takeover of Detroit.

It’s not the big media story I thought it would be.  It’s taken as a given that Detroit is “bankrupt” and “something has to be done.”  I’ve even heard that claim in progressive media.  Is Detroit in trouble?  Of course, it is.  So are many other large American cities that have lost their industrial base.  No one seems to be asking if there are alternatives to taking power from the hands of elected officials and putting it in the hands of an unelected Emergency Manager.  Governor Rick Snyder presents this solution that he has introduced in other cities as the only way to save the state’s biggest city.

Let’s take a minute and ask some questions:

1.  Is the situation as bad as the governor claims?  Why is Michigan the only state in the nation where such action is taking place on such a scale?  Is the governor really concerned about helping cities, or is he working off an ALEC playbook strategy to transfer public wealth into private hands?  Is there any evidence that Emergency Managers in other cities have made a long term improvement in local conditions – long term, not a simple give away to the connected class?

2.  Where is the wealth?  Throughout America, central cities are surrounded by suburbs that conduct business in and take their identity from the urban hub.  Could some system be devised where those who benefit from the hub pay their share for its upkeep?  Why not tax suburbs that have a surplus?  Why not introduce county wide or regional taxes that would help revive great American cities?

Here in Chicago we’ve had similar claims of impending ruin.  One of Mayor Daley’s chief aides used the term “Doomsday” in talking about the state of the city’s school system and public transit system.  Both systems were cut in the face of such claims.  Mayor Daley also transferred public assets of parking meters and a public toll road to private interests.  The city’s finances are not better.  In fact, by the end of the contract, the city will lose money on the parking meter contract.  Now Mayor Emanuel want to close over 100 schools because of a pending billion dollar deficit.  Is this a real problem or a way to move students from public to “charter” schools?

Whenever a politician claims a situation is an emergency, we need to ask for better evidence and transparency, not solutions that make the original problem worse and benefit only those who are the most wealthy.  We need to ask harder questions about our leaders and their solutions, especially those that deal with privatization.  The fate of Detroit and other cities in Michigan need to seen as a sign of things to come.  Will the U.S. live up to its promise of being a democracy that offers opportunity to all of its people, including the poor?  Or will the country further devolve into an oligarchy of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy?

Postscript: On this weekend’s Smiley and West radio program, Cornel West said: “You can’t love money and love poor people.” He was criticizing political leaders, both Republicans and Democrats.  I can only respond with one word: Amen.

More:  Laura Clawson of Daily Kos weighs in on the consequences of a Detroit take over and what has happened in other Michigan cities that have lost their democratic rule.