Beyond Divas and Demagogues

THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Beyond Divas and Demagogues
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Mar. 14, 2009

I am no apologist for the Detroit City Council. Like a lot of Detroiters, I was stunned by the news coverage of Council members singing in the midst of a meeting called to overturn Mayor Cockrel’s effort to veto the Council’s rejection of a regional authority to take over Cobo Hall. I am among the first to say that Council President Monica Conyers is no Erma Henderson.

At the same time there is something about how the mainstream media has been handling this whole controversy that I have found profoundly disturbing. Then, this week Crain’s published an editorial called “Voices of reason need to speak up” that crystallized my concern. In a few short paragraphs Crain’s managed to convey a combination of arrogance, insensitivity, name-calling, and lack of information that it needs to examine if it really wants to play a part in repairing “the damage and move this region forward.”

Crain’s, like most of the mainstream media, has given little serious coverage to the main objections of the City Council to the Cobo deal. There are at least four substantial issues that deserve consideration.

First, the proposed configuration of the regional authority would be a 5 member board with one person appointed by the Detroit Mayor, three appointed by Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County leadership, and one appointed by the Governor. In essence, Detroiters would have a minor voice, at best, in the decision making of this regional authority.

Second, the proposed authority would not have to retain the current city workers at Cobo. Nor are there any provisions that future hiring would emphasize people who live in the city. This argument is frequently dismissed in the media, but it is a central concern of most Detroiters. Time and again we have seen jobs flow out of our city to the point where even those who run for Mayor don’t think they have to live here to work here.

Third, there is no guarantee that new construction would be required to use city residents or city companies. Thus the benefits of expansion, including increased tax revenues generated by income and business profits, would flow to surrounding communities, not Detroit.

Fourth, the only recognition of Detroit’s long-standing support for Cobo would be the continuation of responsibility for its debt. In the event Cobo has a short fall “the local government will be responsible for the difference between costs and revenue.”

Beyond these arguments are deeper questions about the racial divide in southeast Michigan. Detroit is constantly portrayed in the mainstream media as somewhere between incompetent and corrupt. Yet for the past 40 years, unlike our suburban neighbors, Detroiters have passed every bond issue for regional institutions. We have consistently supported schools, museums, libraries, parks and zoos. Even in the most difficult of times, Detroiters have placed a high value on protecting cultural and educational resources.

Meanwhile, the surrounding suburbs have consistently voted against assuming any financial burden for these institutions and squashed the one regional effort that would make a real difference in the lives of many people, regional public transportation.

Crain’s does not even describe the objections to the regional authority. Instead it engages in name-calling, referring to the council as “Detroit Divas” and “demagogues.”

While claiming the mantle of reasoned discourse, Crain’s name-calling and refusal to look at substance only heightens the racialized climate it purports to find objectionable.

Regionalism has become a code word for taking things from the city. Instead of trying to ridicule the City Council into silence, the media should be fostering deeper discussions of what a real regional economy, based on principles of equity and sustainability, would look like.

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