In an ideal world I would be doing a post about the Reese Witherspoon movie and not the third of four elections in Detroit this year. Normally I don't like to get into the whole political thing here because I am pretty much an idiot. I leave political analysis to people who know, like Woodward's Friend over at Dyspathy. Plus if my secret identity is ever compromised then I will be held accountable for anything I've said on here and what if I have become BFF's with, say, Martha-Rose Reeves by then? Embarrassing.
This election is pretty significant because of the absolute insanity that has been coming out of city hall over the past few years. It's a real chance to get some agents of change in charge, as uphill a battle as that seems; Detroit is a city that really does seem invested in maintaining the status quo. From a gay blogger perspective, it is also significant because we have the first openly gay city council candidate running, local media celebutante Charles Pugh.
So I am just going to weigh in with a few thoughts and Detroit voters, you can take it from there.
Clearly it is significant that an openly-gay man is not only running for City Council in Detroit, but appears to be in the lead in the polls. Detroit is notorious for its culture of homophobia in the African-American churches. And those churches really drive a large portion of the voting electorate here. It just goes to show how strong the celebrity/name recognition effect is in Detroit elections.
Pugh's platform seems relatively innocuous, and hits some of the right notes. I think he is right that crime needs to be addressed as Detroit's single biggest issue and the rest will follow. And I am heartened to see him talk about the need for regionalism in creating a plan for public transportation - I hope that transfers to other efforts as well.
Neighborhood services, parks, community pride - everyone mentions those with few specifics about how they will improve them - but I think someone with Pugh's popularity could be very effective at raising community morale about these things.
I don't see a lot about fiscal responsibility, economic development and making the city a better place for businesses, large and small (other than "I will allocate a portion of my budget to visit and work with store chains around the country and encourage them to invest inside the city of Detroit." Feh.) And he does not discuss the issue of right-sizing the city.
Anecdotally I can only throw in a few observations. On the plus side, I've heard he is incredibly nice and a good listener. And of course his life story is inspiring. And he really believes in this cause: I've heard he is convinced he can make Detroit better.
On the flip side, maybe we don't really need someone who has quite the kind of ego involved in thinking they can single-handedly make considerable improvements in Detroit. And judging from the short-lived Facebook post of an ex-lover a few weeks ago (it pays to have lots of Facebook friends), that narcissism seems to extend into the personal realm. Deja vu?
And I have no fewer than four reports from white Detroiters that he always seems to assume they must not live in the city when he encounters them. From a resident of Brush Park, this seems a bit ridiculous.
So does Charles Pugh get the Supergay endorsement? Sure .... why not.
I don't think he would be disaster by any means, he is charismatic and beloved by many. And I don't think we can underestimate the message that electing him sends to gays in the region about Detroit as a good place for living as a gay person (which pretty much any gay Detroiter will tell you, but this broadcast goes much further). But honestly I think there are a lot of other choices in this election who will be more effective in transforming Detroit.
I don't have a slate of 18 candidates for your reference. One friend says she is only voting for accountants, city planners or attorneys, which is a pretty good plan (although I pointed out Mon Con was in fact an attorney). There are some great candidates out there: incumbent Kenneth Cockrel and contenders Saunteel Jenkins, Lisa Howze (an accountant!) and Andre Spivey seems to get high marks from editorial boards as well as voters I have talked to. Other candidates that come highly recommended include James Tate, John Bennett, and Fred Elliot Hall.
And now, I want to take a second to put in a plug for my friend Matt Naimi.
Matt is the candidate I feel could help Detroit become the forward-looking city it needs to be. Matt is a business owner who is responsible for creating the city's RecycleHere! program, and has a strong and progressive "green" platform that I think hits the right notes and can make transformations other candidates aren't even considering.
Fighting blight, which he cites as a breeding ground for crime, with "smart" demolition; developing green technologies; encouraging urban agriculture; treating recycled material as a resource; right-sizing the city - these inititatives will not only address Detroit problems, they frame Detroit as a city looking to the future and the role of an industrial city in the 21st century. You can read more about his platform at vote4growth.com.
Matt has worked extensively with city government and community groups and knows how the city's public works department works. He also knows the challenges business owners face. And as a resident he knows how important a cohesive community is. He also knows that that working on city council means harnessing the strengths of various members, and applying your best judgement to the result.
The attitudes and approaches of Detroit's government are seriously outdated: they barely worked when the city was flush and they are counterproductive with the city in its current state. I think everyone agrees drastic change is needed.
I am singling out Matt not just because he is my friend, but because I really strongly feel that if Detroit embraces a new way of thinking it will not only create solutions for current problems but change the image of Detroit in the country. And trust me, I normally hate the hippy green bullshit. But Detroit is a place of incredible opportunity - on a micro and macro level - and I think some of these ideas really do make sense in this context. Matt can really help Detroit become an exciting, new kind of city.
And a last thought about City Council primary voting - you don't have to vote for 18 candidates! Don't just pick random names to fill out the ballot, only vote for the candidates you know are comfortable with. And mostly ignore incumbents, mbien?
Speaking of drastic change
Finally - if you are a Detroit voter and have not signed the petition to create City Council by District, please do so immediately or sooner. Get more information HERE, you can probably sign a petition at the polls tomorrow. They need all the signatures they can get and tomorrow night is the deadline!
There's no guarantee that Council by District will eliminate corrupt politicians in Detroit government, but it will create more accountability and make a relatively insane primary election process a lot more manageable. It will also help underrepresented areas of the city get the voice they need on City Council. And there is no guarantee that the City Charter revision committee will instate council by district - they passed on it in the last revision in 1993.
OK, do what I just said above and then we can say we helped move Detroit forward!