Michigan Governor Rick Snyder presents his third state budget before the state Legislature, Thursday, February 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Recalling the partial meltdown of a nearby nuclear power plant a decade earlier, and a book that revealed the extent of the crisis, Gil Scott Heron sang in 1977, “We Almost Lost Detroit.”
The city survived, and remains home to 700,000 Americans and the symbolic center of the nation’s auto industry. But after decades of neglect by federal and state officials, and a meltdown of American manufacturing, Detroit is facing hard economic times.
Detroit is up against plenty of threats. But the most pressing one today is political.
If Michigan Governor Rick Snyder gets his way, Detroit runs the risk of losing democracy.
Snyder, a Republican who led the charge for Michigan’s enactment of an anti-labor “right-to-work” law last year, is targeting Detroit for a state takeover that will disempower the elected mayor and city council and give authority over the city’s finances, service delivery and direction to an appointed “emergency manager.”
The dramatic move, which is opposed by local officials and community activists, seems all but certain to be made within days. Snyder signals that he is determined to go ahead, employing the authority that he has taken up for himself to disempower local elected officials and replace them with an appointee who can impose cuts to public services, toss out policies established by the voters and their elected representatives and trash contracts with unions representing municipal employees.
As significantly, the emergency manager has the power to begin bartering off Detroit’s assets in a frenzy that could privatize waterfront recreation facilities, museums and public utilities.
The Reverend D. Alexander Bullock, a prominent local pastor who serves as president of the Detroit chapter of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, tells local reporters that Snyder’s intended move is nothing less than “the death of democracy in Detroit.”
His point is well taken. Detroit City Council member Ken Cockrel Jr. says “strong, independent-minded [citizens] want to help the city” by seeking and holding local elected positions have every reason to ask: “Why should I run for public office in the city of Detroit if the only thing I’m going to have the authority to do is pass out resolutions and kiss babies because an [emergency manager] is the one calling all the shots?”
Snyder is preparing to do by fiat what he and his political allies could not do at the polls: take charge of local government in Michigan’s largest city. In the 2012 election, Democrat Barack Obama received 98 percent of the almost 300,000 votes cast in Detroit, while Republican Mitt Romney took just over 2 percent. No Republican contender for federal, state or local office won more than 6 percent of the vote in the city.