A mother and child sit on the beach on Belle Isle in Detroit, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. (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 exceptionally hard economic times.
Detroit is up against plenty of threats. But the most pressing political threat over the past several months has come from a Republican governor who seeks to impose his will on a city that did not choose him or his austerity agenda.
On Thursday afternoon, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder made his move.
And the notion that the people who live in America’s great cities must govern their own affairs took a huge hit.
Snyder, the Republican who led the charge for Michigan’s enactment of an anti-labor “right-to-work” law last year, announced that he had approved legal steps to steer the state’s largest city toward bankruptcy. He made no bones about who was in charge, declaring in a statement attached to the bankruptcy filing that “I’m making this tough decision…”
Earlier this year, the governor engineered a state-driven takeover of Detroit that disempowered the elected mayor and city council and gave authority over decisions about the city’s finances, service delivery and direction to an appointed “emergency manager.”
On Thursday afternoon, Snyder signed off on the filing of paperwork seeking Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. On Friday, a Michigan judge ordered Snyder's emergency manager to withdraw the federal bankruptcy petition. Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina's order declared the 2012 Michigan law that allowed Snyder to approve the city's bankruptcy filing violated the state Constitution. Michigan's Republican attorney general immediately announced that he would appeal the ruling, and analysts warned that federal bankruptcy law often trumps state protections.