What Detroit Needs Is an HNIC

With a former mayor convicted and an emergency chief in the works, it's time for an old-school boss.

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Since that time, corruption, nepotism and incompetence has always been a recurring cancer no matter who the mayor has been, whether Albert Cobo, Jerome Cavanaugh, Young or current Mayor Bing.

In addition to Reading, there was Mayor Charles Bowles -- his 1930 election came in part from Ku Klux Klan support -- who was recalled based on corruption allegations. Former mayor and later City Councilman Louis Miriani was convicted for income tax evasion in 1969. Charles Beckham, who ran the Water and Sewerage Department, was found guilty in 1984 of taking a bribe in exchange for a contract, and in 1994 former police Chief William Hart was convicted of embezzling more than $2 million. Young himself was the subject of five federal investigations, but none of them ever stuck.

So with all this corruption in Detroit's history, why does it need an HNIC? Hasn't the leadership shown that it's chronically corrupt?

Well, because Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder is pretty much set to install an emergency financial manager, or EFM, for the city, it essentially makes Detroit a province of the state capital, Lansing. It means that citizen voting rights basically have been evaporated, much to the chagrin of many and the glee of others. It weakens the City Council and puts it in a position of forced surrender, even though they are appealing the governor's decision. It turns Mayor Bing into "the Help."

Though the intention is to fix an abysmally broken financial structure -- in this case a $300 million deficit and $14 billion in long-term liabilities -- installing an EFM essentially is a message to Detroiters that they simply are not smart enough to wash their own behinds.

But having grown up there, I know that is not true.

Believe me, I was there for the worst days of the crack epidemic, the gang Young Boys Inc., even the Errol Flynns. I remember Young's South African Krugerrand controversy, as well as the decision to let casinos move in, which I still believe was ill-conceived. The people wanted, even begged, for some direction to keep the varied communities intact.

Through it all, there has been a lack of strong leadership to say, "This is what's good for Detroit. Let's be smart, let's right this ship, and because I've got the plan and political will behind me, I will lead you out of this mess." Meanwhile, that infamous divide along 8 Mile Road has become wider and wider.

Now, I don't think there is some messiah capable of miracles on Woodward Avenue. Young himself said, "There is no brilliant single stroke that is going to transform the water into wine or straw into gold." But effective, Teflon leadership with nothing to gain from a kickback, whose actual interest is the betterment of the city for its own sake and whose purpose for being a city official is to guarantee complete social and economic democracy -- and, most important, autonomy -- to the citizenry, is the missing link in a city that has badly needed it for the better part of the last century.

Will Detroit ever get an HNIC? Hard to say. That's not going to happen with the governor choosing one for them, and the EFM will be there for at least 18 months. There is a mayoral election this year, with several vying for the office. With the female candidates Krystal Crittendon (former corporation counsel for the City of Detroit Law Department) and former State Rep. Lisa Howze in the running, the city may well get its first female HNIC -- or even a white HNIC, with Mike Duggan, former head of the Detroit Medical Center and former Wayne County deputy executive, running.