Huffpost Detroit
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

John K. Bennett Headshot

Blame for Detroit's Problems Falls on You, the Voter

Posted: Updated:
Print

Go anywhere around the city, in the barbershops, around the water coolers at work and on local talk radio and the discussion regarding where to lay blame for the condition of the city will rage on for hours, days and lately years. A lot of the fault is placed at the doorstep of elected officials past and present. It's not uncommon to hear many lay blame on former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has become a lightning rod for Detroit's resentment. No one can blame Detroiters for feeling that way about the former mayor -- he certainly deserves every bit of the rage directed his way for not only being a failed mayor, but more recently an absolute irritant and an embarrassment to this city. There's not too many people with a rational thought who would argue that his time in the mayor's office even came close to being a success. The result is scandal and indictments. But he's not alone in receiving the out pouring of anger from Detroiters who feel betrayed. In the last decade Detroit has had two council members indicted and sent to prison (Monica Conyers, Lonnie Bates). Another council person (Kay Everett) under investigation and facing indictment before illness shortened her life. A mayor already sent to jail for perjury and now facing federal charges for fraud, embezzlement and racketeering. And this is only in the city of Detroit. Wayne County Commissioner Jewel Ware has been under investigation for questionable behavior and most recently Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano office has garnered the attention of the feds for unscrupulous behavior. Both those investigations are still ongoing.

There is a common thread in all of these situations. The voters of Detroit and Wayne County have done a poor job of selecting its leaders. The result is malfeasance and constant scandal. In 2001 Detroit voters went to the polls and elected Kwame Kilpatrick Mayor of Detroit. Prior to that election it was reported by several news outlets that Kilpatrick had undertaken some questionable practices while a state representative in Lansing, Michigan. He is accused of misusing his authority as a state representative and then as Detroit mayor to commit extortion, bribery and fraud. There was enough there to create a considerable amount of doubt on whether he should be mayor of Detroit. However Detroit voters elected him anyway. His first four years in office was a period of continued doubt about his character and brewing scandals. There was enough evidence there to send him packing after the first term. The city was in worse shape than when he took office and in many corners of Detroit the conversation grew about corruption within his administration. In 2005 the voters went to the polls and re-elected Kilpatrick and also placed Monica Conyers on City Council. Conyers was new to City Council. Her opportunity came when Lonnie Bates was tossed off of Council after being indicted and sent to prison. Conyers was the 2nd highest vote getter behind Council President Ken Cockrel. That made her council president pro-tem. But for the last name she shared with long time Congressman John Conyers, her husband, she would not have been elected. Monica Conyers didn't make it to her second term before she became embroiled in scandal, indicted for receiving kickbacks and sent off to prison.

How could this be? How can a city have this number of clearly corrupt individuals elected to serve? It comes back to voters simply not doing their homework before selecting candidates. In many, if not all of these cases there was enough evidence there to give one pause. But instead, as Detroit voters tend to do, they lean on name identity. Who is most popular? Or they will just rely completely on the recommendations of the newspaper editorial boards. Go back and check and you will find that in 2001 the editorial boards picked Kwame Kilpatrick. By 2005 they realized the error of their ways but they in turn suggested Monica Conyers for City Council. Yes, the blame for Detroit's current condition has to be placed squarely at the feet of voter. But with that it should be said, there are three types of voter: those that will vote, those that won't vote and those that can't vote. The worst of the group I believe are those that won't. Not exercising your right to vote is criminal. Of course you have the right not to exercise your right, but when you don't, you have no right to complain. Then you have those who do vote, like I discussed. God bless 'em they don't take the time to educate themselves on whom to vote for but they vote consistently and regularly. And lastly, THE can't vote group are those who work and earn a paycheck from the city but can't participate in deciding their own fate. Since the change in State Law and the removal of the residency requirement for municipal workers in 1999 many city workers have moved away and though it may have seemed like a good idea at the time it's now become a double-edge sword because when matters arise that directly affect city employees and it comes to a vote or candidates come along who would be a positive or a negative for city workers there is no vote that can be cast; it's like taxation without representation. So in a manner of speaking even the can't vote group is to blame for the city of Detroit's current troubles. The bottom line is one way to make Detroit a better city is people have to vote and it has to be an educated vote. Experience and years of decline is proof that what has contributed to Detroit's demise is an uninformed, uneducated or unwilling voter.