From Desolation to Determination: Detroit Seeks To Rise

Three years ago, John Hantz, a financial-services entrepreneur proposed converting 10,000 acres of vacant land in Detroit to a for-profit urban farm. This change would make Detroit the site of the world’s largest urban farm. The acreage has been reduced to 200 acres and the plan is gaining support.

What’s going on in Motown; the city built on the proliferation of automobiles? According to the 2010 census the population has fallen to less than 714,000 from 1.8 million in 1950. Real estate values have plummeted and thousands of buildings are abandoned, stifling real estate tax income. The city has close to $6 Billion in liabilities for employee pensions and healthcare benefits. Almost a third of the citizens receive welfare and nearly half are functionally illiterate. In 2007, fewer than 25% of those who started high school ended up with diplomas. An organization named the “Michigan Welfare Rights Organization” has as their motto, “You get what you are organized to take.”

A Senator and three Representatives, all Democrats, have represented districts in and around Detroit for a total of 166 years! Have they unwittingly conspired to help their constituents spurn the dignity of education and employment in favor of government handouts? Have the politicians traded entitlements for votes?

John Conyers (83) is the second longest-serving representative in the US Congress. He has represented Michigan’s 14th district since 1965. John Dingell, Jr. (86) of the 15th congressional district is the longest-serving member of the US Congress. Dingell took the congressional seat his father held from 1933 until 1955. Sander Levin (81) has represented the 12th congressional district since 1983. Sander’s brother, Carl Levin (78) has been a member of the US Senate since 1979.

Detroit’s downfall probably started when cars with names like Datsun (now Nissan), Honda, and Volkswagen started showing up on US highways, but there are other factors aplenty. In addition, corruption has been widespread. Five school officials were charged with embezzling thousands of dollars while the school district had a $259 Million budget deficit. A former chief administrative officer of the city pleaded guilty to corruption and tax offenses totaling more than $160,000. Monica Conyers (48), wife of Congressman John Conyers and former member of the Detroit City Council, was sentenced in federal court in May 2011 to 37 months in prison for bribery.

Following guilty pleas of obstruction of justice and assaulting a police officer, Mayor (since 2001) Kwame Kilpatrick (42) resigned in September 2008. A federal trial beginning in September 2012 on charges of extortion, bribery and fraud could bring up to 30 years in prison for the former mayor. He owes the city $1 Million in restitution.

Following Kilpatrick’s resignation in disgrace, Dave Bing (69) was elected Mayor, taking office on May 11, 2009. Bing was a highly successful businessman in the Detroit area following 12 years as a standout player with the Detroit Pistons. Named one of basketball’s 50 best players of all time, he retired from the sport after the 1977-’78 season.

Bing has accepted the awesome challenge of returning the city to financial, social, commercial and lawful stability. His most recent step was a reduction in pay, higher out-of-pocket healthcare costs, limited overtime and reduced accumulated vacation time for all public workers. Union leaders have called the changes an “attack on labor.”

Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, has provided funding help from the state. City and state leaders must now focus on restoring pride and achievement by residents. The rebuilding will be strengthened when the voters replace their politicians with men and women leaders that can help transform welfare to work, entitlements to education and desolation to determination.

By Dick Baynton