Detroit renaissance is an oxymoron

City of Detroit

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has escaped open criticism for failing to make significant progress in transforming the city. That should not, however, be interpreted as job approval. There is reason to believe that the business community is disillusioned with the beleaguered executive.

I come to that conclusion based on personal experience that goes back to late 2000 or early 2001. I was an editorial writer/columnist for The Detroit News. Then-Mayor Dennis Archer had yet to make a decision whether to seek a third term.

I was invited to lunch by a “representative” — whose name I won’t reveal – from what was then Detroit Renaissance. Its members included the top CEOs in the region, including Dave Bing.

The purpose of the meeting was to ask who I thought would be a good candidate to run against Archer should he decide to enter the race. I was told the corporate community was upset with Archer about the pace of, if not lack of progress in the city.

Archer was first elected on the theme of “Let the Future Begin.” The future, however, never got off the ground during his eight-year tenure. In fact, it ground to a halt.

It wasn’t that the group thought Archer was a bad guy. He was and is a likable, accomplished individual. The concerned expressed by the Detroit Renaissance representative was that Archer had rejected out of hand several “best practices” studies the organization had financed for his benefit, along with other recommendations to improve the city.

The group experienced a similar snubbing from Mayor Coleman Young, who unceremoniously rejected the Detroit Strategic Plan drawn up by the organization years earlier. It’s fair to say the corporate community shed no tears when Archer chose not to seek reelection.

Around the same time, high level “representatives” of the Detroit Regional Chamber encouraged me to take the temperature of then-State Representative Kwame Kilpatrick to see if he might be talked into running against Archer. I met twice with Kwame to let him know that the business organization might be interested in financing his mayoral campaign. The rest is history.

Mayor Bing also was elected with a fanfare equal to that of his predecessors. He too enjoyed enormous business and public backing, and was once described as being “Detroit’s last best hope.”

71057021This mayor also squandered opportunities. EMS, fire and police operations are understaffed or underequipped. His “build it and they will come” light rail development strategy is destined to be a costly joke. His “land use” project is at least a decade from fruition. Neighborhood neglect continues to be characterized by dilapidated, abandoned houses.

Mayor Bing’s fiscal reality is distorted if he believes that asking the two city pension funds to defer $60 million in payments is the preferred way to balance the budget. This merely affirms that metaphorically Detroit is a comatose patient on artificial life support and ought to be taken out of its misery by an emergency financial manager.

Giving the boot to 45 to 50 of his appointees since taking office is not just a serious management deficiency, it denoted instability, which puts a damper on business confidence.

It would be a rare occurrence for the business/corporate community to publicly chastised sitting mayors. Silence prevailed even when the Kilpatrick scandal became too much for business leaders to accept. A few met privately to devise a means by which they would essentially pay Kwame to leave office – for the good of the city.

The corporate/business community no longer seeks my advice. No one whispers in my ear to hold the mayor’s feet to the fire. I’m not trying to drum Mayor Bing out of office. He’s a good guy with an tough job. However, the departure of businesses and employment opportunities shows no sign of abatement under his leadership.

I can only guess why Detroit Renaissance recently changed its name to Business Leaders for Michigan and broadened its focus. Did the organization conclude that “Detroit Renaissance” was no longer apropos, an oxymoron?


1 thought on “Detroit renaissance is an oxymoron

  1. This group that now calls itself the Busniness Leaders of Michigan should really call it self the Business Leaders for Failure. They haven’t done a damn thing for the betterment of Detroit or the State of Michigan. Their choice to support and back Kwame Kilpatrick is a glaring example of why this State and Nation is in such economic turmoil. If that bunch of incompetent busines Gurus can call themselves busniness leaders I can imagine what they would credit themselves with if Kwame gets prosecuted by the Feds. Does one think that a group that poured money into Kwame’s campaign and then gave him money to leave Michigan has any credibility? It is amzing all of the stature they are given. This country and state is in the doldrums because of the decisions and ineptitude made by the busniess community. The man or woman on the shop floor, the DPW truck driver or the class room teacher didn’t make the financial decisions that has this country in a tailspin. The Business Leaders are a joke!
    They keep selling that kool aid that if we cut busniess taxes, cut state employee pay and benefits, eliminate Act #312, have all future teachers hired by school districts go into a defined contribution plan and downsize government Michigan will be competitve.
    Their hypocrisy is incredible! Some of their leadership worked for John Engler on the family pan which means I can be on the government dole and so can my spouse. Interesting how those who believe state employee pay should be cut but when they are on the government payroll it’s not a problem. It’s also interesting that Engler who cut taxes (at least thats what he told everybody and many believed it) left office with unemployment rising and the loss of nearly 300,000 jobs in his last two years in office. Did cutting taxes prevent that from Happening? I am convinced that Bing is in over his head and, as I feared he thought he could run government like a busniess and apparently he is finding out that he cannot. People need to understand that a busniess exists to make money and a profit. Like it or not government is supposed to provide services from the taxes it collects. It can only provide service by the revenue it collects. It can’t raise prices but has to eat price increases on purchase of goods it needs from pencils to fire trucks to provide the services people expect. And yes there is probably a lot more oversignt in managing a government institution than a business if it is done honestly without corruption or dishonest and corrupt persons administering the entity’s operation.

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