Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s out of character response to Gov. Rick Snyder’s Belle Isle rescue plan is a throwback to the bad of days and Mayor Coleman Young’s “us versus them” mindset. Thus, the restoration of the island, and the means to pay for it, has created a political chasm that sends the signal that Detroit and Lansing has a ways to go before becoming a successful working partnership.
Mayor Young never hesitated to accuse the Legislature, the governor or anyone else he thought interfered with his single-minded ability to run the city into the ground, of trying to take back the city or take over its jewels. Young was even able to use the “circle the wagons” strategy to solidify public support in browbeating the Legislature into giving the city the okay to take a massive income tax hike to a vote.
“I have never in my 46 years in this city seen a governor of the state of Michigan involved in city politics like this one,” Bing said while addressing an NAACP function. “I’m not opposed to getting help. But it’s the kind of help that we need, not the kind of help that’s going to be imposed on us.”
Maybe it was the venue. Maybe he was trying to establish his ghetto creds. But Bing virulently and summarily rejected a proposal that reportedly includes leasing Belle Isle for 99 years, a $10 entrance fee for cars and the use of state funds for a variety of fixes.
Some members of the City Council joined the mayor in declaring Snyder’s island solution D.O.A.
“This is the wrong environment to talk about any state control of another city asset,” chimed in Council President Charles Pugh. “Instead of giving up all control of Belle Isle, we should have an intelligent conversation about how we can maintain city control, but have a smart partnership. I want to maintain city control of Belle Isle, but I want to improve it greatly. It’s tattered and downward-spiraled to a place that is disrespectful to our citizens.”
These are the hard facts: Mayor Young’s hostility toward Lansing divided rather than benefitted the city. Bing is on course to do the same. And under Bing, there’s a lot less left in Detroit to “take” these days, and much more to “save.”
The Bing’s administration can’t properly care for Belle Isle, or effectively manage any city-provided service. A trip to the island reveals the consequences of years of neglect and inaction: heaps of debris, deplorable restrooms, deteriorating buildings, vandalism, theft and unsightliness.
Because the Bing administration lacks the resources to make any of these deficiencies better, the mayor is in a poor position to make enemies in Lansing or outrageous demands. Add the loss of political clout to the city’s depleted tax rolls and it becomes clear that Detroit needs all the friends and all the help Lansing is willing to give.
The mayor and council – and their predecessors — have toyed with the Belle Isle issue too long and to the detriment of Belle Isle patrons. Putting approval of the state plan on a fast track would begin the process of allowing every Detroiter from every income bracket to participate in the rebirth of the once treasured isle.
Meanwhile, Mayor Bing needs to learn how to play a better game of coalition politics. If he doesn’t, it’s a sure bet that Belle Isle will become an even more desolate, tarnished gem. And if he continues to practice the politics of confrontation, the city’s ability to again manage its own affairs will be short-circuited by a date with insolvency.