Why Wayne county matters 

Evans should beat Ficano in Wayne county executive race

No, you really can’t make this stuff up. 

Bob Ficano’s administration wasted $125 million on a new jail that will never be finished. The county piled up debt, made insanely huge “severance payments” to executives leaving for better jobs, and endured scandal after scandal.

You might think that Ficano ought to be hiding out with little-boy-bothering Charles Pugh somewhere in Harlem.

But, nope. Believe it or not, Battlin’ Bob is runnin’ for re-election. During a candidates forum two weeks ago, he uttered words sure to make you laugh (or cry).

“We will not have an emergency manager.” Bobby said. “We will not have a consent order, because I was able to bring fiscal responsibility back to the county.”

Whoever said Kwame had nerve?! This was especially hilarious, since the state rejected a draft of Ficano’s plan to eliminate $175 million in debt back in April.

Unless this gets worked out soon — and maybe even if it does — there is indeed the possibility of an emergency manager for Wayne County.

And that would be anything but hilarious. Michigan has been struggling to regain prosperity in the wake of the auto industry’s permanent contraction.

Having both the state’s biggest city and biggest county (as well as its biggest school system) taken over by the state would be a huge ad for Pure Dysfunction Michigan.

Which means the upcoming election for county executive is crucial. Fortunately, the polls show Ficano running out of the money. His vote totals may serve mainly as an index of how many deranged persons voted that day.

It’s important to note that the Aug. 5 Democratic primary is the real election here. Yeah, there will be a GOP nominee for country executive. But whoever the Democrats nominate is the sure winner. There are 11 names on the primary ballot, but only four are anything like serious contenders.

There’s state Rep. Phil Cavanagh of Redford Township, also a former county commissioner — and the son of one of Detroit’s best-remembered mayors; and Kevin McNamara, son of Ed, Wayne County’s longtime and last effective political boss.

Bill Wild, the mayor of Westland, is running, and is a factor mainly because Edsel Ford and other swells have been contributing to his campaign.

And then there’s the man who is most likely to win: former Detroit police chief and Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans, who I spent an hour or so with last week.

The mathematics of the race doesn’t require computers. Nearly half the electorate will be black. Warren Evans is both the only major African-American candidate, and the best-known. I spent an hour talking to him the other day, and was frankly more impressed than I expected. Evans told me the first thing he would do is order a forensic audit of everything in the county — and stress transparency in everything.

Evans’ résumé is similar to that of Benny Napoleon, who also has been both Wayne County sheriff and Detroit police chief. When he ran for mayor last year, Napoleon had difficulty articulating a vision for anything other than fighting crime. 

Evans, however, seems to have more of a big picture vision. He noted that he has been a top administrator of huge departments, and stayed within his budgets and accomplished his goals, especially in reducing violent crime.

Unfortunately, he does have one blemish on his record. Five years ago, he gave up his elected job as county sheriff to become Detroit police chief under Mayor Dave Bing.

But the next year he was fired. Bing said that stemmed both from the fact that Evans was dating a police lieutenant and because of two bizarre reality show incidents. One was a pilot for a proposed TV show in which “the chief” would be the star.

The other was a botched police raid that ended in the accidental fatal police shooting of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Evans believes he got a raw deal, especially so far as his romantic life was concerned. On that, he seems to be right. Both parties were single, and their relationship was open, known to the mayor, and violated no department policies.

The reality show incidents do seem, in hindsight, to have been mistakes of judgment — but hardly hardcore corruption.

The last thing anyone in Michigan needs is a county executive unable to balance the numbers and keep the wheels on the bus in the state’s largest county. My guess is that Warren Evans just might have the tools and the wisdom to get it done. 

 

Safe bet on the EAA:  Here’s a prediction: Veronica Conforme, the interim chancellor of Detroit’s troubled Education Achievement Authority, will get the permanent job.

How do I know? Two weeks ago, I wrote about the EAA’s sorry record, right after Chancellor John Covington “resigned,” allegedly to care for his ailing mama.

The governor’s office took exception to a sentence in which I wrote that “Conforme, the ‘education consultant’ who temporarily replaced Covington, vowed that she too was determined to help Detroit’s kids, and crowed that ‘the EAA has shattered the status quo that held them back.’”

Dave Murray, the governor’s deputy press secretary, accused me of “belittling Ms. Conforme’s experience,” and proceeded to recite her résumé to me.

He then helpfully suggested that I should’ve written “Conforme, the former chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the New York Public Schools.”

He went on to urge me “to meet with her and discuss what’s she done and what she wants to do.”

Well, that wouldn’t make any sense unless the EAA board, essentially a rubber stamp for Gov. Rick Snyder, was certain to appoint Conforme for the long haul.

When I asked if that’s what this meant, I didn’t get an answer, meaning, presumably, they realized they’d inadvertently spilled the beans. When I asked again, I got what appeared to be a press release that “the EAA’s board is conducting a search for a replacement to [sic] Dr. Covington.”

There’s no way they would much care what I wrote if she was just a temporary placeholder. The governor’s office, by the way, also seems to have missed my point.

My criticism had nothing to do with her qualifications, but with her ridiculous claim that the EAA has somehow “shattered the status quo” that held these kids back.

As I noted in my column, test scores for EAA students indicate that they’re falling further behind, especially in math. The EAA has been losing population, as kids bail out.

Plus, it really doesn’t matter what her résumé says; what matters is if she can get the job done. The Snyder people are very touchy about all this because, despite the failures of the EAA, they are hot to expand it statewide.

The legislature has held this up, however, thanks in large part to the diligent digging of State Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods), who uncovered many questionable actions.

Frankly, I would like to see Ms. Conforme succeed. If there is any sign of this, I will enthusiastically write about it. 

However, unless and until, I really couldn’t care less that she, to quote Dave Murray, “was chief operating officer and senior advisor to the chancellor of the New York City Public Schools.” I doubt that any parents do either.

They only care that their kids get a real education that will enable them to make it in the world. And, oh yes, that they don’t get killed or brain-destroyed in the process.

Best of luck with that, former New York numbers-cruncher Conforme. 

More by Jack Lessenberry

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