Babs, be not proud

During the last Detroit City Council primary campaign, one of the dailies ran results of a somewhat silly survey in which candidates were asked questions along the lines of Barbara Walters’ infamous, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” Among other things, they were asked to name their best swimming stroke.

Former U.S. Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins, who went on to win, answered, “I can float on my back expertly.”

She’s long put that skill to good use on the taxpayer’s nickel.

Collins is one of the most glaring examples of what’s wrong with Detroit’s entrenched, inbred politics and why, truly, a clean sweep ought to be considered in next year’s city elections. She’s made a career in politics, often a very lucrative one, since first elected to a Detroit regional school board in 1971. She then filled a seat in the Legislature; then City Council; then — only in America — in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she earned her place in history as one of the worst-ever members of Congress before being voted out. Finally — only in Detroit — she was re-elected to the City Council in 2002.

Considering that she sits at the table with one of Detroit’s most notorious longtime public payroll slobs, and a proud racist to boot — Lonnie “Say My Name” Bates — it’s fair to conclude that a sizable part of the city’s electorate votes on name recognition alone, or on the belief that “they may be crooks, but they’re our crooks.”

Collins, too, has played race poker whenever it served her cause of riding in luxury cars; frequent pampering, including — if former staffers are to be believed — having her slippers fetched by congressional aides while she waited under a salon hair-dryer; neglecting to pay her income taxes for a few years, later saying, “I tend to put off things too long. I think if I get good experts, they can get the documentation” to show that she owed $8,000, not the $111,000 claimed by the feds; firing a congressional staffer because she suspected he had AIDS, then having to pay him back wages and court costs when he won an in-House employment discrimination grievance against her, a first for Congress; and nonchalantly amassing the third-worst attendance record for congressional votes.

Some of her greatest notoriety came not as a result of landmark legislation — she never introduced any — but when she was misquoted by the Free Press as saying, “All white people, I don’t believe, are intolerant. That’s why I say I love the individuals but I hate the race.” She sued for defamation, saying her actual words were, “I don’t like the race.” She lost the case.

The toughest thing about writing this column was trying to fit in her nearly countless peccadilloes, antics, outrages, unethical and allegedly illegal actions during three decades of collecting paychecks from taxpayers who don’t “put off things too long” when the IRS says it’s time to give until it hurts.

I finally gave up, especially taking into account a laundry list of allegations being investigated by the Justice Department and a House ethics committee at the time she was voted out of office.

I assume it was those investigations Collins was referring to when, upon learning I’d be writing this column, she called and asked that I address “only the allegations that were proven.”

You see, when Kwame’s mommy, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, won Collins’ rarely occupied seat in Congress, the ethics inquiry was dropped as moot.

In returning her to council for another slurp at the public trough in 2002, Detroit’s voters apparently agreed.

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