Regular readers of this column and even irregular readers, as we imagine most of you to be, in a nonconformist sort of way know News Hits seldom has nice things to say about politicians. And this week is no different. However, there is an astutely politic bureaucrat we're compelled to laud as he heads toward the exit.
We're talking about Tom Barwin, the long-serving Ferndale city manager who's taken a like post for the Chicago suburb of Oak Park.
As regular and irregular readers alike might have noticed, this rag has been paying particularly close attention to the issue of mass transit for the better part of a year. You can see the results of that effort at metrotimes.com under the heading "Roads Not Working." The impetus behind this series is simple enough: Mass transit is a matter of vital importance to this region, and no one realizes it more or has done more to push the transit agenda than Barwin.
That's not just our half-assed opinion. People who really know what they're talking about agree.
"His leaving is definitely a big loss to the region," says Megan Owens, executive director of the nonprofit group Transit Riders United. "Certainly, more than anyone else in the region in a municipal position like that, he has been a champion of transit.
"He was the one pushing the issue when it wasn't so popular, and he had to put up with some negative response because of that."
But champs don't quit, and Barwin kept plugging away, talking about the importance of transit to whoever would listen, looking to build consensus, always attempting to push the transit agenda, laying the foundation for change as if it were so much rail bed being prepared for track.
Which is not to say that's all he did. Aside from keeping things humming along in Ferndale, he has been an outspoken advocate for regional cooperation. In an article for this paper a few years ago, writer Keith Schneider described Barwin this way: "He's a public interest activist set on reforming a system that from his standpoint is utterly incapable of spending public dollars in a way that makes his small city and, for that matter, the rest of the Detroit region a better place to live."
We still don't have rapid transit between Detroit and Ann Arbor or down the Woodward corridor, but, as Owens says, such talk is no longer considered "pie in the sky." With the leaders of Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties, along with the city of Detroit, joining forces recently to hire former state legislator John Hertel to coordinate public transit in the region, ideas that many thought beyond our grasp not so long ago now seem realistic.
We don't know Barwin well. But we always found him responsive and approachable, a regular sort of guy with an irregular amount of vision and determination. And he's going to be missed.
News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]