Dead reckoning

Based on what I saw on cable TV last week, you, dear reader, are probably not reading this at all, because you are dead of swine flu.Fortunately, I am not. Dead, that is; I don't mean to be any more existential than necessary. Originally I thought I'd be room temperature too by now, but then I heard a report that the swine flu, now scientifically renamed H1N1, doesn't kill the weak and elderly. So I had to struggle back to my keyboard, prop myself up and tap valiantly on.

Incidentally, if indeed you are alive and still reading, you have an intellectual advantage over me. No, apart from sanity. I am talking about the fact that you know who the mayor of Detroit is, at least for the next eight months. That's because the vote was Tuesday, and barring a last-minute avalanche of write-ins for Lonnie Bates, either Dave Bing or Ken Cockrel won.

So finally, with the long campaign now over, the winner is free at last to ... begin campaigning again, since the next election is in August, followed by another in November.

We surely do love voting in this town. That's OK; we've got so much money we can easily afford to pay for extra elections, and with no other city problems on the horizon. However, even without knowing who won, I know what the headline should have been on Wednesday morning's Detroit Snooze/Press, the papers they won't bring to your house anymore: BLACK MAN GIVEN NATION'S WORST JOB.

That's not original; I stole it from The Onion, which used that headline when Barack Obama was elected. Fortunately, if you say where you steal something from, it's not plagiarism, but research. That headline, by the way, is much more appropriate for the Detroit mayoral job than for the presidency.

Barack, after all, gets to use Camp David. Detroit's mayor gets to cope with Monica Conyers, Martha Reeves, Barbara-Rose Collins, and any number of other idiots who can't be fired. Good luck with that, old sport.

Now then, time to get serious.

Where there is no vision, the people perish. I am not often given to quoting from Holy Writ, except for the Upanishads. But that particular proverb is especially apt for both Detroit and Michigan. Our leaders don't have any vision, so far as I can tell, especially at the state level. Jennifer Granholm's idea of an inspiring vision seems to be trying to slow our inevitable decline.

On the other hand, some Republicans, led by State Sen. Majority Leader Mike Bishop and his cronies, do have a vision — one where taxes are slashed to the bone, the infrastructure is allowed to crumble and public education is substandard. Making us, in other words, the functional equivalent of Haiti, with ice storms. They know that Jennifer Granholm is ineffectual; they are just waiting and hoping that President Obama fails, so they can get another chance to implement their agenda.

The problem in these parts these days is that the best have no conviction, as old Billy Yeats used to say, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity. Meanwhile, Michigan drifts slowly downstream. What we desperately need are leaders with visions — lot of visions, as to how we make things better.

The old world isn't coming back. You aren't going to be able to barely graduate from Warren Cousino and get a job on the line that pays $50,000 or $60,000 a year anymore. Not now, not ever. Nor is some other Henry Ford going to show up, open a chain of factories that make cinnamon-flavored scrunches, and put us all to work at high-paying jobs.

Nope. The stone is at the bottom of the hill, Sisyphus old buddy, and it is up to all of us to find a better way of rolling it back up, in such a way that will make sure it stays there longer. We did it before, a century ago, and we damn well can do it again. We've got loads of talent, first-class universities, a pretty good research and development infrastructure.

Nobody was looking for Henry Ford when he showed up. Now, instead of waiting for another Ford, we all need to be Henry Ford. That means taking charge, being entrepreneurial, willing to take risks, operate outside our comfort zone and invent the future.

Scary? Well, yeah. But it beats lying around waiting for the unemployment to run out. We need leaders, true, and they seem to be in short supply. So I suggest for now, you look for one in the mirror.

Chutzpah, Moroun style: Detroit's most outrageously bad citizen is not Jewish, Adonai be praised. However, Matty Moroun has cornered the market on that form of astonishing brassy arrogance best described by the marvelous word chutzpah. The reclusive 80-year-old sociopath is best-known these days for two things: First, starting work on a second span next to his creaky old Ambassador Bridge, despite the fact that the Canadian government not only doesn't want him to build it, they've indicated they won't give him the necessary permits to do it.

Our state amphibian also owns the hulking, ghastly ruin of a train station, the first thing to greet visitors as they drive in from the south. For years, he has refused to either fix it up or tear it down.

He once suckered Kwame Kilpatrick into announcing the city would buy it for a new police headquarters, which would make about as much sense as choosing me as Detroit's Olympic track entry. In the end, the deal proved to be too much of a scam even for Baby Huey. Nothing happened, and timid politicians, afraid of Moroun's wrath and lusting after his campaign contributions, have refused to make him do anything to be a responsible citizen.

However, there lately has been increasing talk at city hall of actually tearing down the train station and sending the old reprobate a bill. Then last Friday, headlines appeared in the Detroit papers indicating that the train station was about to be sold or leased to the federal government for use as a Department of Homeland Security office. That astonished me, till I read the actual stories.

Yes, indeed, to quote from the most reliable source, Crain's Detroit Business, "the owner of the controversial Michigan Central Depot said today he plans to lease the decaying structure to the federal government ... the project would likely involve tearing down the tower portion of the depot, and renovating the train section portion at ground level into a 50,000-square-foot office."

Sounds convincing, unless you know Matty Moroun.

However, if you read between the lines in any of these stories, you discover that 1) there is absolutely no indication the federal government has the slightest desire to renovate this ruin and 2) there is absolutely no indication the feds would ever consider such a thing.

It would be great for Matty, of course; he'd get the government to pay him to let them renovate his rotting eyesore. In reality, of course, the whole idea is slightly less plausible than Borat's theory that Pamela Anderson would be hot to marry him. But Matty essentially got away with inserting this smokescreen into the media, no doubt in the hope it would buy him another year of doing nothing about the blight he helped create.

So, OK, Mr. New Mayor. Congratulations on your election. Now take on this slumlord, and start to really do your damn job.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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