Déclassé act

Nov 6, 2002 at 12:00 am

If News Hits were handing out grades, we’d have to give Detroit City Council member Sharon McPhail a B-minus for her political performance at Dominican High School and Academy last week.

Students at the all-girl Catholic high school on Detroit’s east side were recently the focus of a WDIV-TV Channel 4 story about how appalled some members of the student body were over the crass conduct exhibited by council members.

When McPhail saw the news report last month, she called Dominican’s principal, Rosalie Cohen, to ask if she could talk to the students who appeared on TV and tell her side of the story. Cohen suggested that the councilwoman instead speak to all 136 students about the news report, as well as how she became a civic leader.

McPhail, 53, stood in the school auditorium and shared her inspiring life story: A poor black girl grows up to become a social worker, lawyer and councilwoman. She also slid into the conversation some of the public policies she’s proposed, including one that would have required the casinos to set aside $25 million annually for college scholarships for Detroit high school graduates. Not surprisingly, it was an idea that certainly scored points with this particular audience.

What wasn’t so slick was when McPhail showed the video clip of the council meeting that Channel 4 had used for its story. In it, Everett called McPhail “dumb.” McPhail’s sarcastic response: “You’re calling me dumb?” The exchange ended with Everett threatening, “You want a piece of me?”

It’s the kind of exchange you’d expect to hear on an elementary school playground. But McPhail missed her chance to rise above it all, laughingly telling the students when the video concluded that she would have liked to retort, “I don’t know anyone who wants a piece of that.” McPhail laughed as she said this.

A couple students chuckled, but the vast majority of them were not amused.

McPhail continued to explain her restraint by saying her dad advised her, “Don’t get in a fight with a skunk because everyone comes out smelling.”

That jibe — along with McPhail calling her fellow council member “mean” and hurling a few other insults Everett’s way — didn’t sit so well with some students, as News Hits learned while sitting in on a government class later that same day.

McPhail may have claimed to be taking the high road, but the kids (with some helpful questions from a teacher leading them in the right direction) were able to catch a distinct whiff of hypocrisy.

Consider it a lesson in real politics, Detroit style.

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