Detroit City Council Candidate Questionnaire: Kenneth V. Cockrel Jr.

Oct 14, 2009 at 12:00 am

About 50 percent of the city's $1.8 billion general fund budget is spent on salaries and benefits. Is there a way to address an accumulated deficit of at least $300 million and avoid the risk of insolvency without significantly reducing those worker costs? If not, by what percentage overall do you think they should be cut?

No.   I believe that the hard truth is that a certain level of cuts in worker costs is necessary to reduce costs. When I served as mayor I advocated 10 percent cuts in worker salaries for both union and non-union employees.   The current mayor seems to be proceeding along the same path though I don't wholeheartedly agree with his approach to accomplishing this goal.  Nevertheless, I still believe that it is necessary.


Do you have any other ideas as to how the city can either significantly cuts costs or raise revenue? 

Key to this approach long-term will be consolidations of city departments with an eye towards reducing significantly the number of City Departments. 

Governor Granholm announced in January her intention to reduce the number of state departments significantly.   Detroit should look to follow suit.


Would you support changing Detroit's city charter to allow district elections for some or all council members? 

Yes.   Districts will not be a cure all.  Most people seem to advocate districts because they believe it will result in better city services.   This is a flawed argument given that, barring additional charter changes, Detroit is a strong Mayor form of government resulting near absolute control of all city departments which prevents Council from directing departments.  However, districts will make council seats more accessible to grass roots candidates and will improve communications between Council members and their constituents.


The Detroit International Bridge Co. is attempting to purchase a section of Riverside Park so that it can build a new span adjacent to the Ambassador Bridge. At the same time, a publicly owned bridge is being planned for the Delray area. Explain your support for or objection to each plan.  

At this point, I can't support either plan because I don't believe that the business case has been made to justify either one.  I do however remain open-minded and in contact with the supporters of both plans.


The City Council has twice voted to send the city's trash to landfills instead of the incinerator, and is exploring its legal options in an attempt to make that happen. The administration, meanwhile, is considering purchasing at least a share of the facility, and possibly all of it. As a council member, would you support or oppose continued use of the incinerator? 

I strongly believe that the shutdown of the incinerator should be explored.  In fact, during my tenure as interim mayor Detroit launched an ongoing recycling pilot project that targets 30,000 Detroit households. However, because negotiations over the future of the incinerator are still underway multiple options should be looked and Detroit should ultimately decide in favor not only of an option that makes good financial and environmental sense.


Given the city's fiscal crisis, what, if anything, would you do as a council member to help support the arts and culture in the city? 

Some cities have proposed or initiated arts and culture zones.   These sometimes entail offering certain tax incentives or benefits to businesses or arts and culture organizations as enticement to locate in certain areas.  I am currently researching the development of such a proposal in Detroit.


What have you done personally or professionally to help advance civil rights, regional cooperation, race relations, poverty reduction, pro-environmental efforts, or any other similarly significant cause? 

In my personal life, I served as a tester and board member for the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit.  As a Councilmember, I sponsored and secured passage of Detroit's Bias-based Policing Ordinance (more commonly known as the Anti-Racial Profiling Ordinance).  As Council President, I revived the Tri-County Summit, an annual meeting of the Detroit City Council and Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb County Commissions.   I also founded and Chair the Detroit City Council Green Task Force which is discussed in more detail in my answer to the next question.


As a council member, what could you do to help Detroit capitalize on the burgeoning green economy? 

Nearly three years ago, I founded the Detroit City Council's Green Task Force.   The Task Force has the dual focus of promoting energy efficient practices to help with costs savings and support of the growth and attraction of green industry to Detroit.   For example, the task force championed and shepherded a green housing development proposed by the Power of Green Housing.   This project involves the conversion of intermodal shipping containers into energy efficient housing.   The development was approved by the Detroit City Council in October of this year.   The Task Force is also in continuing talks with various businesses who are contemplating setting up shop in Detroit.


What innovative ideas do you have in regard to dealing with the massive amounts of vacant and abandoned property in Detroit? 

Consistent with my green agenda, I believe that Detroit should look to converting vacant lots into urban gardens or large-scale urban farms.   Not only does this beautify these lots (gardens are more pleasant to look at than weed infested lots) but it allows these lots to generate both tax revenue and revenue from the harvesting of crops.   As the economic tide turns, these land tracts could also be built on for housing or other development.


Name one of your favorite movies about politics? What is it about this movie that made an impression? 

There are a number of good ones.  My favorite is Tim Robbins' "Bob Roberts."  The movie makes a powerful statement about how politicians can sometimes adopt the guise of rebels when they're really just out to maintain the status quo.


What book dealing with politics or government — either fiction or nonfiction — would you recommend others read? Why? 

It's not necessarily about politics but "Fast Food Nation" is a book everyone should read.  It will make you question not only how you eat and what you eat but also how fast food franchising techniques have affected everything from urban planning policies(e.g. Why do all American suburban business strips seem to look exactly the same from Illinois to Alabama?) to corporate marketing strategies.


What piece of music (other than Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On,") has affected you in a political, moral or social sense? Please explain why. 

Just about anything by The Clash or Public Enemy.  Two very different groups: one punk rock the other rap but both had strong political agendas and both proved that popular music can and should be about more than love songs.


What question should have been included in this, but wasn't? And what would your answer to that question be? 

Probably "Why are you running?"  The answer is that I love this city even though it sometimes it may sometimes feels like it doesn't love me back.   The love is still worth fighting for.