Detroit City Council Candidate Questionnaire: Kwame Kenyatta

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?

While 50 percent of the city's $1.8 billion general fund budget is spent on salaries and benefits, it takes two parts to make a whole.  Therefore, I believe that any approach to addressing Detroit's budget deficit must be done in a holistic manner.  All factors must be considered since all parts of the city work in concert to provide services and enforce ordinances.  This means that labor costs as well as management costs, procurement costs etc. need to be looked at equally.  Furthermore, the development of a sustainable industry such as green jobs in Detroit is pivotal to ensuring that the next generation of Detroit is self-sustaining.  Cuts alone will not produce the prosperous version of the Renaissance City that existed during the manufacturing era where goods were produced here and a middle class was born.


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

Detroit has a spectacular riverfront and gorgeous jewel in Belle Isle.  The City has thus far failed to truly capitalize on these priceless resources in the way that major cities such as Chicago have with its Magnificent Mile.  I support the promotion of these areas as tourism destinations that should be tied more closely to the sports and entertainment destinations that already exist in the central business district.  

There is also a section of the City's privatization ordinance that was drafted in 2004 allowing for unions to competitively bid on contracts along with vendors as a way for the City to save money.  Unfortunately, the rules governing how they could participate were never written.  I have requested that they be written and implemented and expect to receive a copy of these new rules by October 15, 2009.  I am confident that this will save money two-fold.  One way will be by strengthening risk management and reducing the number of judgments against the City for violating the ordinance as it stands.  This will also allow union representatives to present their proposed cost-saving measures and ensure they have a seat at the table when contracts are considered.


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

I sponsored the original resolution placing the revision of the charter on the November 3, 2009 ballot.  Please see the attached resolution.  It was voted down when I initially put forth the resolution for the special primary election in February.  But I was unbowed by the opposition and resubmitted it to Council whereupon it was approved.  I did so because of my fervent belief that there are areas of the charter that badly need revising.  And I support the voters' right to establish districts if they so choose by an approval of the subsequently revised charter.  I also support a charter that empowers any potential district-wide council members to implement the needs of their constituency.  Currently, any attempt to influence the provision of services by council members is advisory in nature.  This prevents true accountability for concerns that may be posed by district residents.


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.

I have consistently upheld the City of Detroit's right to oversee the land that it owns known as Riverside Park.  To this end in May 6, 2005, I prevented the DIBC from acquiring the authority to take possession of land surrounding the Bridge through a springing interest agreement by alerting Council to this attempt and leading the vote to rescind the agreement.  The City's right to Riverside Park was also upheld in Thirty-sixth district court on October 2, 2009.  I oppose the DIBC's twin-span plan without an Environmental Impact study and the support of surrounding neighborhood residents.  I would support the DRIC plan for Delray so long as Delray residents who decided to relocate were made whole and also voiced their support prior to its construction.


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 oppose the continued use of the incinerator wherever more cost-effective and environmentally friendly options exist.


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?

I am very committed to the arts and culture in the City of Detroit.  In fact I feel that the City has not marketed its rich history of arts and culture in a way that could potentially produce substantial revenue.  And I have established the Entertainment Commission in order to begin the process of centralizing initiatives that will contribute to Detroit becoming an entertainment Mecca of the Midwest.


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?

Throughout my life I have contributed to many causes as a grassroots community activist.  This includes but is not limited to food and clothing drives, after-school programs, legal assistance, anti-drug programs, rites of passage, senior citizen services etc.  The most recent examples of these efforts are embodied in my Project Sharing and Project Pride campaigns, which focus on poverty-reduction and mentoring of Detroit Public School students. 


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

I will back the use of available federal and private dollars to further green housing and manufacturing.  I would also pursue research on ways in which the City of Detroit may be able to tap into hydroelectric energy and other forms of green energy.  This could assist residents and businesses that reside here to take advantage of cost-effective use of energy resources.


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

I am co-sponsoring a vacant building ordinance that will assist the City in registering, monitoring and maintaining vacant buildings.  I also support urban gardening. 


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

"Keep the faith" dealing with Adam Clayton Powell's effectiveness in Congress against all odds during the time period that he served is one of my favorite movies about politics.


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

I would recommend "Art of Leadership" by Oba T. Shaka.  This book examines all of the different areas of service and leadership criteria that are involved in serving people.


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.

"Wake Up Everybody" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes has affected me.  That is because it is a call to the people to get involved and make a difference instead of standing on the sidelines.


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

None.  The questionnaire was comprehensive and wide-ranging in its scope.