Detroit City Council Candidate Questionnaire: Raphael B. Johnson

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?

This is a difficult question to answer with percentages and numbers because the true amount of the debt is unsure.  Moreover, the next fiscal year is likely to have another deficit.  What then more layoffs and pay cuts? No one wants to work for free. This is not a straight forward answer because if you lay off workers all we are doing is creating a bigger unemployment issue in a city that has 30% unemployment.  However, at the same time you have to balance a budget.  The real issues here go beyond a spreadsheet and beg an uncomfortable question. How much pain can we tolerate before things will start to turn around?


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

Working with the Wayne County Sherriff's office to bring inmates out of their cells to clean up Detroit more aggressviley. By having offenders clean Detroit we can reduce some of the DPW costs and make change happen at the same time.  Maybe then people will get the idea that SERIOUS CHANGE is taking place. This is an every day practice not a Sunday morning activity to fulfill your community service obligation as part of your sentence.


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

I support council by district. However, their needs to be a reassignment of responsibility for instance.  Approvals by council on appointments for Directors of departments made by the Mayor.  Council needs to be able to review these resumes to make sure these appointments are valid and worthy of taxpayer dollars. Secondly, the council member's powers need to include and ability to make change happen in their district. 


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.

The biggest challenge with these issues is geography.  Southwest Detroit is stuck with infrastructure no one wants. Yet the geography is selfish because you cannot enter SW Detroit without crossing a transportation land use.  The main issue with the DIBC is the abrasive relationship between the community and their interests.  The DIBC wants to move traffic over a border and into a freeway while the community does not want trucks rumbling through their neighborhoods.  Before the city would even consider giving up a park they should mandate as part of the deal that the MC DEPOT either be torn down or renovated before the park is released. If the DIBC has the money to build a bridge then I'm certain they have the money to take care of our mutual eyesore. Enough conceptual drawings and Graduate student papers have written for the DIBC to have a clue on what should be done. Pick one up and do something about it. Secondly, The DRIC study should move forward with the cooperation of the city.  The Delray neighborhood has suffered blatant neglect by the city.  This is an opportunity to create stability for the area while bringing long term development to Detroit. Detroiters need to move towards a new era of our economy, not sit back and scare the local politicians into political cowardice. Millions of dollars have been spent to obtain the Record of Decision and Detroit is still wondering what to do while TIME magazine showed them a mirror.


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 would oppose the continued use of the incinerator mainly because of the environmental issues associated with the facility.  If Detroit is to move into a new direction then it has to make serious statements on various subjects. This is one of them.  You cannot become a "World Class" city with antiquated thinking. This is one of those issues where we have to proceed with deliberate purpose.


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?

More projects like the Dequindre cut are needed, more street festivals, support of community activities and the like are needed to get people interested.  We have done a good job of allowing other places take our opportunities.  Now we have to do a better job of attracting festivals and other types of cultural draws to 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?

I am a motivational speaker and mentor to children and adults. I have devoted my life to helping shift the mentality of especially young Black men from an over glorified view of the "street gangster" lifestyle to REALITY.  I have helped many men shift their thinking from being a "baby daddy to father, from player to husband, from deadbeat to responsible citizen." As a city council member I believe I am the only person that can continue to do this type of work because I have credibility with our youth that no one else in this race can even come close to having. Young men will listen to me before they'll listen to anyone else.  I'm the only person in this race that can organize 50 men in less than 24 hours to catch a rapist and discover the whereabouts of a suspect involved in a drive by shooting in less than an hour.


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

The first step in this "new" economy is keep moving the conversation forward.  Secondly, as a member of council I will make sure that the necessary "roadblocks" are removed to push this forward.  Lastly, I will spend a significant amount of time making sure we have a strategic plan that is forward thinking to accommodate the future potential growth of this new industry.


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

Global Logistics and Warehousing is the future of Detroit.  We are not building Studabakers or Model T's anymore.  We need to learn how to attract distribution centers so companies can move their products faster cheaper and safer in and out of Detroit.


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

Conspiracy Theory with Mel Gibson because in the last 20 years there have been so many related to the future of Detroit I'm constantly reminded that in the end we decide our future not a secret organization in the basement of the Manoogian Mansion..


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

"Politics in America" Because if there was ever a place on earth that had so many political ideologies it would be Detroit. Also, the larger idea is that we need to come together on an even greater level to define who we want to be as a city.


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

That's probably the hardest question I've had to answer yet, I'll get back to you on that.


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

What is your long term vision for the city of Detroit and how do you plan on getting there? My answer to that is this…Detroit needs a 40 year plan.  We need to work the equation backwards and understand the decisions we are going to make before making them. At present we are floating around the middle of the ocean waiting for our rescue grabbing onto anything that floats. That's ridiculous!  We need to reinvest in our infrastructure look at combining regional services, improving our education and building around things that are not going to leave us for another economic incentive package.  We need to reinvest and build around our universities, transportation networks, and fix our ability to attract business.