Detroit Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire: Ken Cockrel Jr.

Jan 28, 2009 at 12:00 am

Ken Cockrel Jr.

Q: If elected in the May special run-off election, and, assuming you are among the two finishers in the August primary, what three things can you promise to accomplish before the November run-off election?

A: As Mayor I already have taken steps to clean up our city and how we operate. We have found the problems in our city's budget and saw the holes in the process by which the previous administration failed to take into account in managing our city's money.

I have also made public safety a top priority and have directed our Police Chief to prepare a plan of action for crime reduction and improvement of police response time even though we face severe budget problems and resulting staffing shortages.   My administration has already opened four new police mini-stations to expand the presence of the department in the community.   Under my direction, our police department we've also expanded the size of the Department's metal theft task force in order to combat this problem which has left parts of the city in the dark and costs many home owners and business-owners thousands of dollars in insurance premiums and replacement costs.   By doing so, we've been able to make high profile busts of scrap metal thieves throughout the city.

And as Mayor, I am working with President-elect Barack Obama to secure dollars for infrastructure projects in Detroit that will create desperately needed jobs and affect long overdue improvements.  I look forward to working with President Obama to bring the change our city and our nation need.

Now that I have been given the opportunity to serve as Mayor, I am eager to finish the work that I already started on behalf of Detroit.

Q: Depending on who is doing the estimating, the city of Detroit faces a potential budget deficit of $100 million to $200 million by the end of this fiscal year in June. Name three specific cuts you'd make to help balance the budget and the savings they'd achieve.

A: When I hired former City Auditor Joe Harris to serve as my chief financial officer, it was to ensure that city budgets and expenditures were accountable to the citizens.  Mr. Harris has found that our current city deficit approaches $300 million.  It was not easy to get into this mess, and it will not be easy to get out of it.  But any solution must start with honest accounting and the recognition that these are not normal economic times.

I am still in the process of reviewing our budget options, which I will be presenting shortly to the people of Detroit and the City Council.  But it is clear that there will have to be layoffs of city personnel to deal with the problem.  I will try to make these layoffs as fairly as possible, sparing as much as possible those workers who deal directly with the public or perform indispensible tasks.

A second area of savings can be found by closely scrutinizing city contracts to look for potential savings.  I already have already terminated a half dozen contracts with banks and financial service institutions which the city Finance Department determined we did not need.  These contracts were let by the previous administration.   Their termination will save Detroit $2 million this year alone.  We simply cannot afford contracts awarded for political reasons or for work that is not necessary nor efficiently performed.

Third, we must look at the potential for securitizing existing city assets, to ensure that the taxpayers are receiving their full value.  The City of Chicago has reaped billions of dollars by securitizing the Chicago Skyway, city parking operations and, recently, Midway Airport.  Note:  this does not mean the sale of assets or privatization.  Rather it refers to securing upfront cash payments against future revenues that are generated by those assets. There may be revenue streams in Detroit that could bring a similar bounty for taxpayers, providing short-term help in balancing our budget along with guaranteed resources for the long-term.  This option is being considered as my administration prepares a deficit reduction plan.

Q: The city of Detroit continues to lose thousand of residents a year. Name one innovative program that you'd implement to reverse that trend.

A: Attracting the jobs of tomorrow depends on having the skilled workers to perform them.  The City of Detroit has a Workforce Development department that can help ensure that Detroiters have the skills needed to attract new jobs.  Yet, under the previous administration, that critical department became a dumping ground for political hires.  I am working to restore professionalism to the Workforce Development Department, and I will direct the reformed office to partner with local businesses, non-profits and our region's colleges to train workers in the skills demanded by the emerging "green" economy. By upgrading our workforce with the skills demanded in a more energy-efficient world, Detroit can better compete for the jobs of tomorrow.

Q: Do you think Detroit should continue to send garbage to its waste-to-energy incinerator?

A: Because I currently am serving as Mayor and because of sensitive, ongoing negotiations on this very matter I cannot answer this question in deep detail.   Doing so might jeopardize those negotiations.   However, I can say that the Cockrel administration is weighing multiple options for the future of the incinerator including options that would likely be perceived as more environmentally friendly than incineration of waste.  My administration has also committed to the launch of a pilot project for household recycling which we plan to launch late this spring in accordance that originated at the Detroit City Council during my tenure there.

Q: To reduce dependence on foreign oil and address the problem of climate change, President-elect Obama is promising that the federal government will make significant expenditures to promote the development of green technologies and energy-efficiency programs. What would you do as mayor to help Detroit become a leader in the "green economy"?

A:  As previously stated, my first priority is helping Detroit compete for new jobs.  A revamped Workforce Development department, working in concert with local businesses, non-profits and academic institutions, can help lay the groundwork for the jobs of tomorrow.

Beyond that, I am committed to making Detroit a greener city for its residents and visitors.  This is an essential step in attracting young people and families to make their futures here.  Over two years ago, while serving as the President of the Detroit City Council I created the Detroit City Council Green Task Force.   Since becoming Mayor I've transitioned that group into a Mayoral Task Force.  I also recently announced the creation of an Office of Energy and Sustainability which will do the following:

  • Promote savings in energy costs and set the framework for energy-saving practices that could save Detroit taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
  • Educate the community on green principles and encourage the implementation of green practices in new construction, existing buildings, neighborhood communities and government operations.
  • Create a Green Council made up of representatives from various city departments and other agencies, along with a representative from City Council, to discuss changes in every department resulting in measurable energy efficiency and environmental improvement. 
  • Initiate "The Green Thumbs Up" program in Detroit to reduce blight, inspire community pride, and promote environmental values by putting blighted vacant lots to good use. In this urban gardening plan, residents and businesses will apply to adopt vacant lots with a commitment to maintain them and plant community gardens.
  • Begin in May a Pilot Recycling Program that will provide curbside recycling to 30,000 Detroit homes (15,000 on the west side and 15,000 on the east side)

Q: Can you recount a difficult situation that required you to display a high degree of personal integrity?

A: Last year, I was informed that the chief of staff in my Council President's office had been caught on an FBI tape accepting a bribe.  When confronted with this tape, I immediately called the individual into my office and demanded that he resign.  This was not an easy thing to do, as this individual had worked for me for eight years and had served the city well.  But there is absolutely no room in government service for such a violation of the public trust.  I have carried this philosophy into the mayor's office, and will never hesitate to remove public servants who fail to live up to its tenets.

Q: What is one of the biggest mistakes you've made in your life, and what did you learn from it?

A: Having grown up with a father who was active in the community and served on City Council, I've had a lifelong interest in public issues.  I chose to major in Journalism at Wayne State University, so I could report on government and public issues to citizens and voters.  This put me on a career path that saw me working at newspapers that included the Detroit Free Press, The Grand Rapids Press, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and even a columnist stint at the Metro Times. However, I later discovered that an individual could make more of a positive impact on the community through public service, developing policy and making decisions rather than simply reporting on them.  I don't really think of this as a mistake as I have no regrets about my work as a journalist.   Rather, I see my decision to take a different path as an evolution in my thinking about the best way to make a difference in the world in general and my community in particular.  I returned to Detroit and ran successfully for a seat on the Wayne County Commission.  I have continued to serve the people of Detroit for the past eleven years.  Becoming mayor of Detroit, even for a short time and under difficult circumstances, has been the greatest challenge and privilege of my life.  I hope to have the opportunity to continue to serve the people of Detroit as their mayor.

Q: Name one of your favorite books (other than the Bible). Why is it significant?

A: "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" is my all time favorite book.  It is significant because re-reading in my early 20s while working as a newspaper reporter in Cincinnati during the late 1980s helped motivate me to quit my job as a reporter and come back to Detroit to try to make a difference here.

Q: Tell us what one of your favorite movies is, and
why it is that you like it so much.

A: My all time favorite movie is "Fight Club."  The movie sends a very powerful message about not only about men and where their heads where their heads where at during the turn of the last century but also about the dangers of fascism and conformity without question.

Q: Is their a piece of music or work of art that moves you deeply? Tell us why.

A: I love the photography of James Van Der Zee, who's 1920s and 1930s-era photos of famous Black celebrities and of the people of Harlem are often considered the definitive photographic history of Black America during this period.  I have a number of reproductions of his work at home and in my office.  The power of these photos often lies in the stillness of his subjects.

I like too music to pick a favorite but if I was stuck on a desert island I'd want an Ipod loaded with a generous helping of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Johnny Cash(especially "At Folsom Prison"), Patsy Kline, Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, the Who, ACDC, Peter Frampton(specifically "Frampton Comes Alive"), Foghat,  The Clash, Gang of Four, Joy Division, New Order, Black Flag, Public Enemy("Fear of a Black Planet" changed my life), Ice Cube, Run DMC, Tupac, DMX, Jay Z, Notorious B.I.G., Moby, The Chemical Brothers, DJ Shadow, The Crystal Method, Lil Jon and the East Side Boys, Alicia Keyes, Jill Scott, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and last but not least Detroit's own Dirtbombs.   To quote rapper Ice-T (who should probably be on this list too) "I feel sorry for anyone who only listens to one type of music."

Q: What was your nickname as a kid?

A: I never really had a nickname that stuck when I was a kid. Sorry.