Divided we fall

Sep 26, 2001 at 12:00 am

While following Detroit’s mayoral candidates on the campaign trail this past weekend, News Hits noticed billboards along the city’s freeways that read, “In God We Trust. United We Stand.”

No doubt the national advertising and radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications, which owns the signs, posted the message throughout the country. And no doubt the billboards comfort some people in this troubling time of terrorist attacks and possible plans to retaliate.

But when seeing them overhead in a city plagued with chronic problems — many of which the mayoral candidates have made little mention of — the message doesn’t resonate, particularly the sentence, “United We Stand.”

The problems to which News Hits is referring, which mayoral hopefuls Gil Hill and Kwame Kilpatrick have barely addressed this campaign season, were raised at a town hall meeting on mental illness last week. Ironically, the forum was hosted by Kwame’s mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Detroit).

The congresswoman decided to hold the discussion — where mental-health professionals spoke to about 150 folks at the Detroit Medical Center — after a mentally ill man threatened to kill her and her staff at her Detroit offices last spring.

News Hits applauds Ma Kilpatrick for hosting the event. We were especially pleased with the comments of Dr. Calvin Trent, director of the Detroit Health Department’s Bureau of Substance Abuse. Trent criticized Kilpatrick the younger and Hill for failing to discuss some of the major troubles facing Detroit.

“We have a serious problem in the city, a serious problem no one wants to address,” said Trent, who was referring to the 120,000 Detroiters suffering from alcohol or drug abuse, or both. The Health Department, which has a $30 million budget for substance abuse programs and prevention, handled 15,000 cases last year. Trent also criticized the candidates for failing to talk about other health issues, including lead poisoning, infant mortality or the high syphilis and HIV-infection rates among Detroit’s African-American population.

“Health is not on the agenda,” he said.

No, it’s not. Detroiters with mental illnesses are not mentioned, though plenty of those sad folks wander aimlessly around Detroit. And according to Trent’s figures, 250,000 Detroiters are without health insurance and not much has been said about their plight. It’s high time that Gil and Kwame include the least among us in their platforms. Otherwise — despite what Clear Channel Communications billboards say — united we do not stand and divided we fall.

Perhaps, as our next item suggests, at least one of the candidates is getting the message.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]