Fare thee well

Word last week that Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey is withdrawing from the race slammed News Hits like a gut-punch.

Mahaffey says she’s suffering from a form of leukemia that’s nonfatal but requires a degree of treatment that would keep her from performing her job. At age 80, it is probably time — maybe even past time — for Mahaffey to leave office.

But, that said, we must admit that we’re going to miss her presence at the table tremendously.

For starters, she has displayed a level of integrity that has been stunning in its consistency. Mahaffey has been on the council for 40 years, and in that time there’s never been even a whiff of scandal associated with her. You may disagree with her politics, but as far as we know, no one has ever called Maryann a crook. She has been a true public servant.

As the years went on, criticism of her politics grew — she’s an unabashed lefty whose view of government’s role was unalterably shaped by the New Deal. We could probably think of some examples where we disagreed with her stance on a particular issue, but there aren’t many. This is one Democrat who never moved to the center. She has always been steadfast in maintaining her core values. As a former social worker, she brought to office an incredible level of compassion for the least fortunate among us. The poor and the elderly always had a friend in Mahaffey.

So did labor unions. During the long strike against Detroit’s two daily papers that began in the mid-’90s, Mahaffey steadfastly refused to deal with the scabs brought in to replace striking reporters. That show of solidarity came with a price — not dealing with the papers almost certainly cost her the council presidency in the 1997 election. It can be argued that her loyalty to the unions went too far. But, she’s far from alone in failing to acknowledge years ago that the city needed to downsize its work force to avoid the kind of financial crises we’re now experiencing. Still, her commitment to the working class can’t be denied.

We’re also going to miss Mahaffey for purely selfish reasons. As reporters, we often found her to be a true blessing. When we’d call looking for information, she’d turn it over. Forget about filing Freedom of Information Act requests. Just ask, and file drawers containing reams of information would be put in our hands. And in doing so, she was simply fulfilling a basic commitment — serving the public. It’s an example we can only wish more public officials would follow.

All this and the fact that, when in her 70s and without a moment’s hesitation, Mahaffey pulled on a Superman costume to illustrate our cover story on progressive heroes. She never got too full of herself.

Her example should not be retired and forgotten, but unfailingly remembered and imitated by those elected officials today who put self-service before public service — if they even get there at all.

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