For a better Detroit, try a clean sweep

Nov 17, 2004 at 12:00 am

Like something nasty stuck in the treads of your cold-weather boots, some of Detroit’s problems can’t be scraped, stomped or shaken loose. They keep getting re-elected.

Everywhere you look, deeply inbred politics rears its misshapen head. The temptation is to start pounding the drum for a purge and all new blood.

But, you blurt out, we’d get a bunch of untested unknowns who’ve never run anything but their mouths (you’re paraphrasing Coleman Young’s description of political candidate Jesse Jackson). So?

You see, sometimes Detroit recycles its political dross, finding them a new place at the public trough after they’ve shamed themselves out of, or been shoved away from, the taxpayer-funded feast.

Let you in on a little secret: Their elective seats on Detroit City Council aren’t the first granted by voters to Alonzo Bates and Barbara-Rose Collins. Funny, you barely hear a peep out of either of them anymore. Like Kay Everett, Sharon McPhail and other combatants on the current council now are, Lonnie and Babs used to be so noisy. Now they seem to just float along on the muddy crest of others’ wakes, unnoticed. In these times while the feds point their snitch here and there, trolling for office-holding miscreants in Detroit, it’s a prudent posture.

But so out of character for both of them. Their vitae are right there to see for any voter who wants to make an informed choice and not just poke a chad for a familiar name, should that opportunity come again. We’ll get to Babs next week. First, Lonnie.

After contributing colorfully to the malignant horror show that was the Detroit school board — those unaccountable, elected-at-large humps who did little for years but squabble under the old system of school governance, to which the district will now return — Lonnie and the rest were broomed to make way for the Engler-Archer reform board.

Just 10 days before he was shooed out of the Schools Center Building, and knowing it was coming, he flew — on the public nickel — down to Mexico for a conference on comparisons between American blacks and Mexicans. It would give him better insight into the Detroit district’s Latino students, he said — though he would no longer be “serving” them. Oh, he left the conference a day early to head on over to Acapulco with his cousin. “It was real tough down there in the bush,” he told The Detroit News. “I could only take so much.” Oh, again — he traveled first class all the way, and was quoted by The News saying, “I want young people to see me traveling first class and say, ‘This is the position I want to be in.’” Oh, oh, and one more thing — when Lonnie was confronted by a TV reporter who caught him playing hooky during another incarnation as a top city Parks & Rec administrator, he addressed the middle-aged newsie as “white boy” and “sonny.” That got him canned for conduct unbecoming, though he was later officially forgiven. And now, elected once again, he slurps at the City Council trough.

A little personal side note on Lonnie Bates — role model, civic lion, diplomat. He once remarked on my own melanin deficiency, utterly a non sequitur, apropos of nothing, since we were engaged in neither conversation, badinage nor banter. We were just standing there, two Detroit guys, taking up a common space.

Ric Bohy is the editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]