GilHill and Covenant House

The next mayor of Detroit is to be GilHill.

That’s the consensus of the chattering classes. Oh, there will be a spirited campaign, and someone, perhaps Nick Hood or Kwame Kilpatrick, will make it into the November runoff, but the celebrity cop-turned-councilman is the heavy favorite.

That assumes the conventional wisdom is right — and it’s worth noting that a month ago, the wizards were sure Dennis Archer was going for a third term.

But it’s hard to see who out there can beat GilHill. To be sure, most of us really don’t know much about him. Yes, he was once head of homicide, and yes, he played Eddie Murphy’s boss in however many Beverly Hills Cop movies there were.

None of that says what he would do as mayor. But we feel that we know him, anyway. And, hey. Twenty-one years ago, the nation elected a 69-year-old former actor as its president. Shucks; might as well be Detroit’s turn now.

True, GilHill (always said as a single word) is deeply in bed with the casinos, Greektown especially. The other night, I heard Hood partisans express hope this would help their man. A neutral observer chuckled. “No matter what they turn up, they’ll just say that The Man was going after a brother. Never hurt Coleman, did it?”

What really seems to be going on here, in part, is an effort to prevent Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara’s machine from completely swallowing the earth.

He’s already got Mike Duggan in the prosecutor’s office and Jennifer Granholm, the state attorney general, doing his bidding and running for governor. Now he’d like his man Kwame Kilpatrick as mayor of Detroit.

Now I suspect Kwame, a state representative about to lose his job to term limits, doesn’t like hints that he owes his rise to Mac and his mother, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick.

Yet even a totally noncynical boy like myself may wonder if a 30-year-old, former Florida A&M football standout (with particularly large earrings) is fully ready to run this sprawling, brawling, impoverished and hopelessly complex Detroit.

And even if he is — where is the independent base and the depth of experience that will allow him to face, on his own, whatever is thrown at him?

Nicholas Hood does have that base, experience, and is, at 50 this fall, exactly the average of the other two main contenders’ ages. But he seems to lack the ability to excite anybody, and there are the usual qualms about a preacher in power.

Incidentally, those identified with Archer, led by Freman Hendrix, are mostly rallying around GilHill. So are others who aren’t ready to run yet. They figure at his age, Hill is almost certain to be a caretaker, one-term mayor. Better to have him warming the seat and making few waves for a few years, while the next generation jockeys for position.

Well, that might be fine for them. But what about Detroit?

Last week, I went to visit a man who has done more for this city than most politicians, Sam Joseph, executive director of Covenant House Michigan. A year ago, he opened up a former senior living complex off the Jeffries Freeway to try and help homeless and runaway 18-to-22-year-olds.

When he arrived here from New York, he wasn’t sure of the need; Detroit wasn’t a place he thought people would run away to. Within days he realized how wrong that was.

“There are more kids in crisis than we ever thought in Detroit,” he said, and the economic downturn is likely having an effect. “We are beginning to see some of the weaknesses of welfare reform,” he says, without a trace of sarcasm.

What is most ominous is that Covenant House and the van it sends out into the streets are seeing a new kind of homeless: teen mothers and their babies. Not isolated cases, either; from last spring through February, they saw 130 of them!

Trouble is, they can’t do much for them; its agreement with the city doesn’t allow Covenant House to offer them housing. It has some empty units that Joseph would like to renovate so it could help a few of these young women, but has been frustrated at trying to get any response from a Detroit bureaucracy long famous for being unhelpful. (Based on everything I know, the Archer administration hasn’t improved this one bit.)

So Covenant House does what it can for these moms and babies, which isn’t much. It can’t do much for kids under 18, either, except refer them to shelters they hate and mostly refuse to return to. There are certainly hundreds, perhaps thousands of these kids, and the situation is getting worse, not better.

For a few hundred young people, Covenant House did make a difference last year.

It helped many of them get turned around, at least for a while, and even has a full-time, on-site legal services department. Yet as the need increases, the resources dwindle. Covenant House got a $92,500 federal grant last year. This year, that money may not be there; it may be needed, they say, to help fund the $1.6 trillion George W. Bush tax cut.

This won’t be talked about much in the mayor’s race. Most of the kids trying to get it together at Covenant House don’t have any idea who is running. But they are as much a part of this city as casinos.

Here’s what I suggest. Pledge to support any candidate who will send at least half as much to Covenant House as he/she spends on their own campaign.

Then send something yourself to Covenant House Michigan, 2959 Martin Luther King Blvd., Detroit, MI 48208. You could do a lot worse, and you probably will.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for the Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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