Let Bill Brooks shake up Detroit

Aug 29, 2001 at 12:00 am

When the editors at Metro Times sat down to discuss which mayoral candidate to support, one question we asked was: If we were evaluating this person as we would a potential hire, whom would we choose?

As is usually the case, none of the prospects was perfect. Each had shortcomings to consider.

In the final analysis, however, it is our sincere opinion that businessman Bill Brooks holds a distinct advantage over the other top contenders seeking the job.

Without a doubt, Brooks offered up the most impressive résumé. We measured those qualifications in large part against what civic leaders and others told us back in July for a story we did on the most pressing issues facing the next mayor and the qualities that mayor needs most. The most frequent observation was that the next mayor needed the ability and courage to overhaul a bureaucracy that, simply put, isn’t working.

First, Brooks has a grasp of information technology unmatched by any of his leading opponents. As far back as the early 1970s he was involved with computerizing large bureaucracies, first as an Air Force captain, then in the federal Office of Management and Budget, and then at General Motors.

It is one thing for a candidate to say he wants to institute change, and will surround himself with people capable of doing the job. It is much more desirable, however, to have a person at the top with intimate knowledge of the task at hand, obstacles involved, and what will be required to get over, around or through them. In bringing Detroit’s technology into the 21st century, Brooks, who is currently board chairman of one of Michigan’s largest computer companies, is the most qualified candidate.

But technology alone will not do the job. The next mayor has to shake up the system. Brooks calls it pursuing a path of “revolution rather than evolution.” Other candidates made similar statements, but Brooks offered the sort of “outside the box” thinking most others did not. Council President Gil Hill, for example, promised increased accountability for department heads and a plan to increase the number of neighborhood city halls from 10 to 13, to better monitor the city’s problems. We hardly consider that revolutionary.

Brooks, on the other hand, talked about his experience as an undersecretary at the Department of Labor, and his politically risky decision to cut the bureaucracy from the top down by first eliminating 12 regional directors. It will require that kind of initiative, and willingness to take the heat, to overhaul the city’s bureaucracy.

The only other candidate who demonstrated the knowledge and determination to accomplish the task was Detroit Auditor General Joe Harris. His knowledge of the city’s workings exceeded that of all other candidates. He thinks we need to “re-engineer” the system department by department. The shortcoming we saw in Harris was a complete absence of political acumen, including his naive belief that money for his campaign would roll in once he presented his qualifications to voters. That’s not the way this system works, and the mayor of Detroit needs to understand politics. (As a side note, the next mayor, whoever that is, should use Harris’ expertise to the fullest extent possible.)

Brooks, though not so experienced in this regard as the other leading contenders, has put together a professional staff for a legitimate campaign. The fact that he served both Republican and Democratic presidents in positions that required Senate confirmation demonstrates at least some skill in navigating tricky political waters.

His Republican ties gave this progressive paper pause, to be sure. Brooks contends that a determination to follow his own values and priorities has instilled in him a sense of political independence. We believe that.

Furthermore, we think that Detroit needs a reformer who can make sure the streetlights remain on, who can demand that the Police Department be both effective and humane, and who can ensure that companies seeking permits to do business here are serviced quickly and efficiently. We also need a mayor who is determined to help this city’s most disenfranchised residents. No other candidate expressed a greater desire to do so.

Before making our decision, we considered Brooks’ age, 67, which some would say makes him too old for the job. However, considering the demands of the multiple private-sector positions he currently holds, we think he has the vigor needed.

For these reasons, we endorse Bill Brooks. He says he wants just one term to shake things up. We urge readers to give him serious consideration.

Visit the Bill Brooks campaign's official Web site at www.brooks4mayor.com.

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