McNamara’s band

Every so often, the Detroit News actually seems to remember that it is a newspaper, and commit something resembling good journalism.

That has been particularly true of the paper’s series on “Broken Detroit.” The first two installments, one on the gradual death of a city block, and the second, on incompetence and corruption in City Council and the bureaucracy, had some minor errors, but were the best things I have read about the city’s plight in years.

Alas, Sunday’s episode, run under a huge headline “How To Fix Detroit,” was a weak letdown. The main story was about as sophisticated as something a fairly bright high-school student might produce, complete with checklist (“4. Go After More Aid. 5. Talk With Constituents.”). The sidebars were better, but the entire package still smacked of a primer New Detroit, say, might have published, circa 1970.

Scrupulously avoided Sunday was any mention of the enormous elephant in Detroit’s living room: Race. Ditto the one solution that oversized pachyderm makes politically impossible — some form of metropolitan government.

That, of course, is the only solution, if we indeed are serious about ever really addressing Detroit’s deep-seated problems. That, and facing the hard truths about race — truths that will be hard and harsh for everybody. Both have to happen, if we are to have any real hope of breaking down the walls of all our ghettos, gilded and otherwise.

Nevertheless, the newspaper put some important pre-policy stuff on the record, with a new mayor coming in. (Try to imagine the painfully politically correct Free Press even attempting something like “Broken Detroit.”)

Two weeks ago, to the mild astonishment of most of the political classes, we learned that we are also about to have a new county executive. Ed McNamara, a political boss in the grand sense, is bowing out at 75, claiming to have a mild heart problem.

Actually, he has all sorts of potential problems. There is a new U.S. attorney in Detroit who isn’t part of the old-boy network, and the word grand jury has been whispered more frequently in the land. Again, to its credit, the Detroit News has taken him on, showing two weeks ago how most contracts for the nation’s worst airport, its mammoth new terminal woefully behind schedule, have gone to his cronies and donors.

Here’s all you need to know about government, McNamara’s style. Back in the 1980s, county taxpayers voted $25 million for a badly needed new juvenile detention facility. But guess what: That facility was never built (although a new youth detention center was finally opened two years ago). McNamara’s boys used the money for something else, and got away with it. Someday, I used to think, I’d live to see Old Baldy in bright orange. But it’s highly unlikely, unless the feds move in on him.

Why? To an extent even Chicago’s first Mayor Daley might have envied, local government is honeycombed with products of his machine. Take Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, a transplanted Californian whose career is entirely his creation, and who, after two less-than-spectacular years on the job, is now being shoved hard by her supposedly former boss toward the governorship.

“He is a great man,” she said when Florida Ed stepped aside. “An amazing catalyst for improvement,” she said, perhaps not speaking for the kids in juvey, some of whom had, in years after the new jail wasn’t built, to pee in a bucket. (Finally, we are told they have started construction on a new juvenile detention facility. What a guy!)

Somehow I don’t expect General Jennifer to mount any state investigations of the airport mess. Locally, the new Wayne County Prosecutor is Mike Duggan, who ran the county for years, often while Ed was napping in Florida. Oh, and by the way, Mayor-elect Kwame Kilpatrick’s daddy is Mac’s chief of staff.

Sweet. Interestingly, the Boss doesn’t seem to have an obvious successor in the wings. Ricardo Solomon, chairman of the Wayne County commissioners, might be an obvious choice, but the Boss seems curiously unenthusiastic. Duggan’s moved on; Freman Hendrix is making too much money; Butch Hollowell wants secretary of state.

Incidentally, the election is next August’s Democratic primary — the general election is a mere formality — and all you need is one more vote than any other guy. The main event seems likely to feature Benny Napoleon, former star police chief, and Robert Ficano, county sheriff. The Boss loathes the sheriff, they say. But a deal may yet go down, I’m told, in which he would, if not endorse Ficano, at least stay out of the way.

We’ll leave to your imagination what Ficano might have to do for that. In a head-to-head race, Ficano could probably beat Napoleon, especially if Detroit’s black voters are divided. Napoleon, once a media darling, could still win, if enough other white candidates climb aboard the campaign; Downriver‘s Cameron Priebe, for example.

But it doesn’t seem likely, especially as Napoleon went into exile in a miasma of controversy over cops who seemed to like popping the citizens for no good reason.

Canadian sunset: What nation has done the most to help in our war effort? Naturally, the one Bush keeps forgetting to mention each time he reels off thanks to the allies. Following the terror attacks, there was a spate of stories, all of them false, indicating the hijackers had come through Canada. There was talk of helicopters constantly patrolling the border, a lot of nonsense about “lax security,” and as everyone who’s crossed to Windsor knows, it’s gotten more inconvenient.

What we often forget is that our economies are so interlinked that any significant disruption could make the economic effects of Sept. 11 look mild. Apparently we have now agreed to share more intelligence information with Canada, which is good. Now, if we could get our FBI and CIA to do the same with each other.

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