Name game, Detroit style

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What’s in a name? If you’re involved in a bitter mayoral race, maybe a lot. Though it’s only April, the opening salvos have already been fired at Detroit mayoral candidate Freman Hendrix, who, like a lot of people, chooses to go by his middle name instead of his first name, Helmut.

Hell, with a name like Helmut, who could blame him?

But it’s apparently a matter of import to some of Hendrix’s detractors, who insist on referring to the candidate by his Teutonic given name. Supporters of Sharon McPhail, a City Council member who’s running against Hendrix and incumbent Kwame Kilpatrick, routinely call Hendrix “Helmut” when referring to him in postings of the popular Web forum.

The name also showed up on two press releases News Hits received for a candidates’ forum held recently at New Bethel Baptist Church. Interestingly, the announcements didn’t come from the group sponsoring the candidate debate — as is usually the case. The source of the press releases was identified only as “Detroit Drums.” News Hits e-mailed the sender seeking more information, but our messages bounced back.

And here’s where the real intrigue comes in. Detroit Drums ( is an online bulletin board created by the community group Hood Research. But Theo Broughton, Hood Research’s co-founder, says her group is not responsible for the press releases and she doesn’t know who is.

“We’re trying to find that out,” says Broughton, who insists that her group is “politically neutral.”

Hendrix campaign manager Cathy Nedd says she has no idea who’s sending the releases. Neither McPhail nor her media contact were available to answer questions about the releases.

Having failed to answer the question of who’s doing it, we can now ask: Why is it being done?

Again nothing definitive, but here’s our take: There are some who would like the upcoming mayoral election to be a referendum on who’s the “blackest” candidate. As one veteran observer of Detroit’s political scene told us, referring to Hendrix as “Helmut” is a not-so-subtle way of, shall we say, making him pale in comparison to his opponents.

To the whiteys here at News Hits, that seems an awfully silly, even shameful, issue to be stoking at a time when the city faces a fiscal crisis of potentially crippling proportions. If this race hinges on who’s the blackest candidate of all, everyone’s going to lose.

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