Plunk you

News Hits was impressed to see the Freep's City Council slate last Sunday, the apparently painstaking culmination of combing survey responses from 90 candidates and interviews with two dozen finalists. The Freep gives a deserved nod to Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. and council member Brenda Jones alone among the incumbents, along with seven hopefuls, some of whom — Gary Brown in particular — have at least put themselves on our radar screen as names to consider and watch. 

And in response to repeated requests for MT interviews and endorsements from council candidates — just got another phone message requesting as much as we sat down to write this — here's the problem: If MT's news staff stopped to interview all 167 council candidates, or even 24, we wouldn't get a newspaper out — at least not one with any other news — for a couple of weeks.  And as impressed as we've been with a number of candidates — former cops Brown and John Bennett (both of whom stood up to Kwame Kilpatrick long before most others had the guts to), former Council President Maryann Mahaffey's former chief of staff Saunteel Jenkins among them, plus council member JoAnn Watson for her stands on the incinerator and a number of other key issues  — calling our opinions "endorsements" seems unfair without a substantial number of interviews and more research time than we've been able to muster this time around. 

So we hope it doesn't sound churlish when we say that our bit of election advice is to remind folks that they needn't vote for nine council members — not in the primary and not in the general election. 

"Plunking" — also called "bullet voting," it means voting for less than a full complement of candidates — has had a shadow of civic irresponsibility cast over it. But our analysis is that a "got to use all my votes" mind-set only exaggerates the power of celebrity (and particularly the celebrity of the incumbency) in our problematic at-large elections. 

Detroit voter, do you really have opinions on nine good candidates? More power to you. Or do you have a handful you feel passionately about, and having voted for them, do you fill in four or five other names on the electoral dance card because you feel you need to? Our guess is that your votes for the latter sometimes undermine your votes for the former; our fear is that in this election, half-hearted votes for well-known incumbents will undermine full-hearted sympathy for reformers. 

Of course, the hope is that either through the new charter commission or the referendum process, the all-at-large council will be retired. But until then ... 

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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