No doubt southeast Michigan’s movers and shakers are dragging after a long weekend of schmoozing and boozing at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual leadership conference on Mackinac Island. This is where everyone who’s anyone in business, politics, media and consulting pays $1,000 just to get into the elite Grand Hotel, where mostly minority employees in formal service uniforms recall antebellum plantations — sending chills through the spines of many, in particular the throngs of African-Americans attending this year’s event.
While big-time wheeling and dealing goes on behind closed doors, the less connected roam the $500-per-room hotel with hopes of cutting deals and winning powerful friends.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick garnered the most attention. Press folks were abuzz with questions, asking leaders how they regard the mayor’s firing of a deputy police chief who was investigating Kilpatrick’s bodyguards and rumors of a party involving an assault at the Manoogian Mansion. Nearly everyone interviewed seemed to express a similar sentiment: “We like the mayor and hope these problems go away fast.”
Wags said they are not so concerned about the alleged party, but worry about accusations that drunken members of the mayor’s security detail smashed city vehicles and then covered it up with the help of the administration. They were unimpressed with the mayor’s attacks on the media as the scandal broke.
Reporters shared gripes about the mayor’s media relations department, which often treats the media with indifference and is slow to share details — good and bad — about the workings of the city. Many ink-stained wretches wondered how long Jamaine Dickens would keep his job. Dickens said speculation he’s a short-timer is just another vicious rumor unworthy of comment.
Kilpatrick’s controversies came to a head early Saturday when the mayor joined county executives L. Brooks Patterson of Oakland and Robert Ficano of Wayne, as well as Macomb County Commission Chair Nancy White, for the annual “Big Four” live radio show on WJR-AM 760. In past years, Patterson and former Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara stole the show — this year, it was all Patterson and the mayor.
Going into the event — attended by hundreds in a standing-room-only theater — the mayor’s crew was nervous that questions about the recent scandal would surface, according to sources close to the mayor. To their relief, Patterson made a joke out of the affair, entering the theater flanked by a mock team of “men in black,” decked in sunglasses; Patterson wore a blinking earring. The audience, at least one-third of which was African-American, erupted in laughter. The mayor joined in. But some thought the mockery carried a tone of condescension. City Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel, who is white, said it felt like “blackface” from a man who built his career supporting anti-busing segregationists in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jennifer Granholm invited press to the island’s governor’s mansion for ginger snaps and lemonade. She walked around in slacks, very casually, chatting with some of the same scribes Kilpatrick recently described as having “demonic” intentions. The view was gorgeous, and grizzled media types were psyched at the invite, saying the estate was off-limits to the press under past governors.
Granholm, more interested in buttering up the press corps than arguing with or hiding from it, said no political leader, including the mayor, should be distracted by the controversy they’re reading in the papers. “There’s too much to do,” said the governor.
Granholm’s big announcement over the weekend was the institution of a “cool cities” commission to study ways to keep Michigan’s youth from leaving the state. Granholm says Michigan ranks third in the nation for losing young people, and she thinks creating “cool” cities, with lofts, Starbucks (?) and Internet cafés could temper the emigration. Of course, she said the future’s so great, “we’ve got to wear shades,” before putting some on herself.
Our suggestion to Jen: Next time you make a point of projecting a hip image, try referencing a song that isn’t 17 years old.Send comments to [email protected]