Sacred and profane

Sharon McPhail has this month shown signs that she may be growing into the kind of leader some have long thought she could be. Since she burst on the scene nine years ago, McPhail, now a City Councilwoman, has been one of Detroit’s most intriguing politicians.

She was unquestionably highly intelligent, educated and charismatic. But she seemed early on to have a chip on her shoulder that got in the way of her better instincts, and a knack for getting into the wrong race at the wrong time.

I thought she’d gotten past much of that, and then was dismayed last week to hear breathy “exclusive” reports on WWJ-AM all morning long that McPhail would enter the race for Wayne County executive, barely six months after finally winning a seat on City Council.

Fortunately, the radio was dead wrong (thanks, sources say, to the insistence of a news director who had no idea what she was talking about). Had she entered that race, McPhail, a former prosecutor who is the only attorney on council, would have lost credibility, big-time. She could not have been elected county executive, a race, like all Wayne County races, which will be essentially decided in August’s Democratic primary.

Incidentally, the winner of that contest is already certain. It will be Robert Ficano, the county sheriff, unless he is discovered abusing a sheep behind the courthouse before Aug. 6. The math is simple: Wayne County’s electorate is almost evenly divided between black and white. There are now three major African-American candidates in the race — Ricardo Solomon, chair of the Wayne County Commissioners; former Detroit Police Chief Benny Napoleon; and term-limited state Sen. Joe Young Jr. of Detroit.

Ficano is the only major white candidate. Yes, Virginia, voters ought not to make up their minds on the basis of race, but given the choice, most opt for their own color.

Meanwhile, McPhail was saving the city big bucks and big-time embarrassment by casting the deciding vote earlier this month to reject an insane settlement to pay the Detroit police force’s most notorious officer, Eugene Brown, $340,000 to quit.

Brown, a classic bad cop, has killed three people and wounded at least one other during his years on the force, conduct that an internal Detroit police investigation concluded was highly improper, according to many sources. Yet the new police chief hasn’t, so far as I know, ever given council his internal report on Brown.

Nevertheless, four of the dimmest council members — Brenda Scott, Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, Kay Everett and the notorious Alonzo Bates — voted to give the killer cop the money. They argued that unless they paid him off, the city would have to promote him to sergeant. That’s how the city operated for years, with grievous consequences.

But this time, a bare majority said no, including McPhail and her frequent ally, Barbara-Rose Collins. The next day a judge ruled that the Board of Police Commissioners was right, and there was no way in hell the city had to promote Brown.

Once in a while, right does triumph.

Not that the press necessarily notices.

Without any doubt, the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of the priests-and-children sex scandals makes Richard Nixon’s behavior in the Watergate cover-up look like both brilliant political strategy and a textbook model of ethical behavior.

Having said that, the nation’s media, including even The New York Times, have handled the reporting of the story with all the careful balance shown by a pack of starving sharks who’ve discovered a bleeding water buffalo floundering in the water.

Take the Detroit Free Press, which ran a screaming five-column front-page headline on May 7: “4 Accused Priests Still Serve.” Now while it is true that both Joe McCarthy and Joe Stalin were firm believers that accusation equals guilt, back in my America even the accused are supposed to be presumed innocent till proved guilty.

The newspaper did quote a priest who is the church liaison with the prosecutors as saying, “It’s very important to recognize that accusation is not the same as guilt.”

Amen. But that seems lost on most of the media. Incidentally, I am not myself Catholic, and never have been. In fact, I am not a member of any particular religion. I don’t know whether the Catholic insistence on clerical celibacy is in part to blame for all of this, and I could not even hazard a guess as to how widespread the abuse of children has been.

And I wouldn’t pretend to recommend what the church should do about all this, other than face it honestly. Clearly, the Times and a few other papers are hoping to ride our pedophile priests into major journalism prize land, which may well happen.

Perhaps it should. I do know, however, that plenty of priests are not sexual predators. I have met some very good ones. They must feel horribly, and unfairly, stigmatized these days. Maybe, just maybe, this ought to be part of the story too.

Keep on, MOSES: Don’t ever expect this to get as much media attention as, say, the rumors surrounding a priest in Taylor, but for the last five years, MOSES — an interfaith, multiracial, city-suburban community organization — has been working hard for all of our common interests. It has successfully fought crime and drugs in the past; this year, it’s made raising public consciousness about the region’s very real need for rapid transit a main focus. MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength) plans a 5,000-person public meeting at Greater Grace Temple on Sunday, Sept. 29. Incidentally, though the Rev. Joseph Barlow, a black Baptist preacher from Ecorse, is MOSES’ president, Cardinal Adam Maida is an enthusiastic supporter. We’ll take a closer look at MOSES later; for more info sooner, call 313-838-3190.

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