The view from ground zero

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New York— Do voters make rational choices?

Did it make sense for Detroiters, for example, to elect as mayor a 31-year-old former football tackle?

The same night we elected Kwame Kilpatrick, New York City elected a billionaire Republican named Michael Bloomberg as its next mayor. That seems rather bizarre, given that NYC is the world capital of multicultural diversity.

That is, until you take a closer look. That vote was in no way some kind of show of support for our glorious president. George W. Bush has never played very well in the greatest city in the world — culturally, politically, or otherwise. He lost the city 4-to-1 in 2000, and isn’t especially popular here now.

Patriotism is in, here maybe more than anyplace else, for obvious reasons. They still hand out paper face masks on the street, near the World Trade Center site, for people to put on when the wind changes. And even what you can see from the street, half a block away, is the stuff of nightmares.

As they all say, television just doesn’t convey anything like the full effect. Bush has come here, twice, and crowds have applauded the symbol of American power. But the federal government has done precious little to help the city, which will end up spending billions to clean up the devastation.

So why did the voters elect a Republican mayor? Some of it may have to do with the sudden popularity of the outgoing disaster hero, Rudy Giuliani. But mostly, I think it was because the Democrat, Mark Green, ran a vicious, race-baiting campaign, especially in a primary runoff against his Hispanic opponent, Fernando Ferrer. Voters weren’t in the mood for that, especially this year.

Detroiters also made the best choice they could for mayor — those who bothered to vote, that is. Did many have very real concerns about Kilpatrick’s youth and relative inexperience at city government? Sure, perhaps rightfully so.

Did his scandalously incomplete campaign-finance reports worry us? You bet.

But what was the alternative? A former policeman who seemed older than his 70 years, a man with questionable ties to the Greektown casino. “You know, I would have voted for Gil … but he just never did anything in all those years on City Council,” one woman told me. Those who watch council on cable knew that the Beverly Hills Cop-meister often showed up late, when he showed up at all.

So now what? The boy mayor has three top priorities, all of which make huge sense: police reform, a “mayor’s time” after-school program to keep kids learning and off the dangerous streets, and neighborhood improvement.

Add to that, however, some kind of improved regional transportation agreement, which he will try his best to get through the Michigan House before he leaves next month. This is immensely important; there are jobs in the suburbs, even now, and thousands of Detroiters who don’t have cars to get there. Both city and suburbs have a lot to gain from an easy-to-navigate, seamless regional bus system.

Everybody has an enormous interest in the new mayor succeeding. He may have a tougher time than past mayors with City Council, however. Most of its members publicly or privately supported Gil Hill. The new three include the odious Lonnie Bates, and Barbara-Rose Collins, who was rightfully turned out of her congressional seat five years ago by Kwame’s mommy.

If they are part of the solution, it will prove the existence of God. The real question mark is Sharon McPhail, the other new member. Will she become a real force for leadership or attempt to form a shadow government?

What also needs to happen — soon — is a change in the way council is elected, so that most of them represent specific districts. The good news is that Kilpatrick supports this idea, as does Councilman Ken Cockrel. So Kenny … get the ball rolling, already.

Incidentally, for some strange reason, the new mayor seems to have forgotten to ask me for specific policy advice. I’m sure he meant to, and the cell phone circuits were busy. So here are two quick pointers.

Mike Ilitch isn’t the mayor. You are.

Dennis Archer didn’t always appear to know this. Ilitch wants Tiger Stadium torn down, so that wonderful structure can’t compete with the new playpen the taxpayers helped build him. What he is especially afraid of is that someone will put a minor-league baseball team there to compete financially with his own not-very-interesting minor-league team. If there are any secret deals, expose them, and do with Tiger Stadium, which the city owns, whatever is best for Detroit.

Second, there is a shadowy, not very savory Grosse Pointe businessman named Manny Moroun who owns, among other things, our biggest eyesore, the abandoned train station, and has repeatedly promised and failed to do anything with it. Make him put up or tear it down.

Good luck, guy. Lots of “experts” know too many reasons why you, and Detroit, can’t succeed. Listen, but with only one ear.

Suburban serendipity: Speaking of rational behavior, two other cities helped restore faith in democracy. Southfield elected the promising Brenda Lawrence and tossed out the moth-eaten Donald Fracassi, who never met a developer he didn’t like but bitterly opposed a modern new library. He left whining that it was all racial, and said he might move out of state and start a city called Fracassiville. Hey, Donny: Bye.

Meanwhile, Pontiac voters apparently extracted the slimy Walter Moore, who, among other things, hired his cousin to drive him around for $80,000 a year. Moore is hollering for a recount and refusing to help Mayor-elect Willie Payne, but the odds are that in the end his classless butt will be chauffeured out of there.

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