Time to talk, Freman

With Detroit’s general election less than six weeks away, it’s time to revisit our endorsement of Freman Hendrix to replace Kwame Kilpatrick as mayor of what’s now the poorest, most dysfunctional, most racially segregated city in America.

We made the endorsement before the ugly August primary, in which candidates Sharon McPhail and Hansen Clarke were eliminated. No regrets there. But in endorsing Hendrix, putatively the anti-Kwame, we did so with reservations.

His past work for, and current associations with, former Wayne County Exec Ed McNamara and his corrupt political machine continues to give us pause. Only the depths of that corruption have yet to be established.

But most disturbing is a private business venture that Hendrix has been in for several years now with Big Mac himself and two of his top appointees.

Late in the pre-primary campaign, we received documents that soon were in the hands of every other major media outfit in town. As presented to us, they purported to show that the Hendrix-McNamara project — Mulligan’s, a domed golf facility in Oakland County — provided the cover for a million-dollar-plus bribe paid Hendrix for some unspecified favors during his time as Dennis Archer’s deputy mayor.

We confronted Hendrix with the information during two pre-endorsement interviews, questioned him closely and listened to his explanations. His demeanor, while being bushwhacked with the allegations, was that of an honest man. We looked at more documents, and were satisfied that the deal was aboveboard. That’s no longer true.

The story was soon widely reported elsewhere, with a variety of conclusions that further confused the situation. We did more reporting. One thing is certain — it was a very complicated deal put together over many years. In candor, we now don’t know what to make of it.

To date, Hendrix has stubbornly done nothing to disprove the bribery allegations other than repeatedly express outrage, and refuse our request for the single document that an outside expert tells us could conclusively establish the nature of the deal. It would violate the privacy of his business partners, Hendrix says, and that may be so. Given the smell of corruption that clings to them and continues to be under investigation by the feds, they may well have no interest in explaining anything. Nor do they have any obligation to.

But Hendrix does. As a man “with nothing to hide,” Hendrix says, he has nothing to fear. Heard that one before?

The bank that backed the deal, Comerica, has stubbornly refused to help clear the shadow over Hendrix’s reputation — and its own. The inference has been all along that Comerica was the bribe payer, and the unsubstantiated smear has — pardon the expression — gained currency in the campaign.

Given the depths to which the Kilpatrick camp, and especially “Our Mayor” himself, have already sunk in this campaign, anything with even the appearance of scandal plays right into the low-life, sleazy hands of Hendrix’s enemies.

Given the alternative — another disastrous Kilpatrick term — we continue to endorse Hendrix for mayor, but with even deeper reservations.

Candidate Hendrix owes everyone with any interest in the future of Detroit and this region — including Metro Times — a clearly documented, unassailable explanation of the Mulligan’s deal.

It’s way, way past due.

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