We pause for a note about the author

Nov 24, 2004 at 12:00 am

After I telegraphed last week that the subject of this column would be Detroit City Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins, she gave me a call.

She wanted to ensure that, when I write about her, I deal only with “the allegations that were proven.” She continues, as she has so often in the past, to provide her own best material for serio-comic relief.

But I also received other comments, including a couple from the fairly constant “Gang of Four” alignment she has with other council members, expressing concern not with what I write, but with how I write it. They were offended by my tone, which was accurately characterized as angry and mean, and questioned my standing as someone to harshly criticize the city, its leaders and how they run it. Some have the impression that I’m an unknown outsider sniping from tall weeds.

I’ve been remiss in not introducing myself so you can make your own judgment. In brief:

I’m 53 and white, which I include only because race is always a consideration in anything done in or said about Detroit. I was born and raised on the West Side of Detroit in the old 14th Police Precinct, and attended and graduated Detroit Public Schools (Mackenzie High — “Bad as Hell, Sweet as Wine, We the Class of ’69”). Dad was a career Detroit cop; Mom an executive at the Engineering Society of Detroit. I lived part time for four years in Ann Arbor while attending U-M, then returned, married and moved into an apartment in Detroit’s Palmer Park. A few years later, we moved several blocks outside the city to send our kids to public school away from the shambles and horrors — even 25 years ago — of Detroit schools, where my wife worked for a time as a teacher.

I’ve worked 32 years in Detroit journalism, nearly half at The Detroit News, for much of that time covering Detroit politics both on the City Hall beat and as an investigative reporter. The second half was in magazines, first Detroit Monthly, then HOUR Detroit. For several years, I was an on-air newspaper critic for WDIV-TV in Detroit, where there were constant reminders that the press has an even thinner skin than Detroit politicians. (This was well before the newspaper strike, contrary to a fairly common opinion that I was a striker venting his spleen on management.) Now I’m back in newspapers.

I’ve paid taxes all of my working life, including childhood, to the City of Detroit. My Detroit roots are wide and deep. I have the experience, longevity and standing to be critical, and the understanding that — for any number of relevant and irrelevant reasons — criticism will likely be assailed as often as it’s applauded.

But I understand, and agree with, the opinion that stridency and a high volume of bile can put off readers, no matter the substance. So, on the subject of Detroit’s longstanding tendency to re-elect officials no matter their past misdeeds or the embarrassment they cause the city well beyond its borders, I’ll take a cooler approach to Barbara-Rose, unlike with that hump, Councilman Lonnie Bates (whom I didn’t hear any support for after teeing off on him last week).

The facts will speak for themselves. Allegations that never went any further will be identified as such, and why.

But again, that’ll have to wait for next week.

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