by | Nov 13, 2005 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Quickly, now. Who’s your mayor?

If you thought “Kwame Kilpatrick,” answer a second question. Do you live in Detroit?

Chances are, you may not. Chances are, you live in the suburbs. Chances are, you can’t name the mayor of your actual town.

But that’s OK. That’s how it works with city suburbs. Those who live over the bridges from New York still had strong opinions about Rudy Giuliani. And suburban Chicagoans still argued endlessly about Richard Daley.

After all, these people work in the city. They shop in the city. They pay wage taxes to the city. They identify with the city. (You call yourself a “Detroiter,” not a “Southfielder” or a “Dearborner,” right?)

Which may explain why, last week, so many Detroit suburbanites were upset with the mayoral election.

And why so many Detroiters seemed to enjoy their discomfort.

Freman Hendrix was viewed as the suburban choice. Kwame Kilpatrick was proven to be the city choice. Somehow, this also melted into Hendrix as the white population’s candidate and Kilpatrick as the black population’s candidate.

Us versus them.

And Rome burns.

No time for pointing fingers

Look, we had better understand something right now. Eight Mile is not a moat. The city of Detroit cannot survive without support from the suburbs. And if the city goes under, the suburbs will suffer, too.

This idea that “Kwame is our guy and no suburban elitists are gonna tell us how to vote” is not the way you should choose a mayor.

And this suburban belief that “we can see so much better that Hendrix is best for Detroit” is not an entitlement, not to people who don’t make up Detroit’s neighborhoods.

We have a city that is hemorrhaging citizens almost as fast as it is hemorrhaging money. We have taxes that are out of line. We have staffing woes in every basic service, from teachers to police officers. We have bankruptcy staring us in the calendar, just as the Super Bowl is coming to town.

And what do we spend time on? Pointing fingers and telling each other, “You don’t have the right to determine my future.”

No time for hostilities

I’ve heard Detroiters say, “All the suburbs care about is having safe streets when they come to a ball game.” Well. It’s not all they care about. But does that make safe streets a race issue? Doesn’t everyone want safe streets?

I’ve heard people say, “How can Detroiters like that whole hip-hop thing in their mayor?” Well, wait a minute. Kilpatrick is 35, black and, yes, hip (which is what we used to call hip-hop). He’s also educated and successful. Isn’t that part of the population we want to cultivate?

In the run-up to this election, we had the mayor accusing suburban kids of being drug addicts.

And we had ads that suggested Hendrix would sell the “jewels” of the city to suburban greed.

Folks, if the city and the suburbs keep sticking it to each other, they each lose. There is no safety net for an American city. It can stumble and teeter – as Detroit is doing now – but it also can fall, die and disappear. The federal government will not hold it up. Check out St. Louis. Fifty years ago, it was the eighth biggest city in the country.

Today, it isn’t even in the top 50.

It is possible, sadly, to envision a day when the jobs, the big office buildings, the casinos, the restaurants and the sports stadiums are all in Novi and Sterling Heights, and what used to be called downtown Detroit is just a husk of a place, with citizens too poor to provide a tax base.

And if that happens, and you trace back its history, you will find it began the day the city and the suburbs enjoyed the war more than the peace.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or “The Mitch Albom Show” is 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). He will sign copies of books at 11 a.m. Nov. 25 at Borders Express in Great Lakes Crossing.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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