Detroit Breakdown

Back many, many, many, many years ago, when there were two newspapers in Detroit in two separate buildings, there was a place in between there that reporters and editors would gather and drink and eat bad food. The owner was an old man named Leo and he would work the day shift. The establishment, the Anchor Bar, was the only business in an old, gutted out hotel.

But this isn’t the story of the Anchor Bar. It is what Leo always said to anyone who would listen. “Detroit will become America’s first ‘Third-world city’.

Thursday, it officially became one. Oh, it was well on it’s way when the old man predicted it, but on July 18, 2013, it became official.

Detroit is now bankrupt. The largest in the history of this country. It took 60 years, according to the Governor. I seem to think it goes back a bit further than that, but if that’s what the Nerd says, then we’ll stick with that number.

Back in 1952, Detroit was a vibrant place, the fourth largest city in America. Bigger than Los Angeles, Houston, and Dallas at the time. In the 1950 census, Detroit had 1.8 million people. Today, it has 717,000. That’s a 60% drop. It once boasted a 90% home ownership rate, today, it’s less then 20.

During World War II, it was called “The Arsenal of Democracy.” Of course, then along came Barry Gordy and “Hitsville USA” and Detroit and its’ moniker would be forever known as “Motown.” But Gordy up and left in 1972 for LA and the house on West Grand Boulevard, where Smokey, Diana, Martha and Marvin recorded and “The Sound of Young America,” became the Motown Museum.

A third world city. A city decimated by racism, corruption, crime and perception. The lower east side was once described to me as “looking like Vienna after the War.” Well, that can be applied to the whole city in 2013. Whole neighborhoods, gone. Crime always in the news.  Police powerless to be effective.  A third of the city is vacant.  The way we are perceived hasn’t changed since the 1967 riots.

Who’s to blame? All of us. Those of us who live here.  And used to live here, too.  Mayors from Cavanaugh to Young to Kilpatrick.  Governors from Swanson to Romney to Blanchard to Engler to Granholm to Snyder.  City Council members, too many to list, who made a joke out of the system.  Businesses who left, people who stayed and didn’t stand up and scream loud enough.

A sad day.  Inevitable, some are saying.  Unavoidable, say others. I disagree.  Bankruptcy is always a “last resort,” but here, it seemed to be what Snyder and his lawn ornament Kevyn Orr, have wanted from day one.  You don’t appoint a bankruptcy attorney as an Emergency Manager without the ultimate goal of declaring bankruptcy.

Which is exactly what Snyder intended all along.  But a judge has stated the filing is unconstitutional under Michigan’s Constitution.  Which of course, the State’s AG is fighting…

Whether or not the filing is upheld or withdrawn is beside the point.  Detroit is in need of some serious help and bankruptcy may not be the best path forward.  The ferret from Kentucky, Rand Paul, has said no to any Federal bailout of Detroit – “Over my dead body.”  Trust me, if it was Louisville, he’d be singing a completely different tune.

This is where, once again, race comes into play.  As late as 1960, the city was 87% white.  It is now 82% black.  Even though the Metro area population is ranked 13th in the country, Detroit proper is 18th.  Dallas and Houston and several other cities have gone past Detroit in population.  Houston is now number 4, a spot Detroit held from 1940-80.

People have offered to help.  $200 million to turn the city’s school district around.  Rejected.  Urban farming.  Not so fast.  Purchase Belle Isle? No way (that, i agreed with).  But now, Orr is looking at selling off parts of the Detroit Institute of Arts collection and some of the Detroit Public Library’s more famous holdings.  The State has said no, those things are held in a public trust, but now that the Rubicon has been crossed, anything’s possible.

Consider this, this is a city that holds the somewhat dubious distinction of bidding on the Olympics seven times and not getting them.  1944, 52, 56, 60, 64, 68 and 72.  Lost to Tokyo and Mexico City by one vote.   Many contend that had Detroit won the 1968 bid, the riots wouldn’t have happened. They may be right.  But even then, in 1962, the IOC was a corrupt organization and Detroit’s slide had already begun.

We have been fooling ourselves all these years, thinking that a “comeback” was right around the corner.  It never happened.  For a million and one reasons.  But mostly because of closed minds and poisoned hearts.  I remember a woman telling me her daughter had got accepted at Wayne State on a full academic ride, but she wasn’t going to let her go to school there.  Because she was fearful her daughter might get raped or killed.  I just shook my head.

Leo died about 10 years ago.  The Anchor Bar moved a block or so from where it used to be on Lafayette Avenue.  The News and Free Press entered into a Joint Operating Agreement in 1989 and now share the same building.  The Free Press building is now vacant.  The Fort Shelby was spared the wrecking ball and is now a upscale hotel across from WDIV.  Cobo Arena, where the Pistons played (and Seger rocked) back when Mayor Bing was Dave Bing, got demolished last year. Detroit has never come back because the people want to hold on to what it was and wallow in what it is.

“America’s Third-World City.”



5 Responses to “Detroit Breakdown”

  1. Gerald Theriault Says:

    Kent, the Detroit article is a good article. However there is much more to the story.
    Mayor Young during his tenure took racism to it’s highest peak. He was openly racist, and would win the admiration, of the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, today’s top panders of racism at it’s worst. Young was openly opposed to the Detroit Police efforts, this caused a feeling of unrest, fear, and presented a bleak future for many educated black and white people. Many, many, many, moved from Detroit, followed by many other residents who took the queue from the first group. This movement was known as “White Flight” though it also included many, many, Afro-Americans. These Afro-Americans took residence among the many whites in the suburbs, finding that they could fit in. You grew up in Livonia and know that racial problems were minimal. Young was the main cause of this hysteria, causing the exodus. This lowered the Detroit tax base and things began to erode at an accelerated pace. When Young’s niece was caught red-handed as a fairly big drug dealer, the Mayor proceeded to blame the police, contending a frame up, more erosion of Law and Order. I believe as many others do that Mayor Coleman Young was patently crooked.
    Lets face it, the largest majority of Black folks fell for Young’s tirades against Detroit’s white citizens, white Politicians, more learned Black Politicans, including the white mayors north of, “Eight Mile Road.”
    Kent, you know me well, I am not a racist, I brought my kids up in Livonia to respect all races and religions. I also had my two manufacturing shops on 8 Mile Road in Livonia, and that I started my business in Detroit.
    Facts are facts, I suggest you do some digging regarding Young and his Cronies, and the mayor who is serving time, here lies the big story.
    “We Reap What We Sow”
    My regards,
    Jerry Theriault

  2. Stephen Beard Says:

    Kent, it has been many years since I was in Detroit, to attend (of course) a car show. With my free time, I wandered around. This was sometime in the late 1970s. Even then, it gave the appearance of a third world city. Block after block along Woodward Avenue was shuttered or burnt. Cars sat on concrete blocks, some of them sticking into the street.
    I can make no sensible comment on politics and corruption in the city. But aside from the shiny new buildings along the river, it appeared even then like a city doomed, whether by its own hand or those of others.
    Bankruptcy seems like a step too far. Many people will be harmed, although the usual suspects will be enriched. Wish I had something better to say, but Detroit lost its way many years ago, even as other cities scared by riot and industrial decamping (my home town of Dayton, Ohio, among them) have endured and improved.
    I lived in Dayton when about 30,000 jobs were eliminated in less than a year and the city where flight had originated and multiple other inventions had made automobiles and important industrial processes feasible and practical.
    The city went into serious decline, but has largely rebounded thanks to people not giving up. It’s never going to be what it once was, a city that was genuinely someplace important. Who knows what may happen, but cities like Dayton and Columbus and Akron and Canton worked hard are still working hard to reinvent themselves.
    Detroit, alas, doesn’t really seem to have reinvention in its DNA.

  3. rollingwheelie Says:

    Jerry, I know all about Coleman. He was a crook. But you think it was Coleman who started this? Or that politicians “North of 8 Mile” didn’t contribute to the situation? If you are, then you’re forgetting about L. Brooksie and Ed McNamara. Patterson made his career bashing Detroit and started it by screaming about cross-district busing, if you recall. McNamara, as both Mayor of Livonia and Wayne County Executive, had so many crooked deals going that he was under a sealed indictment when he died over the airport expansion (and the terminal that bares his name) and Wayne County isn’t that far behind the City in its financial mess. They started construction of a new jail and have since run out of money, so that building just sits there and won’t be completed in the near future.

    Stephen, you’re right. Even back then, Detroit was well on it’s way to becoming a third world city. I can say that drugs played a major role in the city’s decline. Crack and its antecedents (meth, the re-introduction of heroin) and the fact that we have draconian drug laws that unfairly punish those who use rather than distribute is just touching the surface of the host of issues that have plagued this city for more than 45 years. Every Mayor from Gribbs to Bing has focused on downtown or the Wayne State-Midtown area, where I lived for nearly 10 years. They should have focused on the whole city, not just the areas where they could attract businesses.

    As I said, people in this area either wax nostalgic or wallow in pity. No-one was interested in “reinvention” because everyone was pointing fingers. And they still are.

  4. Jeff Friedman Says:

    “The way we are perceived hasn’t changed since the 1967 riots.” I thought Mickey Lolich changed all that.
    Okay, I’ll be serious.
    This morning was the first time I had actually watched and listened to your governor. I didn’t realize was a weasely little douche bag he is.
    Like most of them, he won’t come out and say what he means: He should at least have the decency to admit that he has one primary objective: Fucking people out of their pensions.
    From what I can see from afar, that is all this whole dog and pony show is about.
    Where’s Gates Brown when you need him?
    I agree with a couple of your comments and disagree with a couple of others:
    You mentioned “people who stayed and didn’t stand up and scream loud enough” and “Who’s to blame? All of us. Those of us who live here. And used to live here, too.”
    I just finished reading a piece in which the author says essentially the same thing about the entire country: Our main problems are passivity, acceptance, and resignation.
    According to the author, the only people who are angry in this country are, believe it or not, the ultra wealthy. They’re pissed off that they don’t have even more, and they have no problem paying fortunes to their lobbyists and bought-and-paid-for Congressmen to make it happen.
    On the other hand, those who are struggling to get by and those who aren’t getting by seem to have strangely relegated themselves to acceptance of their current lot in life.
    That said, I disagree with you about bankruptcy. I absolutely believe that hard working people’s pensions should be off limits in bankruptcy court. But wiping out millions of dollars of debt that is owed to the Wall Street banks and hedgehogs sounds like a hell of an idea to me.
    The other comment of yours with which I disagree is “Whether or not the [BK] filing is upheld or withdrawn is beside the point.”
    I think what the court does is very much the point. The court has the power to determine which debts are subject to elimination via BK and which are not.
    IMHO, getting rid of a whole bunch of insurmountable debt owed to corporate America and assorted billionaires would be a major league boon to the city and its residents.
    Which brings me back to the same place where I almost always wind up: the courts. Especially, with the logjam in Washington, our president’s timidity and willingness to kowtow to the Mental Patient Party, and the runaway madness in Republican-controlled state governments, the courts are the people’s only realistic remaining hope.
    Which is why Democrats HAVE to break EVERY attempted judicial filibuster attempted by Yertle the Kentucky Turtle.
    Because if he has his way, no one left of center, even slightly, will be confirmed to a federal judgeship, and as many judicial vacancies as possible will remain open for the next Republican president to fill with more right wing extremists.

  5. rollingwheelie Says:

    Jeff, you make some good points. As far as the “fucking people out of their pensions”, you’re right, but that’s only part of the story. The rest of the story goes to the heart of what has eaten away at this city since before you and I were born. And yes, like so much of this country, it is about race and class. Much of America HAS given up and those who have want it all. Like Carlin said, “We have the illusion of choice.” And yes, as is proven by this story, much like in Casablanca (or Van Nuys) in 1942, “there are vultures, vultures, everywhere.”

    And Gates Brown is still ready to pinch-hit. And Lolich would tear Leyland’s head off if he tried to take him out of a no-hitter.

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