February 24, 2018 rss
header twitter link facebook link home link
View Resource Guide and Job Postings

Jack Lessenberry

Jack Lessenberry

Milliken’s Legacy: Focusing on Detroit

March 22, 2013

TRAVERSE CITY – For years Bill Milliken, possibly the Governor who most cared about Detroit, tried to persuade everyone in Michigan that the city and the state’s futures were tied together. “If Detroit should fail, Michigan will be in such trouble that we will find it difficult to recover,” he told a reporter back in 1981. He successfully fought for state aid to the city when that was even more unpopular than it is today. For a while, it helped.

But that was a long time ago. Last week, I had a late lunch with Milliken right as Governor Rick Snyder was announcing his choice for Emergency Manager for the city. “This is sad,” Michigan’s longest-serving governor said, and he wondered about the mood of the people. Milliken, who turns 91 this month, still follows events closely. He comes from Traverse City, a nearly all-white area which lacks major urban problems, and grasped the significance of Detroit to the state soon after he became Governor in 1969. In one of the most remarkable “odd couple” relationships in the history of politics, he and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young became allies in the cause of trying to help Michigan’s largest city.

Against the opposition of many fellow Republicans, he successfully fought to give the city millions of dollars in state aid. He persuaded the National Governors’ Association to hold their annual conference in Detroit in 1977. “If we can’t solve our urban problems, we can’t solve the problems of America,” a then-boyish Milliken told his fellow governors when they arrived. “Cities have always been the center of civilization as we have known it,” he said, predicting our cities would become either, “Monuments—or death mounds—of our civilization.”

He persuaded the Legislature to put together a multi-million dollar, “equity package” for the city. His reasoning was that a large number of people across the state benefited from Detroit institutions like Belle Isle, the Detroit Zoo and the Institute of Arts. The Governor thought it wasn’t fair that the city got stuck carrying the entire cost of running them. Those efforts helped. But the bottom later fell out of Detroit’s economy. City flight accelerated; not only of the white population, but of the black middle class as well. City leaders balanced budgets by borrowing and racking up debt. They agreed to pension plans and retiree health care programs they couldn‘t properly fund.

Last week, after an agonizing review of the city’s finances, the Governor, to no one’s surprise, declared a state of financial emergency and appointed an Emergency Manager. When he takes over March 25, Kevyn Orr, a 54 year old bankruptcy lawyer from the Washington D.C. suburbs, will have more power than the Mayor and City Council ever did.

Then, three days later, he’ll have even more when a new state law kicks in. He will be able to change contracts, sell assets, and do essentially anything he needs to do to get city finances under control.

On Thursday, as Orr was being appointed, Milliken asked me, “Is there a lot of anger among the people?” I said my impression was that there was more desperation than anything else. On March 1, the day the Governor first ruled there was a state of emergency in Detroit, I listened to the announcement with Sheila Cockrel, herself a City Council member from 1994 to 2010. “Detroiters live in fear. They want police who will come, they want street lights that will come on,” she told me. “They want to feel safe, and they want a minimum level of public services.” Reluctantly, she had concluded that an Emergency Manager is necessary, even though it means taking most decisions away from popularly elected leaders.

Later, she explained her thinking in a March 17 Detroit Free Press column: “Voting is a fundamental right, of course, but isn’t the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of equal importance?” she argued. “When local government cannot ensure basic services … when the basic right to life itself is threatened, this is a crisis that dwarfs everything else. It is time to act. To take a risk.”

Other longtime Detroiters—a few of them white—disagree. The Reverend Ed Rowe, Pastor of Central United Methodist Church, said an Emergency Manager was, “Racism.” Bill Wylie-Kellermann, the Pastor of nearby St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, called it, “Corporate state occupation.” A man named Donald Handy called it, “A fascist takeover of our largest city.” But looked at legally, it would seem to be none of those things. Under Michigan law, cities are creations of the state. The Legislature could even dissolve Detroit and combine it with Wayne County.

Orr, the newly-appointed Emergency Manager and himself an African-American, said he was more than willing to work with elected officials. His appointment is not open-ended: After a year and a half, a two-thirds majority of City Council could vote to remove the Emergency Manager. He told the Detroit News, “If we have good faith and people are sincere about doing something, this can easily be done in 18 months,” if not sooner. City elections will go on as scheduled this year, and those elected next November will eventually be back in power.

As for naming an Emergency Manager, Milliken wouldn’t second-guess Governor Snyder, whom he supported when he was running in 2010. But back when today’s Governor was still in college, Milliken was saying Detroit is, “In very deep distress today,” and needed to be saved. Today, half a lifetime later, Rick Snyder, Bill Milliken, and Sheila Cockrel (who was once a Marxist) all agree: “We need to just fix this,” Cockrel said. Kevyn Orr will now have more power than anyone has ever had to try.

Veteran journalist and national Emmy Award winner Jack Lessenberry teaches at Wayne State University, serves as Michigan Radio’s senior political analyst and writes regularly for several publications. He also serves as The Toledo Blade’s writing coach and ombudsman and is host of the weekly television show Deadline Now on WGTE-TV in Toledo.

March 21, 2013 · Filed under Jack Lessenberry

39 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Greg Thrasher // Mar 22, 2013 at 9:10 am

    As usual besides the usual slanted spinning of reality by Jack it is always incumbent on readers that they question everything Jack opines and writes about.

    This commentary suffers from the omission of salient facts and a torturous reading of history and present day realities .

    Jack intentionally omits the fact the Shelia Cockrel is white and was a council person while insane financial policies were implemented. In the past Jack’s verbaige about the Black woman on the DCC has been vicious .

    Jack never mentions Orr and his own tax liens and how inept Snyder was in vetting this carpetbagger .

    Jack’s endorsement of the EFM legislation is not a surprised given his legacy of contempt for Detroit. We really never get a full explanation of Milliken’s views just snippets of Jack’s views about the former governor’s perspectives .

    There is really something morally offensive about this latest nonsense from Jack his twisted insertion of a great governor’s legacy to float his continued indictment of Detroit is truly offensive. I hope he never is allowed in the company of a great stateman like the former governor again!!!

  • 2 Jack Dempsey // Mar 23, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Mr. Lessenberry’s take on Governor Milliken’s care and concern for Detroit is substantiated by history; see, eg, a 2009 MI Political History Soc’y newsletter (note remarks by Mr. Lewis): http://mipoliticalhistory.com/newsletters/spring09.pdf
    “Milliken created the Governor’s Office on Urban Affairs as a call to action to address urban issues across the state, grounded in the firm belief that Detroit’s stability was crucial to the stability of the state.”

  • 3 Anagnorisis // Mar 23, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Having been a Detroiter for 10 years, greater Detroit another 10, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Motown is experiencing the same plight as many places, even ’round the globe, even small towns. It’s just more dynamic in big cities. They’ll have to scale back it seems obvious. Like any high, you can’t sustain it indefinitely and you have to admit there’s a problem at some point. If you can’t fix it yourself you need help.

  • 4 Greg - MadeInMichiganPoliticsBlog // Mar 28, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Jack is correct about local governments being a creature of the state. Michigan is a “Dillon’s Rule” state, one where local gov’ts are created by and subservient to the state. It’s been hard-wired into our state constitution, so there’s no doubt of who is in charge.

    A good summary of the concept is here: http://www.nlc.org/build-skills-and-networks/resources/cities-101/city-powers/local-government-authority

  • 5 pop over to this site // Mar 7, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    436795 151363It is actually a cool and valuable piece of details. I

  • 6 hello kittygames // Mar 7, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    626769 196310Hello! Nice post! Please do keep us posted when we can see a follow up! 37289

  • 7 batterie per bici elettriche vendita // Mar 8, 2014 at 9:25 am

    800296 375022I actually thankful to locate this web site on bing, just what I was searching for : D too bookmarked . 851451

  • 8 how to create your own website // Mar 8, 2014 at 11:00 am

    377426 898952Glad to be 1 of a lot of visitors on this awing internet site : D. 3676

  • 9 how to build your own website // Mar 8, 2014 at 11:57 am

    605949 274278a good deal lately with my father so hopefully this will get him to see my point of view. Fingers crossed! mortgage banker new york 254190

  • 10 play free slot machine // Mar 10, 2014 at 11:08 am

    155664 503555Which is some inspirational stuff. Never knew that opinions may well be this varied. Thank you for all of the enthusiasm to supply such beneficial details here. 159104

  • 11 apartment movers washington dc // Mar 10, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    904778 768513Hi my loved 1! I wish to say that this post is wonderful, excellent written and come with almost all crucial infos. I would like to see a lot more posts like this . 911675

  • 12 free online slots // Mar 10, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    151048 293845You can surely see your skills inside the function you write. The world hopes for far more passionate writers like you who aren

  • 13 Chandler Windshield Replacement Reviews // Mar 11, 2014 at 2:00 am

    664539 377210Quite intriguing data!Perfect just what I was seeking for! 697005

  • 14 hidemyass pro // Mar 11, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Taylor February 9, 2014 at 11:49 pm

  • 15 Web design Austin // Mar 11, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    452654 351645Some genuinely good and utilitarian information on this internet internet site , likewise I believe the style and style contains superb attributes. 113697

  • 16 turbulence training scam // Mar 12, 2014 at 8:52 am

    621188 882171Wow, wonderful blog layout! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for? you make running a blog glance easy. The total look of your web site is magnificent, well the content material! 246373

  • 17 turbulence training workout plan // Mar 12, 2014 at 10:22 am

    631446 973521Wow, wonderful weblog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging appear straightforward. The overall appear of your web site is wonderful, as properly as the content material! 114655

  • 18 monsterxnxx.com // Mar 12, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    508354 311118quite good put up, i surely really like this internet internet site, maintain on it 180773

  • 19 photographer in az // Mar 12, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    45226 671130Really informative post. Your current Site style is awesome as properly! 906316

  • 20 sleep apnea device // Mar 13, 2014 at 2:43 am

    782972 807637I genuinely treasure your piece of function, Wonderful post. 676496

  • 21 blogging // Mar 13, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    554863 144396Dead composed topic matter, thanks for details . 189622

  • 22 how to build your own website // Mar 13, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    141930 242874Admiring the time and energy you put into your blog and in depth information you offer. It

  • 23 how to create your own website // Mar 14, 2014 at 1:15 am

    861969 910820Hoping to go into business venture world-wide-web Indicates revealing your products or services furthermore companies not only to ladies locally, but nevertheless , to many prospective clients in which are online in most cases. e-wallet 810765

  • 24 Read Full Report // Mar 14, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Wonderful blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m totally overwhelmed .. Any suggestions? Kudos!

  • 25 Learn More // Mar 14, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    of course like your web-site however you need to test the spelling on quite a few of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find it very troublesome to inform the reality nevertheless I¡¯ll surely come back again.



© 2007-2011 DomeMagazine.com. All rights reserved. Site design by Kimberly Hopkins, khopdesign, llc.