WDET interviews Curt Guyette about this story. (MP3)
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Questionnaires such as the one Metro Times sent to candidates running in the Feb. 24 Detroit mayoral primary can be tricky things. Getting straight answers is often tough because, unlike personal interviews, there is no follow-up give-and-take to clarify vague answers and pin down the evasive. They also have the potential of being deadly dull. But they can be instructive, as well. And amusing.
Seeing a candidate wriggle around a question like, "What's the worst mistake you've ever made?" is usually good for a chuckle or two. Politicians being politicians, what you get more often than not is not the recounting of the type of life-changing screw-up most of us have made, but rather something spun in a way that makes the candidate look good. We knew that when we included the question, but thought it would be interesting to see if any candidate had the fortitude to give a truly revealing response. Mostly, the answers were disappointing — but, in their own way, they're also telling.
Along with the standard policy queries about budget cutting and ways to reverse Detroit's decades-long population decline, we also asked the candidates about things like movies and works of art or music that affected them deeply. What inspired us to do that was the rereading of an old profile we did of the last mayor when he was first trying to win the office. When we saw that one of Kwame Kilpatrick's favorite movies was Francis Ford Coppola's classic mobster tale The Godfather, a little light went off. Maybe folks should have paid more attention at the time when Kilpatrick marveled with admiration at the way the five families were able to work together.
In other words, when evaluating something like this, it pays to do some reading between the lines: Look for candor as well as good ideas.
But to really evaluate the questionnaires, you are going to have to read the full responses linked below. With 12 of the 15 candidates in the race taking the time to respond — often with long, thoughtful answers — there just wasn't room to provide a detailed accounting of each one in the paper. You can, however, read them all in their entirety at the end of this article.
Here in the print version (and on the Web as well), we're offering up excerpts in a style similar to our annual "Best Of" issue. There are insightful (we hope) snippets and a few good-natured jabs and a number of thought-provoking ideas. We tried to be fair in weighing out the amount of space given a candidate (giving more room to those who put more effort into providing responses) and judicious in the delivery of snark. For an unfiltered view, we really do encourage you to check out the full responses online. Finally, we don't expect anyone to decide which candidate to support based solely on this, but rather see it as one of the resources — along with endorsements and debate performances and more — voters can use in helping decide who will best serve as Detroit's next mayor. —Curt Guyette
Stanley Christmas, community activist, is apparently a man of few words. At least he was when it came to answering our questions. Christmas responded to our 10 queries with a grand total of less than 300 words. Here's a sample:
Q: Name three specific cuts you'd make to help balance the budget and the savings they would achieve.
A: A) Cut the city's non-essential vehicle fleet. B) Cut non-essential neighborhood city halls and managers. C) Put a freeze on non-essential mayoral appointees.
Sharon McPhail, a former City Council member and, more recently, a city-paid attorney for former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, was more forthcoming than Christmas, but not by much. Her response just topped 500 words, and the answers tended to be somewhat cryptic. For example, when asked to name three things a McPhail administration would accomplish by November (when voters will again be selecting a mayor), she replied:
Resolve the city's credit issues by developing and submitting a plan to the rating agencies that will eliminate the junk-bond status.
Design and implement a department-by-department redesign plan, as I did in Workforce Development, which will increase accountability and performance, providing the citizens with better service delivery.
Implement the work-zone design for neighborhood involvement in the city's overall redesign of the departments and the 100 Plus plan for safety.
Candidates D. Etta Wilcoxon, Donald Bradley and Frances Culver all failed to return the questionnaires sent them.
Coleman A. Young II proved to be the antithesis of Christmas and McPhail, going into more detail in answering just one question than they did in responding to all 11. He clocked in with an impressive nine-page reply and included a few addenda and a bunch of Web links providing more detailed information
Most expansive, runner-up
Business consultant Jerroll Sanders demonstrated a definite willingness to go above and beyond what's asked of her. In response to our question regarding three things each candidate would promise to accomplish before November's runoff if elected this time out, Sanders listed about 20 goals that she planned to reach during her first months in office. Seven of these involve the Police Department, including setting up "sting operations" to "halt building (home and commercial) invasions and copper theft, etc." She promises: "I will stop thieves from pillaging homes and creating blight."
Performance under pressure
In response to the integrity question, Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans wrote:
When I was a young Sheriff's deputy, I became the first African-American member of the Sheriff's dive team. We received a call one day to go to a house in Belleville where a young child had fallen into a swimming pool in the back yard and the mother couldn't swim. We raced to the scene, pulled the baby from the pool, and I began to deliver CPR trying to bring the baby back to life. All at once, as I'm delivering CPR, the mother comes over to me, puts her fingernails under one side of my mouth and rips all the way across my face, saying something about me putting my black lips on her baby. Here I'm trying to breathe life into her baby and all she can see is that I have put my black lips on her baby. It took all my strength, with her attacking me and blood pouring from my face, to maintain my focus and continue to revive her baby. But I did it, and the baby survived.
Jerroll Sanders again didn't limit herself when we asked the candidates to "recount a difficult situation that required you to display a high degree of personal integrity."
Every situation in my life requires me to display a high-degree of integrity. I found $900 in an envelope on the floor while standing in a grocery line. I asked the lady in front of me if she had lost any money. She said, yes. I told her to tell me how much and describe the package. She described the package and I returned the money. She and her friends thanked me and prayed for me in the store. Also, I had a very lucrative, multimillion-dollar federal contract that government officials sought to divert to their friend. When I fought back, the agency secretly scoured my life and business with a fine-tooth comb, hoping to find wrongdoing. After two audits and multiple investigations, they did not find even one penny that had been improperly billed or used. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a stickler for doing things in a manner that is fair, right and ethical.
Integrity without the details
When asked to give us an example of a time she displayed a high degree of personal integrity, McPhail told us there have been "dozens" of instances, but ...
... what they were and what I did and said in those situations is privileged, as I represented the individuals. Detailing those situations is prohibited by the Michigan Rules of Professional Responsibility.
I did learn of the use of privileged information by a member of the City Council and, while I believed that her violation of the ethical rules that govern elected officials should be revealed, I had to exercise the integrity that was required of me and discuss it with her directly.
Integrity, without the details — Part II
Brenda K. Sanders, a judge in Wayne County's 36th District Court, went light on specifics in response to the integrity question:
I was a practicing attorney for almost 24 years. The daily practice of law is one that demands a high degree of personal integrity. Many of the cases presented difficult situations, however, personal integrity is a character trait that must be employed on a daily basis. I handled thousands and thousands of cases over the years. I had the opportunity to serve thousands of citizens in many different ways. One has to have integrity and accountability in every situation.
Perhaps we should have asked if there were any examples of a candidate failing to show integrity. According to a November 2008 article in the Free Press, Sanders was previously "suspended as a lawyer for forging her clients' signatures on an affidavit, then lying to the legal watchdog group that investigated her misconduct."
Best articulation of why Detroit's next mayor needs to have integrity
Businessman and former Pistons star Dave Bing stated it as well as anyone:
Recent actions of past officeholders compromised the integrity of the city's government as a whole and tarnished the city's image nationally and globally.
Our elected officials have been the fodder of late night comedians. Many of us had to explain and defend the missteps of our former mayor and present City Council members. Detroit cannot move forward with leaders who are in their positions to build their résumés, better their families and friends, and bolster their bank accounts.
The city's tarnished perception as corrupt is an impediment to economic development. For example, the National Conference of Black Mayors decided not to convene in Detroit this year because of the recent scandal. We lost our opportunity to showcase our city to 647 mayors and nearly 2,000 officials and lost millions of dollars.
Many of my colleagues in the private sector have confided in me that the previous administration forced pay to play to participate in city contracting.
Lamest example cited as a demonstration of personal integrity in a difficult situation
Bing didn't score many points with this answer:
I helped a young lady get a scholarship and it was published that I paid for her education and I had to clarify it.
Bing and Freman Hendrix, deputy mayor during the Dennis Archer administration, both advocated changes that would help take politics out of the equation for city workers. Bing asserted:
City employees are strongly encouraged to contribute to various political campaigns to keep their jobs. Coming from the private sector, this is abhorrent; employees should be judged on how they do their jobs, not how much they write for a check.
Hendrix was even clearer:
Executive Order No. 1 in my administration will prohibit civil servants from selling political fundraising tickets. This important initiative is necessary to send the right message to city workers — that message being that the way up the ranks of city government is not based on political connections, but instead on training, education and performance.
Hendrix also vowed that one of his first actions as mayor would be to appoint "a Corruption Task Force made up of a half dozen or so of the Detroit Police Department's finest internal investigators to go after corruption and fraud throughout city government."
Getting the green economy going
Pointing both to the need to address global warming and the prospect of funding from the Obama administration, we asked the candidates what they'd do to help Detroit become a leader in the emerging "green economy." Among the clearest objectives cited as a way to help do that came from Hendrix, who outlined these four proposals:
1) Convert Detroit buses and city-owned vehicles to natural gas.
2) Institute a city-wide urban farming initiative — given the 40 square miles of vacant land in the city of Detroit this initiative could not only help supply food to the needy of our city, it could also help supply local and regional grocers, thereby cutting down on the drive-time of delivery trucks (cutting back on emissions).
3) Develop strong, effective weatherization programs within the city — helping people understand the value of dialing down and weatherizing their homes and workplaces to save energy.
4) Change zoning regulations to require new construction to meet LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] standards and offer tax incentives to buildings in downtown Detroit that retrofit their buildings to meet these standards (similar to the regulations that Boston has put into place).
Best "I was wondering that myself" response
When we asked about things a candidate would do to promote development of technologies and programs that would spur a local "green economy," Joseph Holt — a documentary filmmaker, sound engineer and former Detroit teacher — caught our attention with this answer:
Detroit is full of empty factories, big and small. We have the capacity and ability right now. Why we aren't already the leader in solar cell and wind turbine production is beyond me.
Getting on the grid
State Rep. Young demonstrated a keen understanding of the relationship between going green and the boost it can provide for Detroit's economy by stressing the importance of going after federal funds to create a "smart grid" electric delivery system. Such a system would incorporate digital technology, saving energy and costs. Proponents of investing in this approach, including our new president, see it as a way to help achieve energy independence as well as addressing the problem of global warming. According to the Department of Energy, if smart grid technologies made the U.S. electric system just 5 percent more efficient, the fuel savings and cut in greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to taking 53 million cars off the roads.
In addition to the environmental benefits, Young sees the investment in a smart grid as a way to promote short-term job growth while providing a platform for long-term economic growth. He wrote:
Funding the Smart Grid will have the same positive benefits as building out the railroads and setting up telephone lines did for past centuries.
Making the connection
Young also pointed out the link between support of mass transit and the potential for economic development. He noted:
The Regional Transportation Coordination Council has calculated the economic and fiscal impact of just four rapid transit corridors in greater Detroit, estimating they will create: 30,000 new jobs (direct and indirect); $1.4 billion in payroll; 10,800 new housing units; $224 million annual retail sales; and $87 million in annual tax revenue to state and local jurisdictions.
All the candidates voiced support for the idea of promoting a green economy. No other candidate provided the depth of detail Young did.
Most difficult question to answer
When we sent out our questionnaire in early December, the city's budget deficit was expected to be between $100 million and $200 million. As we now know, in asking candidates what cuts they'd make, and how much would be saved, they were all being forced to aim at a fast-moving (upward) target. With a few exceptions, none of the candidates provided the specifics we asked for. Many gave only vague generalities.
Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans gave this reason for failing to provide much detail:
It is hard to honestly answer that question without more data because the city's finances are so confused. A couple of months ago we heard an estimate of a $100 million deficit. Then it was $200 million, then it was $300 million and then the City's bonds were downgraded to junk grade. As I mentioned in the first answer [asking what a candidate promised to accomplish during his or her first months in office], a critical part of developing a long-term plan to bring city finances into balance is to bring in experts from outside the city who have no vested interest to evaluate our finances and provide a clear picture of where we are. Only then can we truly develop a realistic, effective plan.
No numbers, but an interesting idea
Although no specific cost savings were identified, Evans did offer this as one money-saving measure:
One area where I believe that we can achieve immediate savings is improved relationships with the city workforce. I believe the city wastes a lot of money settling grievances that would never have developed if there were better relationships between city workers and city administrators. One way I would solve that situation would be to have a labor representative in the mayor's office who would serve as a liaison with our city unions to nip potential problems in the bud. If you have a happy workforce, you have a more efficient and productive workforce. When we were developing our plan to have sheriff's deputies provide security for DDOT buses, the drivers' union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, was a critical part of drawing up an effective plan.
No numbers again, but a tough stand
Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr. is still working on the budget for the next fiscal year that will be presented to City Council, but he's already venturing into controversial waters his opponents, for the most part, seem careful to avoid.
Noting that the budget hole has grown deeper because his appointees are providing an "honest accounting" of the situation, Cockrel warns of impending personnel cuts:
It is clear that there will have to be layoffs of city personnel to deal with the problem. I will try to make these layoffs as fairly as possible, sparing as much as possible those workers who deal directly with the public or perform indispensable tasks.
At least one hard number
The Rev. Nicholas Hood III, a former City Council member, targeted that body as one area ripe for trimming. He said cutting council staff by one-third, and reducing council's overall budget by an equal amount, could save the city at least $18 million a year.
One of the most pressing issues facing the city of Detroit is the question of what to do with its municipal trash incinerator, which produces steam and electricity by burning garbage. With the controversial facility about to be paid off after more than 20 years, the city may be in a position to stop sending its trash there completely, relying instead on intense recycling efforts and landfills. There are both pros and cons to any decision, and most of the candidates, in one way or another, said those would have to be more extensively evaluated before a decision can be made.
One exception was Dave Bing, who said:
In fiscal year 2007-2008, Detroit residents paid $172/ton for trash disposal — about 5 to 7 times as much as nearby suburbs, and about 14 times what private haulers paid to have their trash burned at the incinerator ($172/ton versus $12/ton).
In 2008, the city council voted to end sending our trash to its waste-to-energy incinerator. I support this action. Detroit can sell materials that are currently going into the incinerator on the global market. The city cannot sell what now it burns. That is more money that could be earmarked for our deficit. I have been informed that of the nation's 30 largest cities, Detroit is the only major city without some type of curbside recycling program. While confronting our mounting deficit, I cannot promise a city wide curbside recycling program; I would support working with the private and non-profit sectors on pilot programs.
Engineer Duane Montgomery and the Rev. Hood were also unequivocal in their opposition to the incinerator, although Hood said that immediate closure might not be feasible.
Mayor Cockrel, who, as council president last year, joined with the majority in voting to stop sending city trash to the incinerator, relied on a kind of executive privilege when refusing to say where he now stands on the issue:
Because I currently am serving as mayor, and because of sensitive, ongoing negotiations on this very matter, I cannot answer this question in deep detail. Doing so might jeopardize those negotiations. However, I can say that the Cockrel administration is weighing multiple options for the future of the incinerator including options that would likely be perceived as more environmentally friendly than incineration of waste. My administration has also committed to the launch of a pilot project for household recycling which we plan to launch late this spring in accordance with the plan that originated at the Detroit City Council during my tenure there.
Best example of admitting to a big mistake that really wasn't a mistake at all
Mayor Cockrel gets the award for putting the most positive spin on a difficult question. Asked, "What is one of the biggest mistakes you've made in your life, and what did you learn from it?" Cockrel responded:
Having grown up with a father who was active in the community and served on City Council, I've had a lifelong interest in public issues. I chose to major in journalism at Wayne State University, so I could report on government and public issues to citizens and voters. This put me on a career path that saw me working at newspapers that included the Detroit Free Press, The Grand Rapids Press, The Cincinnati Enquirer and even a columnist stint at the Metro Times. However, I later discovered that an individual could make more of a positive impact on the community through public service, developing policy and making decisions rather than simply reporting on them. I don't really think of this as a mistake as I have no regrets about my work as a journalist. Rather, I see my decision to take a different path as an evolution in my thinking about the best way to make a difference in the world in general and my community in particular. I returned to Detroit and ran successfully for a seat on the Wayne County Commission. I have continued to serve the people of Detroit for the past 11 years. Becoming mayor of Detroit, even for a short time and under difficult circumstances, has been the greatest challenge and privilege of my life.
Best example of a mistake that really was a mistake
Sure, the instance of very bad judgment dates back to his childhood, but at least Hood admitted to doing something really wrong — and then learning from it.
As a little boy in New Orleans, somewhere between 4 and 7, I asked my younger brother to stand under the palm tree while I threw a knife over his head, like William Tell shot an arrow through an apple over the head of a person. The knife missed the tree and cut my brother over his eye. As the blood gushed out I ran inside and said, "Dad come out, a bad man came out from the alley and cut Emory in the eye." My dad ran outside and instead of immediately running to look after my brother he looked at me and said, "Where is the man?" The only thing that saved me was that my parents took my brother to the hospital to get stitched. I never received a spanking for this. Here is what I learned from this horrible event:
1) Don't lie. 2) Don't beat your children when they do dumb things. Talk with them. Discipline them, but don't hurt them physically. 3) When you mess up, don't just stand there; go get help. 4) Don't throw knives at other people.
As an adult I have followed these principles. When I make mistakes, I own up to them. If a challenge is too great, I seek help. Most of all, I try to tell the truth.
Most heart-wrenching example of a mistake
Duane Montgomery wrote:
In 1997, I met my soul mate. In September of 1999, I thought I felt a lump in her breast and asked her to see a doctor. She had a mammogram, which reported no problems. In February of 2000, she, her four children and I married. In June of 2000, she discovered a lump in her breast. It was later confirmed to be breast cancer. In December of 2002, we lost my soul mate to breast cancer. I failed my wife, my family and myself by not taking a proactive approach in confronting the possibility that a mammogram may give false conclusions. I also did not understand the seriousness of breast cancer until it attacked my soul mate.
Had I insisted on second and third opinions and an ultrasound, we may have confirmed the lump nine months earlier, before the cancer circulated throughout Sharon's body. I pray that my story will save another family from the loss of their mother, wife or daughter.
Best use of graphics
Going an extra few steps, Montgomery provided photos pasted to the test of his response, showing a certain presentational flair lacking in his opponents. For example, a wind turbine accompanied his answer to our question about the actions a candidate would take to help promote a "green economy" in Detroit. And there was a photo of an Egyptian sculpture created around 3000 B.C. The limestone carving is a likeness of Meryma'at, a barber said to have been kept busy shaving the bodies of priests to ensure their purity. Montgomery was bothered by the fact that Meryma'at's nose is gone. "I was disturbed," he wrote, "by the act of disfiguring the noses to hide the rich history of people of color."
Best attempt to show love for the D, even though it had nothing to do with the question
When we asked the candidates to tell us their nickname as a kid (thrown in mostly to add a little levity), Jerroll Sanders gave us a few, and then quite a bit more. "Jerry" and "My Baby" were two of her nicknames, she revealed before adding:
I grew up at 2420 Townsend and it was the most wonderful place in the whole world. I spent most evenings at Belle Isle, went to the State Fair every year, took music lessons at Grinnell's downtown, and spent many days in the back halls of Cass Technical High School. I also won several school-level Detroit News spelling bees, made many visits to the Indian reservation on Walpole Island, frequented Canada, played baseball and marbles with friends, and participated in Girl Scout functions. I loved my neighborhood and my neighborhood loved me. My least liked nickname was "Peanut." That's what my brother called me.
Hitting all the notes
We asked the candidates to identify a piece of music or work of art that moved them deeply, and to tell us why. This is the response Cockrel gave:
I like too much music to pick a favorite, but if I was stuck on a desert island I'd want an iPod loaded with a generous helping of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Johnny Cash (especially At Folsom Prison), Patsy Cline, Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, the Who, AC/DC, Peter Frampton (specifically Frampton Comes Alive), Foghat, the Clash, Gang of Four, Joy Division, New Order, Black Flag, Public Enemy (Fear of a Black Planet changed my life), Ice Cube, Run DMC, Tupac, DMX, Jay Z, Notorious B.I.G., Moby, the Chemical Brothers, DJ Shadow, the Crystal Method, Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz, Alicia Keyes, Jill Scott, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and last but not least Detroit's own Dirtbombs. To quote rapper Ice-T (who should probably be on this list too): "I feel sorry for anyone who only listens to one type of music."
On the other hand, he didn't try to be all things to all people when covering other forms of art. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he said, is his "all-time favorite book." He credits it for inspiring him to leave journalism and return to Detroit "to try and make a difference." And his "all-time favorite movie" is Fight Club, which he says "sends a very powerful message not only about men and where their heads were at during the turn of the last century but also about the dangers of fascism and conformity without question."
Looking out for the underdog
If you believe the polls, Judge Sanders doesn't appear to have much chance of winning this election. But she's apparently a person who believes long shots always have a hope of paying off. That's one way to explain why Cinderella Man is her favorite movie:
Russell Crowe plays the boxer James Braddock, a supposedly washed-up boxer who came back to become a champion and an inspiration in the 1930s. He overcame hardship and the Depression to reign as the heavyweight champion of the world. Cinderella Man is a true story.
Regarding a piece of music that moves her deeply, she says:
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. I am a harpist. I am a person that is big on music appreciation. Beethoven wrote the Ninth Symphony, which is one of his greatest works. I am inspired by the work because Beethoven was deaf. He could not hear his melodies. They were melodies that were given to him by God.
Wonk if you love policy freaks
Freman Hendrix convinced us that he filled out his questionnaire without the assistance of a political consultant when he replied that there's no work of art or piece of music that's moved him deeply. On the other hand, one of his favorite books is The Rise of the Creative Class, a wonkish book by Richard Florida that, according to Hendrix, is significant because "it speaks to a real strategy for the rise of urban centers by taking advantage of a diverse class of citizens."
Most impressive nickname as a kid
Dave Bing wins hands-down with "Duke."
Most unusual nicknames
This category belongs to Joe Holt.
My uncle (who died in 'Nam) called me "Critter." Grandpa called me "Bosco." Female family members called me "Yossarian" [the lead character in Joseph Heller's classic novel Catch-22].
Along with his questionnaire, Coleman A. Young II — son of the legendary Detroit mayor, who wasn't married to Jr.'s mother — included a "name timeline" that references a 1985 "amended certificate of live birth" under the name Joel Loving, when Jr. (the designation actually on one of the documents he sent us) was almost 3 years old. According to the info submitted, the name was adopted as "an alias to be able to prevent harm or possible kidnap while at school."
Full Detroit Mayoral Candidate Questionnaires:
Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.