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Politics

Support shows

The boosters behind the candidates for Detroit's mayoralty sound off

Henry Gaffney
Grady Merritt
Colin Hubbell
Jamal Robertson
Toni McIlwain
Miz Korona
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Published 10/12/2005

In all the spit and fire of a mayoral campaign that’s likely to get even uglier as Election Day approaches, it’s easy to become cynical about the candidates. Character flaws and shady dealings are put under the media’s microscope. The candidates hammer away at each other in debates. Attack ads cast aspersions and sully reputations.  At a certain point, it’s understandable that Detroit voters might throw up their hands and say, “Why should I vote for either one of these guys?”

What tends to get lost in all this is the positive. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his challenger, Freman Hendrix, are both accomplished. But what is it, exactly, that inspires volunteers to show up at their campaign headquarters, or contributors to write checks, or people of prominence to put their names on the line endorsing one candidate or another?

To answer that question, we sought out a variety of people who’ve staked out a position in this mayor’s race, and talked to them about their chosen candidate. We turned to labor leaders and the clergy, because in this town unions and churches influence a lot of votes. We also asked campaign volunteers and financial contributors what motivates them to back one candidate over another.

In the weeks to come, there will be plenty of information provided that will give you reason to vote against one candidate or another. That’s a necessary part of the process. But so is the belief that the person we do cast our vote for will help lead us to a better place. To that end, here’s a look at Detroit’s two mayoral candidates as seen through the eyes of their supporters.

 

Kilpatrick supporters

 

The right road

A city employee for 20 years, Henry Gaffney, 52, is president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, which represents about 900 city bus drivers. The union’s members voted to endorse Kilpatrick. It’s a decision Gaffney supports completely.

First of all, we endorsed the mayor back in 2001 when he first ran. Since we’re a union whose members work for the city, we probably have better insight than most people on the reasons why Detroit is in the financial condition it’s in. And one reason is that, when the Kilpatrick administration took office, regardless of what people are saying, there was over a $100 million deficit. I think that is why Hendrix didn’t run in 2001. He knew that deficit was there. Now, here we are in another election year, and Mayor Kilpatrick has made the decision to cut jobs, which is not an easy thing to do when you are running for re-election. But we need someone in office who can make those types of tough decisions.

Yes, mistakes have been made. People harped on personal things, like the Navigator. But when the people you vote into office make mistakes, instead of turning on them, we need to embrace them and help them get through those tough times. You learn and you grow and you go from there. You have to respect a person who learns from their mistakes, and I think Mayor Kilpatrick has done that.

Despite all people may say, this mayor loves the city of Detroit, and he’s doing the best he can to bring the city back. He’s accomplished a lot, bringing in new housing and businesses under difficult economic circumstances. Washington has not been kind to Detroit, or any other of this country’s big cities.

We have a good working relationship with this administration, far better than we did with the previous administration. We can sit down now and avoid confrontation. Back in March, when the city was going to cut bus service, we rallied, and were able to sit at the table, and negotiate a plan to keep the buses running 24 hours.

Earlier this year, Hendrix came into my office and asked if he could talk to our membership. Then he told me that we would hate to be on the other side of the negotiating table in January and be one of the unions that didn’t support him. That teed me off, because that was a threat. If Hendrix were to win, my union would be in trouble.

We support the mayor wholeheartedly. He has Detroit going down the right road.

Sayin’ real

Miz Korona, 26, is a graduate of Detroit’s Denby High School. An accomplished hip-hop artist and actress (she appeared in the movie 8 Mile). Korona intends to vote for the incumbent.

Mayor Kilpatrick seems to be doing a lot of good things for Detroit. He’s not just somebody who’s sitting in the mayor’s office saying he’s going to do this and going to do that. He’s putting forth the effort. But I don’t think he’s had the time to do everything he wants to. Just one run doesn’t give him enough opportunity.

I believe he wants to get Detroit back together the way it was once upon time, like back in the Motown era, when Detroit was a beautiful sight to see and a lot of people came here to get away from what was happening in the South.

Now it’s like Detroit has a bad scar on it. There’s a lot of violence, a lot of negativity. But the mayor’s trying to give Detroit a facelift, and he’s doing that. Businesses are opening here, and you have to give him props for that. Before, I couldn’t have imagined ever walking in downtown and seeing an ice-skating rink. But now we have one, and it’s a place that families can go to with their kids.

People just consider him to be the “hip-hop mayor” because he’s a young guy, because of his style of dress, because he wears a diamond earring. From what I see, though, he’s not hanging out at the clubs.

A lot of people might look at hip hop as a bad thing. But it’s not. It’s a way to communicate to people, to reach out to them. And if that’s the way the mayor is going to reach out to people and get them to vote, then that’s good.

Who knows, maybe Hendrix likes hip hop too. But because Mayor Kilpatrick is younger, he’s a lot closer to my generation than other mayors. And because of that, he knows more about the struggle that my generation is going through.

I did see the mayor speak once at the Hip-Hop Summit. He told us that we needed to go out there as a hip-hop community and do stuff for our own neighborhoods first, to care for our homes, to make sure the elderly are taken care of. That stuck with me. It made me realize that I really did need to do something. And so, in the last presidential election I went door to door and got people out to vote. He ignited that fire a little bit inside me, and made me realize that no matter what neighborhood you come from, we have to be a community of one.

There are people who don’t want somebody who’s going to get up there and tell you what’s real and what’s fake. They are afraid of that kind of realness. But Kwame Kilpatrick is a real guy. He can’t change his age, or the era he was born in, but if he continues to strive and push for what he believes in for the city of Detroit, he can accomplish it. I strongly believe that.

Revved up

The Rev. Samuel Bullock, 62, is pastor of Bethany Baptist Church on Detroit’s West Side. He’s also serving in his first year as president of the influential Council of Baptist Pastors, which, in a close vote, endorsed Kilpatrick.

I have supported the mayor since his first election primarily because of the qualities I perceive in this young man — his intellect, his experience, his energy, his love for the city, his ability to forge relationships across the political landscape. I continue to believe he is endowed with all the necessary human resources required to lead this city.

What’s been revealed in my interacting with him so far is that he is a tireless worker who leaves no stone unturned in trying to ferret out what it takes to make the city successful. I remember when he first came into office, one thing that really impressed me was, I saw his car stop in the middle of the street where two young people had thrown trash, and he got our and instructed them to retrieve that trash and put it in a receptacle. I believe that type of spirit has to take hold for all of our citizens as we work together to turn this city around.

The apparent furor over what I interpret as human frailty that gives birth to mistakes — like what happened with the Lincoln Navigator — none of those take away from the fact that he has what it takes to lead the city. Those kinds of actions are to be learned from. I’m personally convinced that he has a focus now that will bring all of his gifts and abilities to bear on leading this city in the direction it needs to go. Having the proper support team — and perhaps that is the area that most needs to be addressed as he moves forward in his second term — would definitely empower him to use the gifts that he possesses for the good of the city.

I just walked down the Woodward Corridor, and I see a tremendous amount of rebuilding, renewal and reclamation going on. That is like a seed that will spread out through the neighborhoods. I think the mayor has a good foundation to build on, and just needs some momentum to take what is happening in the center city and move it out to the neighborhoods.

In my estimation, Mayor Kilpatrick rises to the top of what we have to choose from as the leader of our city.

Model K

Jamiel Martin, 32, is an entrepreneur involved in economic development and real estate. A graduate of Morehouse College, he’s back campaigning for Kilpatrick after serving as a volunteer in 2001.

I’m a lifelong Detroiter. The only time I ever lived outside the city was when I went to college, so I’ve seen what the city has been, and I believe very strongly in the direction that it’s going in.

Especially in contrast to the former administration, I like that Mayor Kilpatrick is concentrating on citywide development. You don’t have a concentration just on downtown development. In neighborhoods like mine, Dexter and Collingwood, you see retail coming back in strips and blocks that hadn’t seen any new retail development for over 20 years.

I also like that this administration is developing and revitalizing neighborhood parks. Under the Archer administration, you couldn’t go to a lot of neighborhood parks. You basically had to go to your large parks. Now, especially with the high price of gas, you have more options. You don’t have to bundle up everybody in the car and go to Belle Isle.

Basically, even though these are stark economic times, there is a full gamut of quality-of-life issues the Kilpatrick administration is trying to address, and that’s what I support. Face it, all Detroiters are not going to be able to live in the more exclusive neighborhoods. But don’t we all deserve a clean park to walk to and a nice smooth street to drive down?

The mayor is such a high-energy candidate, he brings that energy to the campaign from the top to the bottom. There may be some days where, as a volunteer, I might be dragging. But when you see the mayor out on the stump, knowing that he’s putting in 18 hours a day, seven days a week, it gives you that energy to knock on one more door, to have a conversation with one more person about what has happened in the city over the last three-and-a-half years.

Inspiring — that’s one word I definitely would use. If people judge the mayor only by what they read or see in the mainstream media, they miss the power of his ability to inspire people at all levels, from young to old. Sometimes I think that’s why he comes under the scrutiny that he does. When you have a person, especially an African-American, who can move crowds, I’m talking about moving thousands of people, getting them to realize the power within themselves, then that person can be labeled as a threat and challenged by the media or whoever.

But when I look at the mayor, and at what he has already accomplished, and believing this won’t be the pinnacle of his career, that provides the sort of inspiration that says, if this guy can do this, well maybe I need to start working 18 hours a day to achieve some big goal and see where that brings me.

Continuity counts

Colin Hubbell, 46, lives on Detroit’s East Side. Formerly the head of the city’s Civic Center Department, he’s now a residential developer in the private sector. The father of six says he’s given “a few hundred dollars” to the Kilpatrick campaign.

My perspective on the city comes from looking at it through several different lenses. I’m a homeowner and a parent; I’m a business owner and a community activist. I was a city employee for 13 years. I like the progress that has been made under the current administration, and I don’t want to see that momentum interrupted.

When I worked for the city, I experienced the transition from Coleman Young to Dennis Archer, and from Archer to Kilpatrick. I’ve seen how the transition process can set progress back, sometimes years, just because of the mistakes that get made and the interruption that comes with a change of leadership. And I think the mayor represents the type of leadership the city needs.

If we are going to right this ship, we need to create a city that young people interested in urban living can embrace. We can’t continue to be just this sleepy old industrial town. The mayor is one of the first major political leaders I’ve ever heard talking about being comfortable with a shrinking city, and redefining it, so that we’re seen as being more than just a bunch of hulking industrial plants.

The mayor has also been trying to get out in front of the city’s financial crisis. Critics might say he’s using smoke and mirrors, but I don’t think that’s true. Look at the restructuring of the city’s public safety functions. It takes guts to tell a neighborhood that their police precinct is closing. But doing those difficult things is a sign of leadership.

As a developer, I experience everyday improvements in the way the city works. The whole permitting process has been abbreviated. Even significant, complex projects get handled quickly. What used to take months now takes weeks, and what used to take weeks takes days. One of my big frustrations is that this kind of stuff never creeps into the mainstream media, and I think that has tainted the public’s viewpoint. I think the gap between reality and what gets covered in the media is pretty damn stark.

As a white guy, I think Kwame Kilpatrick has been incredible at forming coalitions and building bridges across racial, economic and geographic lines. In the last year, a ton of damage has been done when it comes to regional cooperation and racial cooperation. But I don’t think the mayor has done that damage. The damage was caused by a picture that’s been painted in the mainstream media. And the best person to repair that damage is the mayor himself.

As told to Curt Guyette.

 

Hendrix supporters

 

Revival time

Toni McIlwain, 57, started the Ravendale Community Center on Detroit’s East Side for 16 years ago because she saw a need for greater community investment in her neighborhood. Supported mostly by donations, the center offers job, computer and GED training.

Freman is our only hope of getting the city back on track. He understands the needs of the residents. He’ll allow the residents to play a part of the process, which is very important to the community. He looks at everyone as equal, and will use everyone’s gifts and talents to help change Detroit. Most of all, I believe he’ll bring the spirit back into the city.

People have to feel that they can bring back the city, that they’ll get to play a big part, that the mayor will allow them to use their gifts and talents to make change. The spirit right now is terrible. People are down, people feel hopeless.

Freman feels as many of us do, particularly the grassroots leaders, that we can help things in our own environment if given the opportunity. I’ve met with Kwame before. There’s just not that welcome feeling when you go into the office. It’s very evident that they set themselves apart from individuals like myself who are not part of that clique. They feel their voice doesn’t count. Their dignity is not affirmed and they’re not allowed to play a part in the process, so they feel hopeless. Freman makes you feel as though you’re important, that what you say does count.

Freman has been very fair in talking about the budget. Balancing it is not going to happen overnight, and he made that perfectly clear. I think that part of fixing the budget is giving people hopes that the budget can be fixed.

He believes in community policing. When we had community policing we had a much safer Detroit because we had much safer neighborhoods. The residents must work very closely with Police Department. There must be a partnership developed, not us vs. them, but working together to reduce crime. Who can better reduce crime than those that live there?

The most important thing is to get everyone involved in the process. People are hurting in this city. People are moving out because they feel there’s just no hope. I honestly believe that Freman will bring hope to this city. He seems to understand Detroiters’ pain in terms of what they’re going through just to be a part of this city. And I think that he’ll allow them to be a part of it.

And that right there is what brings back the spirit.

Steady hand

The Rev. Robert Smith, 54, has been senior pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church on Linwood Avenue for 22 years. A native of Dallas, Smith moved to Detroit to succeed the Rev. C.L. Franklin, under whose stewardship New Bethel became a church with a strong political tradition.

Let me make it clear that I’m endorsing Mr. Hendrix as a Detroit citizen. As the pastor of a 501(c)(3) [nonprofit corporation] I’m not permitted to make [an organizational] endorsement. Usually, my congregants are on the same page. Lately that hasn’t been so. I was for Gil Hill. He didn’t make it because my older members felt he was too old. This time, there’s not a lot of talk like there was about Hill and Kilpatrick. There were a lot of people who had great hopes in Mr. Kilpatrick. They’ve been let down. They don’t want to talk against him; they’re just not talking for him anymore.

In these troubled time we need a steady hand. The next four years are going to be just as problematic as the past four. We need someone to handle the problems without making the situation worse.

I knew Hendrix under the Archer administration. I’ve seen him handle problems and not exacerbate them. For instance, in this neighborhood there was a $4 million rehab job across the street that had all kinds of obstacles for 13 years. Mr. Hendrix handled that. He got through the red tape and bureaucracy and we got the building open. It’s been open since 1998. So I know from experience that he’s a guy who can face the fire and not get burned.

There would be more concern about doing things in communities in a Hendrix administration. Our mayor became national, almost global, all at once upon election. I think the big picture got in his mind, but it takes one brick at a time to make the city work.

There’s been a real problem created by Mr. Kilpatrick. How he’s handled problems has made him look bad. Those problems are going to be there, but someone’s going to have to come in and say, I’m going to have to do something about this.

There have been so many situations where leaders have made bad matters worse. Like the deficit — when we’re losing population and you’re losing tax base, you’re going to have a deficit. How do you handle problems without making them worse? I think Mr. Hendrix will handle problems much better.

There’s always got to be a healing. That’s something Mr. Hendrix will do. He’ll reach across the line to people who were hard workers in the Kilpatrick campaign. There will be common ground when people see Hendrix’s willingness to cross lines and get things done.

I’m for regional government. I’ve seen what happens and the truth is we’re all in this region together. But at the same time I hope that people understand that he’s a strong individual. He would not be the tool of anyone.

Lessons learned

Janna Garrison has been president of the 10,000-member Detroit Federation of Teachers for four years and is a 26-year veteran of the Detroit Public Schools. Her union’s 17-member executive board voted to endorse Freman Hendrix after interviewing both candidates. About 5,700 DFT members live in Detroit. Hendrix’s much-publicized involvement as the head of the Detroit Public Schools Reform Board wasn’t an issue for the DFT, Garrison says.

When then-Gov. [John] Engler moved to take over the school district, our attorneys informed us that by state law the governor could indeed do it. The question was, who should get the schools? We took the position that we would rather have the mayor be in charge of the schools vs. the governor because the mayor was elected by the citizens of Detroit, and Mr. Freman Hendrix was appointed by the mayor. That’s our position in regards to what happened back then.

That doesn’t make us fault Freman Hendrix, or fault the mayor at that time. Our fault is with Engler, and the House and the Senate that approved this legislation.

We believe that Hendrix is the candidate who will work in the best interests of all of the students of the city of Detroit and support the Detroit Public Schools. That’s it. He’s the one most likely to support all the children in Detroit for high quality education. We’ve been in this battle about charter schools — we believe that when you encourage charter schools, you’re taking from the masses to give to a select few, and that is detrimental to all of our students. We need someone who is concerned about more choice within the public school system, not someone who is trying to take away from the school system for the advantage of a select few.

The mayor has to work in complement with the school district. What would make the biggest difference would be if the mayor worked on stabilizing the family by bringing jobs to the area where you can make a living wage, bringing affordable housing. When the family is stable, the children don’t have all these other issues they bring with them. The mayor and the school board should have always been talking.

Have we been included or involved in things under Kilpatrick’s leadership? The answer is no. We’re not involved in Mayor’s Time [after-school program] in any way, and that has to do directly with what happens to our children after school.

The mayor and the school board and superintendent should constantly be in communication because we rely on each other.

We think Hendrix is the one to do this.

A nuts-and-bolts mayor

Grady Merritt, 63, is a self-employed manufacturers’ representative who has lived and worked in Detroit for 16 years. He has contributed $3,400 to Freman Hendrix’s campaign, the most an individual can donate. Merritt and wife have hosted a Hendrix fundraiser.

The first thing Freman’s going to be faced with is making sure that we have a balanced budget and taking the necessary steps to do it. Freman was very much a part of what Archer had to do when he took over. Archer had to manage the city with the income he had. One of the things that fascinates me about the present situation is, I don’t think we’ve had that many revenue decreases in the past four years, but the deficit has grown out of sight. I understand health-care costs have grown, but not to the extent that you get $200 million or $300 million in debt.

Freman’s experience will make him sort of a nuts-and-bolts mayor. With him in office, we can look forward to some way of balancing the budget every year.

I think the mayor of Detroit’s image will be very good under Freman Hendrix. I’m not saying anything negative about the present mayor, I’m just telling you the positives I see from Freman’s standpoint. Freman will be able to reach out to the suburbs in much the same way Dennis Archer did. The metropolitan area has a vested interest in the city being viable, and if Freman is able to reach out to that group better than the current mayor, that’s good.

He will make a good presence for the city, present himself with a good image and also manage the nuts and bolts on a day-to-day basis — without having a learning curve.

Man with a plan

Jamal Robertson, 29, is a Hendrix campaign volunteer. A 2002 Oakland University graduate with degrees in political science and sociology, Robertson has focused on reaching out to 18- to 35-year-old voters for the campaign.

What I see in Hendrix is professionalism, experience and, perhaps most importantly, his plans. Some of Mayor Kilpatrick’s behavior with the media, whether it’s shoving a reporter or not being on time, is behavior that’s unprofessional. It’s important that a mayor act in a professional manner. The mayor is our public face to the state and the nation.

I agree with about all of Hendrix’s policies and his plans for the future. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this. I like the pro-business growth platform he’s put out. He’s someone that’s seeking employment opportunities and bringing companies to this city.

For too long we’ve shut out businesses — we look at people as outsiders, we say “they’re not hiring us.” That turns off the business community.

Character education in schools (that Hendrix has proposed) is really important. I live in a block with a convenience store, and I see kids walking by, dropping litter. That affects quality of life in the city. It’s things that people should know better than to do. As Mr. Hendrix says, the mayor doesn’t control the schools, but the mayor has great influence and is a figure that a lot of the students can look up to.

I admire that Hendrix started off as a trainee and worked his way up to deputy mayor. Because of his education and his business background, and because of working with these types of matters when he was in city government, he has a grasp on the situation when it comes to looking at the deficit.

Different variables come into play now as opposed to how things were done in the ’90s. The economy afforded them the ability to do different things than we can do now. But he will focus on attracting private sector businesses and not look to the city to pad things. We don’t need all these positions. He realizes what that means to specific budget deficits, and he certainly knows what that means to government and city life. He’s ready to make tough choices. People know there will probably be more layoffs.

It really irks me when I hear people talk about Hendrix’s “lack of charisma.” It seems people want style over substance when they hear public speeches. I don’t see why people want flashy speeches. Someone can sound great promising you things, but when things turn out to be wrong or not accurate, I don’t see what people keep looking for.

When I see Mr. Hendrix’s speeches, what he’s saying is exactly what I’m looking for.

As told to Nancy Kaffer.

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