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You have found the detroitblog. This is about my wanderings and debaucheries in Detroit, as well as observations, news, commentary and ramblings about the city itself. I love Detroit, even the old Detroit of blight, waste and emptiness. Hockeytown. Motown. I grew up here, had my best times here. It's my town.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
It seems Detroiters view a ballot not as a choice among candidates but rather as a multiple-choice quiz in which you simply pick the names you've heard before, judging by the enthusiasm with which voters put almost all the incumbents among the top nine vote-getters. And of course, Detroit wouldn't be Detroit without Jackie Currie, who once again was top vote-getter for city clerk, a victory she celebrated by losing some votes for a while overnight. Let's keep sending her back, Detroit!
After becoming the first incumbent in half a century to come in second in a primary, Kwame made a speech last night that began with a thoroughly hip-hop "yeah yeah yeah yeah," guzzling water like he was loaded up on meth, wiping his big sweaty mug, and sounding rather menacing and irritated while looking rattled. His goon union supporters in their little tent on Grand River shouted with him, less like they wanted to see a continuation of a specific set of policies and more like they didn't want the gravy train for the posse to end.
And after all the bitching about having the right to elect a school board being taken away, one-third of the voters didn't even bother casting any vote at all for school board. Was all the groaning about disenfranchisement just another excuse for the perpetually aggrieved to complain, another gig for freelance protesters?
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
However, if you think that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick deserves four more years of living high on the hog at the public trough, more opportunity to bankrupt the city, and still has some relatives and high school buddies who haven't been given city jobs for which they're wholly unqualified, then by all means, please stay home today. There's great TV programming on, including infrequently aired reruns of "Divorce Court" and "The Steve Harvey Show" this afternoon. Besides, it's very, very hot outside today, and you might likely drop dead in the heat in the lines at the polls. No, better just to stay home where it's safe and nonpolitical.
Likewise, if you think that what the city needs is an erratic, conspiracy-minded, multi-election loser and you plan to vote for Sharon McPhail, I feel it's my civic duty to inform you that the city has moved the primary to tomorrow. Yes, that's right, last-minute decision and all, more Jackie Currie madness I guess, but show up bright and early tomorrow to cast your vote. Everything should be fine if you follow my instructions.
This should all be very interesting tomorrow when the results are in, that is, unless electoral fossil Currie manages to botch the ballot counting, as she's done in the past. Plus, there's about 10,000 candidates for City Council to wade through. Good luck crazies! May the best man (or woman) win! Well, OK, may the sort-of qualified, somewhat uncorrupted person win.
Monday, August 01, 2005
Only in Detroit would they move the festival from the wide-open riverfront at Hart Plaza over to the edge of crazy Delray at a pre-Civil War army fort. Smart way to keep the merely curious and skittish suburbanites away, along with their money.
Historic Fort Wayne, built in the 1840s to defend against the then-still-pesky Canadians, wound up being a garrison after treaty signings, and was gradually turned over to the City of Detroit, which gave up on it in the early 90s and left it to rot. Only recently has it reopened for tours and functions like the Fiesta, but is still in desperate need of upkeep.
The Fiesta, in its 71st year, was like most recent fair-type events in southwest Detroit, with a series of Mexican bands on a large stage, dozens of food booths representing the restaurants along Vernor and in Mexicantown, still more booths selling trinkets and crap, and midday alcohol, announced at the entrance to the site by a giant Corona beer bottle balloon. Booths representing the mayoral campaigns of Kwame Kilpatrick and state Sen. Hansen Clark offered magnets, keychains and campaign literature to the disinterested passersby.
I encountered a booth where they were selling splendid examples of bedsheet art, the best featuring a nearly indescribable scene featuring, um, ?? It portrayed a woman’s face appearing as an apparition out of the sky, as an apparent tsunami approached the sandy, clean beaches of Belle Isle, on which were parked some tricked-out hot rods. Apparently acid is still circulating as a drug of choice in southwest Detroit.
The woman manning the booth saw me taking a photo of this surreal depiction and angrily insisted that I pay her $5 for taking the photo. I insisted that she could go to hell. We came to an quiet agreement that resulted in me not listening and snapping the photo anyway.
After making the rounds we explored Fort Wayne on our own, checking out the collapsing roofs and crumbling walls of the historic buildings, for which upkeep has been an on-again, off-again priority over the years. A security guard chased us off the porch of one of the buildings, noting that "if it looks dangerous, it probably is," a not-very-effective tourism slogan. Basically it wound up being yet another tour of yet more historic buildings left to collapse from yet more neglect over the years in Detroit.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
For Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s latest ad, his staff seems to have toured the old folks’ homes lining East Grand Boulevard for opinions. A handful of ornery old codgers is shown prattling on about Kwame doing a good job, using slow, old-person speak. Rarely do you see an ad so narrowly target the senile citizen vote. It indicates that his staff can come up with no rational reason for people to vote for him, and have to resort to appealing to the frail heartstrings of people who might not make it to the November election.
Kwame’s other new ad ominously shows Freman Hendrix’s photo while noting, inaccurately, that the Detroit Housing Commission lost $18 million during former mayor Dennis Archer’s two terms (it was $8 million), though the ad neglects to note that under Kwame’s watch, the department was run so poorly that the federal government took it over, another example of outsiders seizing something from Detroit because it was managed so incompetently. You have to have huge balls to pick on Hendrix for his boss’ alleged mismanaged funds when you lose the whole freakin’ department to the feds.
McPhail too targets Hendrix in her latest ad, suggesting he is culpable for the state takeover of the city’s schools. That has been her sole mantra throughout the campaign, her one-note campaign slogan - Hendrix led the state takeover board. And this is why she’s going to come in a distant third in next week's primary.
For this terrible and bizarre strategy, her organization, hands down, wins the “worst campaign staff” award of 2005. Though in fairness, you can only work with what you’ve got, and what they have is a candidate who for many people doesn’t seem quite right in the head, someone prone to erratic statements and behavior who is still remembered for her bizarre accusation that Kwame tried to electrocute her, though she could produce no evidence to back up her claim. Flaky events like that become epitaphs on a political career.
Poor state Sen. Hansen Clark. He’s loud, enthusiastic, sunny and earnest. And doesn’t stand a chance in hell. But at least he livened things up in a high-volume manner late in the campaign. His TV ad shows him once again shouting, this time while standing near the abandoned east riverfront, pledging not to destroy whole neighborhoods if elected. Hey - thanks! It's nice to hear that sometimes - you really can't take it for granted in Detroit that the mayor won't level whole residential or business areas for some reason or another.
With all this going on, no wonder Freman Hendrix is in the lead, both in polls and in fund-raising, the latter generally unheard of for a challenger. Hendrix does the smart thing in his ads, which is to appear calm, rational and adult-like next to his pimping, shouting and electrocuted opponents, two of whom will lose badly, leaving Hendrix and Kilpatrick to slug it out for another three months, with Kwame portraying Hendrix as a white suburbanite, and Hendrix portraying Kwame as Kwame. The election campaign should be illuminating, dignified and classy I'm sure!
Friday, July 22, 2005
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
When I was there, a lone person sitting on a chair eagerly waved me into the complex as I initially lingered on the perimeter; apparently I had stumbled into the "pharmacy" section of the housing units.
The Jeffries Homes public housing complex was built in the 1950s, largely to replace whole neighborhoods demolished by the expansion of freeways throughout the city, in this case, the Lodge, which cuts between two halves of the projects that sit where hundreds of homes had been. The sprawling complex used to contain 13 high-rise apartment complexes on its north side, most of which were razed in the 1990s and are being replaced with the Woodbridge Estates homes, a rather curious experiment involving putting low-income and upper-income housing side by side. The remaining high rises were converted to senior housing. The projects were most famous as the birthplace of Young Boys Inc., a notorious gang of drug dealers who used little kids to sell heroin in the 1970s. The south end was built in later years, and features the standard public housing misery architecture so popular in urban areas in the 1960s and 70s.
Not much to see there nowadays, with a lot of the units abandoned and boarded up, though it was one wild place when I lived nearby. Gunshots rang out day and night. Hookers and drug dealers seemingly comprised the majority of its residents. I remember a story circulating at the time about a bicyclist going through and not coming out - our eager Wayne State student-type was reportedly set upon by some of the projects' residents, who beat him into an unconscious pulp and took the bike, leaving him in a heap. All I got on my recent visit, though, was offers to purchase various drugs. Why, how very helpful! Thanks! I'll get back to you on that.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Parking for events like these isn’t daunting to me, because I know every square foot of downtown. I never pay for parking, because I know a hundred potential spots. And sure enough, right off the bat, I found one. Unfortunately the cops didn’t approve; this they demonstrated with wild gestures and loud whistles in my direction. OK, we turned the corner and found another spot one minute later, as suburbanites and tourists in dirt parking lots got fleeced by crooks and by bums pretending to be crooks.
There were more cops out last night than I’ve ever seen in my life. Groups of two and three cops stood on every corner, and others stood every mid-block. Helicopters hovered overhead. Mounted police stood sternly in a row in front of the ballpark. It was clear that something unusually big was going on.
And even the hobos and junkies come out for the special occasion. They were out in full-force, standing dazed on corners, speaking excitedly to passersby. “They’ve got police and fire-rockets!!” one insisted to me. “Fire-rockets!” Others glared while leaning against walls, trying not to fall. Others chased people down, not wanting to waste the rare opportunity of having actual tourists in Detroit.
A call went out from the City for volunteers to help during the All-Star week, and a number of helpful citizens answered the call. Unfortunately, many of them were addled, confused and slow-witted. A volunteer at the left-field entrance insisted to us that it was right field. I heard someone ask a volunteer direction-giver where the Elwood Bar was. The volunteer replied “the what?”He never heard of it, though it stood right behind him.
Events like this also bring an odd assortment of B-level and C-level celebrities. Seated a few rows in front of us was baseball commissioner Bud Selig, a few rows ahead of conservative commentator and baseball fanatic George Will, who reacted to my drunken photo-taking with the expression he usually reserves for Democrats on “ABC This Week” on Sundays.
A few rows over was NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, broadcasting the evening news from the riverfront, now understated and elegant in a blue suit, not a hair out of place, next to attention-hog WDIV sportscaster Bernie Smilovitz, peacocked in a loud pink shirt. An unlikelier pair of buddies couldn’t be found. They were chowing on junk food.
A Home Run Derby turned into a real contest and brought out Detroit fans’ loyalty unexpectedly, at least not expected for some All-Star contest. And nothing symbolized Detroit last night more than Ivan Rodriguez, who improbably made it through two tough rounds of the Home Run Derby to get to the finals against home-run record-shatterer Bobby Abreu. Pudge was the metaphor for Detroit – tough, wounded, yet scrapping his way to the finals, where he didn’t really belong and where nobody thought he’d be, and for a moment the improbable seemed possible, that he might actually win it all. It was a meaningless contest, obviously, but nobody expected a Detroit hitter to get that far anyway. Suddenly it had all sorts of meaning, and everyone was watching intently, realizing he had a real shot.
Ultimately, he fell short, but the crowd gave him an ovation for what he managed to accomplish. He was up against a home-run machine in Abreu and lost, but not without showing some Detroit spirit and energy, grinding away against impossible odds, still finishing with a respectable showing. How can living in Michigan and rooting for some other city's team like the Yankees, for example, compare to the visceral pride of rooting for your hometown guy on a warm summer night like this? I cannot imagine.