How It Be In The D

June 6, 2008

Keeping It In The Family

Just recently, my girlfriend returned from the Mackinac Policy Conference and brought back with her lots of great insights. By spending time with many of Michigan and, in particular, Detroit’s movers and shakers, she was able to interact with people who will direct Michigan’s future. One of them is Detroit’s importance to Michigan and its complicated relationship.

The easiest way that I can describe Detroit is as your crazy relative. You know them. You love them. You talk about them. Only you and your family could love this person. Yet God forbid that somebody outside of the family talk about this person the way that you do. The privilege is reserved only for family.

In the same way, we see the craziness that always seems to be tied to Detroit. I wish to be perfectly clear in saying that I in no way feel that Detroit is abnormal or worse than the rest. Many of its problems (i.e corruption, scandal, etc) are also symptomatic of just about any other major city. However, since we are area residents and since we constantly hear about Detroit’s foolishness, it remains fresh in our collective consciousness. For us, it is our reality.

Having said this, I feel that we need to move forward. Not forget, but begin to forgive. I feel that any scandal that further damages Detroit’s public image or results in mismanagement of funds should be addressed and, if necessary, prosecuted. Nonetheless, I don’t that the emphasis should be on what Detroit is not but on what it is.

As much as many of us have fallen into the trap on piling on the bash Kwame Kilpatrick bandwagon, how many of us have piled on the great things about Detroit one? Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is not Detroit. Let me be clear. He is a resident who is mayor of the City. In the way that we view what’s happening, should draw the distinction between Mayor Kilpatrick and Detroit. Furthermore, we need to step up and make things happen for Detroit.

Suburbanites might ask themselves, “What does Detroit have to do with me?” They might live in another county or not even spend any time in the City. What do my statements have to do with them? EVERYTHING! I hate to break it to everybody: if Detroit fails, then we all fail. While Michigan’s government is seated in Lansing, its core is in Detroit. Michigan began with Detroit. Michigan’s auto industry started when Henry Ford build his first cars in Southwest Detroit. When traveling out of state, one of the cities that first come to mind is Detroit. Everything revolves around Detroit. To try separate oneself from Detroit is to be a fool.

If you’re a suburbanite, go into Detroit to catch a game or to support the business. If all that you’ve known is your own small community, try to get acquainted with varied ethnic areas. Try to Detroit’s cultural centers (Detroit Institute of Arts, Orchestra Hall, Detroit Opera House, etc). To close oneself off from Detroit is to starve to death. Detroit is slowly starving. However, if we take action, it can be revitalized and return to its former glory. If its leaders wake up and if we look outside of ourselves, Detroit and Michigan also can come back.

April 2, 2008

I Love You Detroit

These were the words that concluded Kwame Kilpatrick’s State of The City Address, although his actions would indicate otherwise. The multiple lawsuits are moving against him and the City and we have lost two conventions. What else needs to happen before businesspeople and Detroit residents realize that Kilpatrick is a liability that needs to go.

One of the biggest parties that I have a problem with are those clergy that insist on supporting him. I view the clergy as the community’s moral guides and protectors. However, I feel that they have failed in their capacity if they continue to support a man that really didn’t show any contrition until he was caught. They continue to support a man that consistently appoints cronies to positions or creates positions for them. It would be one thing if they actually did something to improve the city. Instead they protect him, serve as his mouthpieces or take the fall for him. Instead of being the Pharisees (false teachers), the clergy needs to be more like Christ overturning the moneylenders’ tables. I implore the clergy to serve your community and take a stand.

Also, I have a problem with the regular citizens that continue with the same tired defenses. “What goes on behind closed doors should stay behind closed doors.” “He’s (Kilpatrick) has done a lot for the city.” “Let’s leave the man alone and let him do his job.” “The media should go and focus on somebody else.” These are just a few of the defenses that I hear on the local TV stations. I’ll address these defenses that I’ve listed.

In regard to keeping private matters behind closed doors, I agree. I would agree if these private matters didn’t occur on City time, with a City employee during when Kilpatrick was supposed to conduct City business. If he wishes to cheat on his wife, then let him do it on his time and with his own money. While I am not a resident, I am a City tax payer. I have a big problem with subsidizing Kilpatrick’s extracurricular activities. If I’m going to contribute money to the City’s funds, I want to see some good occur.

I would disagree that Kwame has done a lot for the City. There have been buildings renovated and business returning to the City. Nonetheless, I don’t see improvement in the day-to-day things. On the way to work, I drive by Trumbull and pass old Tiger Stadium. I’ve seen the space left by a stolen pothole, which has been there for at least two months. The only thing that sometimes marks it is the rubber bottom of a construction cone. I’ve driven through portions of Detroit and seen massive potholes. One is even so wide that it takes up the entire lane of side street. I’ve seen bags of garbage and large items left on the side of I-75, I-94 and the Lodge, since bulk garbage pickup has largely disappeared. I’m seeing people leaving the City rather than waiting. I don’t blame them. They’re leaving a city with virtually no services; high property and auto insurance rates; almost no major grocery stores. The bulk of the tax bracket that could have bulked up the City’s coffers has left. Many of the people remaining can barely support their own families. The stores that could provide food, groceries and other goods for Detroit’s residents are in the suburbs. What motivation is there to be a Detroit resident?

I do not think that Kilpatrick should be left alone. For lack of a better term, he is a child that needs to be watched. Left to his own devices, Kilpatrick has shown a deplorable pattern of behavior. Unsupervised, he conducts shadowy deals. Unsupervised, he makes settlements without informing City Council. Unsupervised, he engages in reprehensible personal conduct that has left Detroit with a tremendous political liability (himself) and the source of local, state and national ridicule. Until Kilpatrick shows that he can handle himself, I don’t think that he should be left alone. To be left alone to do his job, Kilpatrick first needs to do it.

Lastly, I don’t entirely agree that the media is singling him out at the expense of other news stories. Yes, I know that part of the media’s business is to sell newspapers and to have high ratings. However, they are also in the business of keeping the government accountable. Kilpatrick has rarely been forthright for an extended period of time. While he did promise to have regular press conferences so that the media and the people could stay informed on his activities and work, it didn’t come to be. When documents were sought under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Kilpatrick fought those attempts. If I were in the media and I have the choice of covering another Kilpatrick revelation or something less substantial, I would go with the Kilpatrick revelation. Media almost always goes for the bigger story. If the media were never to focus on ratings or increasing circulation, then they would be out of business. The constant balance between ratings/circulation and reporting the truth is something that will always be. As long as the truth isn’t compromised, then I don’t have a problem.

In short, I don’t feel that Kilpatrick has shown Detroit any love. Instead, he has shown his contempt in denying allegations that are slowly solidifying. Kilpatrick has shown lack of respect for the intelligence of his constituents and of interested parties. He has shown selfishness and lack of self-control. Kilpatrick has also shown a convenient ignorance for past statements that he has seemingly contradicted with either subsequent statements or in those troubling text messages. He has rarely shown himself to remain consistent in his statements and behavior. It is time for Kilpatrick to live his words of showing love for Detroit and stepping down.

January 23, 2007

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

One of the things that I’ve noticed about our modernized, individualistic society is the lack of consideration for those around us. Look at cell phones. When those lovely Nextel phones came out with the “chirp” function and were cool…at first. I knew a few people that had one. However, they quickly became annoying when the owners set the volume too high, forcing us to listen to their innocuous conversations. How could we not? They never bothered to lower the volume.

In addition to people talking on their cell phones, there is also the matter of how they also drive at the same time. At present, I work out in Detroit’s East Side. As a suburbanite, I was used to people using their blinkers and obeying traffic lights. However, once that I started working at my current job, I started seeing people blowing red lights. People will drive around as theylook for a parking spot and talking on their cell phones. Effectively, making them clueless about their surroundings.

Unfortunately, these examples of inappropriate cell phone use bring up what I feel is our problem-society’s overemphasis on the individual. We must move away from the belief that the world revolves around us. Yes, turn that damned phone down because everybody hears your business. If you’re driving and talking on the phone, you’re most likely going to be distracted. You’re not half as good at doing both as you think. Also, try to stop on a red light. If you don’t, are you ready to face the potential consequences of doing so? Yes indeed. I am my brother’s keeper.

December 15, 2006

Detroit-A Rural City?

I once heard someone at a party say perhaps one of the most fascinating and profound statements that I think summarizes Detroit. He said that he almost thought of the City as a rural town. At first, his logic didn’t make sense though it became clearer as he went on. He said that if you look at Detroit that it depends heavily on the suburbs. Mornings welcome people to the image of the massive surge of people—those people going to work at the office. Evenings are slowed down by the mass exodus of people returning to their homes in the suburbs. The ability to purchase goods is practically non-existent. Many residents venture to the shopping centers in the suburbs. While there are some shops, they don’t address most of the needs of the City’s residents. Detroit can no longer sustain itself independently as if once could.

One thing that I don’t like is when everybody slams Detroit. The suburbs are full of critics who know little if anything about the goings-on in the City. However, this gentleman was until recently a Detroit resident. Also, the more that I thought about what he said the more that he made sense. No matter what anybody says, Detroit is isolated and nothing without the suburbs.

During the course of traveling through Detroit for pleasure or for work, I have seen various segments of the City. Of course, I’ve seen some impoverished areas—houses with big holes in the roofs, burned out houses and streets littered with trash, discarded furniture and other remnants of things that people forgot about long ago. I have also seen rehabilitated areas that show promise. Nonetheless, I cannot yet say that the rehabilitated areas are representative of Detroit as a whole.

At the expense of simplifying Detroit’s troubles, I won’t provide answers—for the simple fact that I don’t have very many. While I am learning more about Detroit, I don’t know everything. I don’t think that anybody does. Also, one thing that I’ve learned about Detroit residents is that they don’t fit neatly into a box. The news would have you believe that Detroiters are muggers and murderers attacking anything and everything that walks the streets. This statement describes a portion of Detroit residents but not all. I don’t think that I could do justice to describing those residents that have stayed and are at the front lines in the struggle to bring Detroit back to its former majesty. I wish that I could say that I was one of them. However, my parents felt that they had no choice but to move in order to provide my brothers and me opportunities that we would not have had otherwise.

Whether we care to admit it, Detroit is isolated. Many of Detroit’s residents have left the City. Stores and business abandoned it. The media has condemned it. People come to work in Detroit but don’t live there. The sad reality is that the City is on life support. If we don’t do anything about it, then Detroit will continue to crumble until there is nothing left but the historical markers that designate the only places worth keeping. Detroit deserves more.

October 20, 2006

Na, na, na, na…Hey, hey, hey goodbye

There were few people in the Detroit area not succumbing to the collective elation at the Tiger’s sweeping the Oakland Athletics, which has now taken them to the World Series. However, the Tigers’ miraculous turnaround during the 2005-2006 baseball season was due to some of the most basic, overlooked elements of the game: teamwork and chemistry. Their battle against the Yankees is an example of this statement.

For much of the last 10 years during which they had a resurgence, the New York Yankees have endured the public’s dislike. Their perception as being one bought by George Steinbrenner is due to them having one of the highest payrolls (around $194 million). This payroll has allowed them to snap up free agents and star players from other teams such as pitchers David Wells, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson; sluggers Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez; and, former Boston Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Damon. While Steinbrenner has been successful at recruiting players long enough to win championships (his sole intention), he has not kept them together in a cohesive unit. What is missing is commitment to the idea of being part of something bigger than themselves.

On the polar opposite are the Detroit Tigers. They differ from superstar teams in several ways. Except for maybe (catcher) Ivan “Pudge” Rodríguez, the Tigers didn’t acquire known superstars. At the beginning of 2005-2006 season, most of the key players on the team were relative unknowns or people written off by other teams. Every one of the Tigers acquisitions or trades was made with the intention of adding to a puzzle. While superstar teams’ strategy has been to acquire superstars and overwhelm opposing teams, the Tigers were about acquiring great players who, in the context of a team, became greater.

Another huge difference was manager Jim Leyland. His importance cannot be underestimated. Leyland started off as a Tigers catcher and spent six seasons as a minor leaguer until acquiring his first minor league coaching position in 1970. From then on, Leyland coached in the Tigers’ minor league system until 1982 and leaving to become Tony LaRussa’s third base coach (1982-1985) for the Chicago White Sox. Subsequently, he managed the Pittsburgh Pirates (1986-1996), became Manager of the Year (1990, 1992) and took them to the National League Championship Series (1990-1992) though losing all three times. In 1997, Leyland was hired to manage the Florida Marlins, leading them to their first championship though they were only around for five years. He stayed on until 1998 and left to coach the Colorado Rockies (1999). Leyland didn’t have another coaching position until being rehired into the Tigers’ organization in 2005 as manager. Many people, including the Tigers’ commentators have attributed his tough, no-nonsense coaching style to his 11 years as a minor league coach, which taught him the coaching fundamentals that other coaches learn along the way once reaching the major league level. While Leyland had successful with Pittsburgh and Colorado, it wasn’t recognized until he rejoined the Tigers

His strong relationship with the players allowed him to nurture many of the younger ones into confident athletes able to stare down much more recognized teams and removed their egos from the team equation and utilize the older players’ experience. Leyland was as able to chastise players not performing to his level of high excellence as to leave a troubled pitcher to extricate himself. To summarize up how the players regard him, Brandon Inge (third baseman) was quoted in the ESPN biography on Leyland, regarding his commenting on Kirby Puckett’s death, “This guy [Leyland] right here didn’t even know Kirby Puckett very well and is going to break down over him because he meant so much to the game. Then, you know he’s gonna care about every one of us in the clubhouse. That right there was the moment everybody in the clubhouse was like ‘Wow, we’ll play to our death for this guy.’ ” Players grew to know that Leyland always knew what he was doing and never questioned his decisions. The decisions as well as his and the players’ arrivals were part of bigger picture—achieving big success through building upon small ones.

While Tigers’ long-suffering fans might owe their team’s victory to a “miracle,” it was anything but that. The Tigers reaching the World Series was due to the fundamentals of sportsmanship: putting the team above the individual. When Sean Casey (first baseman) was on the disabled list because of a torn calf, Pudge Rodriguez volunteered to replace him. Leyland, though grateful for the gesture, told him that he would be much better as catcher. I cannot think of any such incident in recent sports memory.

Also, Leyland and his players finally came into their own. He found a group of players that were ripe with potential though it was not able to fully develop. Leyland’s gruff honesty yet quiet nurturing allowed his players to feel motivated enough to give nothing less than their best, complete effort and last and not least to just have fun. Hard work hardly seems worthwhile without enjoying its benefits.

It might have taken 22 years for the Tigers to reach the pinnacle but long overdue. Their victory can serve as nothing less but a lesson to managers on how to lead players and players to follow their manager’s direction. Teams not superstars achieve consistent victory. It cannot be prima donna players that call the shots but strong, competent management. If players and management forget these lessons, then they will find themselves in the seemingly bottomless pit of mediocrity and unable to get out of it unless they remember these lessons and hold them central to what they do.

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