If the reckless adventures of Kwame Kilpatrick and Co. hadn’t officially chopped and screwed the reputation of Detroit already, then the obsequious pleading of the Detroit Three’s executives sure got the job done.

Detroit has had its share of disgraceful and embarrassing run-ins with the law (or the media, rather) this year, and this week’s melodrama is no different. As Rick Wagoner, Alan Mulally and Robert Nardelli take center stage in an Oscar-worthy performance on how they promise to change their private jet-flying ways in exchange for $34 billion in federal aid, three million potentially unemployed blue-collar workers are sitting in the living rooms of their foreclosed homes, praying for a miracle.

I, too, am feeling the effects of a failing auto industry. The fact that my grandmother’s retirement pension is from General Motors Corp., my only sibling is a car mechanic for a living and my uncle works for a car-hauling company equals a pretty shitty Christmas 2008 for the Smiler Family. But beyond my own selfish motives for being so worried about the outcome of the Detroit Three’s request, I am simply hoping that now that Detroit has cleaned up some of its trash, it will be able to refocus its energy in 2009 on revitalizing the city.

Needless to say, fixing Detroit’s problems will take a lot more than sending three spoiled brats to the principal’s office and an arrogant jock to detention for a few months. But the change has got to start somewhere, and I’m happy it started at the top of the totem pole for once. So what’s next? The same questions that are left unanswered in my nation are left unanswered in my city. How do we rebuild the economy? How do we salvage the small amount of resources we have left? And moreover, how do we gain our respect back?

One major problem is that so many jobs were dependent on one industry in the first place. By putting all of its eggs in one basket, Detroit is vulnerable to mass chaos in the event that — gasp — one of the Detroit Three goes bankrupt. While having a reliable source of employment right in your backyard is ideal for economic stability, being solely dependent on that source is dangerous and an all around bad business move. The people of Detroit need more than one job option, and that shouldn’t include having to commute to Lansing, Ann Arbor or some other city in order to find it.

But bringing that new business requires ridding the city of poor leadership. Detroiters started doing that with Kwame, and now auto companies are being held accountable. But these aren’t the only people who have been negligent in their duties. There needs to be a lot more feathers shaken in the Detroit Public Schools, the Detroit Police Department and every other major branch of the city’s daily operations before we can truly go forward.

Our city has become complacent with the inconvenient truths that Detroit students are performing poorly and are less prepared for college (in the event that they even enroll) than their suburban counterparts. And the people who are supposed to protect us, our police officers and officials, are often the main culprits in assisting corruption and crime. But all is not lost. Bringing in new officials in these positions would give Detroit a reason to be optimistic for the new year.

To guide these officials, Detroit needs a leader who is passionate about the city and its people, a leader who is familiar with the people’s needs and understands their struggles and a leader who isn’t afraid to stand up for the poor and working class of the city. But since Barack Obama opted to run for president of the United States, we will have to find our own beacon of hope, one who doesn’t wear an earring and throw stripper parties. Maybe one of the million candidates running for Detroit mayor will fill that void.

As a city where people across the nation once flocked to because of the economic possibilities and opportunities it presented and the rich legacies it created as home to some of this country’s greatest living heroes, Detroit still has a bright future and a strong chance to be one of the most prosperous cities in the country again. I know that with a new vision, honest leadership and a hopeful population of loyal residents, Detroit can turn itself back around in 2009.

Shakira Smiler can be reached at stsmiler @umich.edu.

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