The Michigan Daily: The first question is why did you get into politics? We?e going to start chronologically and then eventually I guess we?e just going to be jumping around.
Paul Hillegonds: My father was a minister and had fought in World II, but I had a very strong sense of commitment to community and when John F. Kennedy was elected president he not only inspired young adults like my dad but young children like myself – and I think that my introduction into politics really was John F. Kennedy.
I remember promising myself the morning I found out that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated that I really would try to find a way to devote my life to public service. I remember that moment, and when the University of Michigan Washington Internship Program was created and was seeking the first class of people to go to washington I jumped at the opportunity as a junior at the U of M. And so what really was a personal commitment I had made became an opportunity opened by the University of Michigan.
TMD: What did you major in?
PH: Political science.
TMD: From ?3 to ?4 you were a co-speaker of the House. How did that work? How did you keep everything sort of together and what did you learn from that experience?
PH: I served 18 years in the state House of Representatives. Ten of those years I was Republican leader ?six in the minority, two as co-speaker and two as the speaker. And from all of those years the two as co-speaker were my favorite period of time.
It was a period when both sides had to trust each other, learn to truly share power, and what that means in a legislative body is the need to share the agenda-setting powers so that each party? ideas could be fully ideas. And ultimately, at 50-50 it worked out by compromise.
It was a wonderful experience. First of all, the co-speaker, my co-speaker, my counterpart, Curtis Hertel and I became very good friends. We had served together maybe eight years but we hadn? known each other well, but we became acquainted and we became very close friends. We learned through a number of experiences to trust each other and the idea of sharing the agenda also was translated into sharing committee chairmanships as well as the speakership. So what was happening between Curtis and me at the speaker level started to occur at the committee level and it really changed, for a short period of time, it changed the spirit and the tone of how we did things in the state House of Representatives – much less partisanship, not that there wasn? healthy partisan debate, but a willingness to hear each other? ideas and to take some risks together.
It was the period of time when the school finance program, Proposal A, emerged after really about twenty years of lack of resolution, of loggerheads either in the Legislature or with the voting public saying ?o?to proposals reforming schools. I really believe that, had we not been at this 50-50 point where we had to share ideas and power, that we probably wouldn? have been able to put Proposal A on the ballot, which ultimately past overwhelmingly in the state. It was not only a time when the tone changed but there truly were some positive results in the way of policy change that came out of the House and for that reason it was the highlight of the 18 years for me.
How did it come about? When we realized that we were going to have to live together we wrote a contract, we had to write temporary rules of the House by which we would do business. After checking with other states who had been in a similar situation and learning about other models of sharing power, we really crafted out, what came off who would preside in the speaker? chair every other month and in the month that the party controlled the floor action by means of having a speakership, the opposite party would chair the committees. And so what would happen is that each party would have a two-month period of time when they could work a bill through committee and then to the floor and then they would have to turn the power back over to the other party.
Originally when we crafted this, we felt well this would be d?tente, that each side would give the other side its best shot. But over time what evolved was a lot more communication between committee chairs and speakers and we ended up really working through issues regardless of who was presiding at the time. And truly a period of goodwill and increased trust evolved and was rewarded.
One thing that occurred not only did we get good policy results in my opinion, but all the incumbents who ran for re-election following that two years were reelected. We gained control by one seat only because there was an open seat that we won. But maybe even more important than the election results, there was some survey work that was done on the level of confidence the public had in the Legislature at the time and it jumped to a higher level than it had been in several years.
And so I think the people appreciated it too, and if there was a way to bottle that cooperation and employ it in a more conventionally organized legislature it would be wonderful, but the reality is unless you?e balanced that way it? hard to do.
TMD: One quick follow up: When the U.S. Senate was split 50-50 for five, ofive to six months, how did you rate Senators Daschle and Lott for the way they kept things going in the Senate?
PH: Very well, in fact. I wasn? that close to it, but from afar it appeared that the two leaders like each other personally and that personal relationship helped to bring about the decision to share power.
It isn? exactly analogous to what we had because in the U.S. Senate, of course, a tie vote can be broken by the vice president. We truly had a tie situation with no ability to break the tie. We had to find ways to work things out. But it appeared at the time that not only did the two leaders get along well, to the point where Leader Lott had received some criticism for going as far as he did to cooperate – criticism from his own party.
Interestingly, that was a challenge that both Speaker Hertel and I had at the time is that there were times when our own party members pushed us thinking we should be tougher on each other. But in the end, I think it was the right thing for Trent Lott and seemed to work fairly well for the short period time it existed. Though again, the U.S. Senate is a very different body in terms of how the minority can use the procedural rules to stop legislation. We didn? have anything like that.
TMD: It seems like this bipartisanship was a highlight of your political career. First what would you consider this one of your greatest accomplishments as speaker or as a legislator? And then secondly, why did you get out of politics?
PH: Yes, well, there were a couple of accomplishments I? very proud of. First was taking a minority in number but also in attitude, I called it ?inority mentality,?taking that mentality as minority leader and trying to build a majority, not by just going out and raising a lot of money – that? a fact of life, you have to do that. But we decided as a minority that we would never become a majority if we didn? start getting away from simply criticizing what the majority was proposing and voting no. We felt we that we needed to work harder at developing positives alternatives so we had a number of task forces over a period of years that really developed into some very fine policy proposals.
Even as a minority we started to get things done because our members started to participate more positively in the process. And I? convinced that? one reason we became a majority. So turning around sort of that minority mentality in helping with a lot of other caucus members to build a majority base on good policy as opposed to deft politics is something I? proud of.
But then when we did go from minority to co-speakership and shared power that definitely was the second accomplishment I? proud of. And as I say, part of that was not just being able to get along, but being able to get some significant policy adopted in the two years we shared power. When the pundits looked at what we had crafted in the way of a shared-power agreement I remember some of the columns saying ?h this is very nice and they?e saying very nice things about each other but they?l self-destruct in a couple of months,?and lo and behold by the end of that two years even some of the cynics had to admit that it really was one of the more productive sessions in the Legislature that they had seen in a long time.
TMD: Was that motivation that you have a lot of critics saying ?t won? work??Was that a major driving force and sort of making sure that it did work?
PH: I think it was. I think we wanted to prove the critics wrong. We were severely tested too early on in the agreement and during that sort of honeymoon period in the agreement a scandal was disclosed in the House of Representatives where the head, the director, of the Fiscal Agency, had been investigated and was found to be appropriating money for his personal use, ultimately was convicted and ended up serving time. But that the revelation forced the two leadership teams to come together and really decide how are we going to deal with this. And we decided to be as open as we could and work with the law enforcement authorities together and not point blame. So yeah, I think the fact that that came up early on along with our determination to prove the critics wrong.
Term limits had been adopted by the people, restricting the time I could serve, I could?e actually served one additional term and decided to leave two years early. I suppose in part because term limits helped me to focus on the fact that I would have to look at different options potentially. But the reality, I think, is that even without that deadline of term limits I had accomplished pretty much all I had hoped to accomplish in the House. It had been 18 wonderful years and I was really ready for a change.
The part of the reason I was so ready for a change, in addition to feeling the job had been completed in the House: I still had a young family, our children at the time were seven and four. It was increasingly becoming a conflict of time between home and Lansing. I know for a fact, I know you hear that excuse all the time for politicians for getting out of office that ?amily counts.?But the reality is for most elected people there are tremendous sacrifices made when it comes to being away from family and the combination of feeling like my job was almost done in Lansing and wanting to spend more time with family really led me to decide to leave. It certainly, you know as you consider options for the future, I suppose if I had stuck around two more years I could?e decided that I would really try and look at running for something higher like a statewide office a couple of years after I had left the House.
But that? really where you reach a crossroads in terms of measuring are you willing to go out on the road virtually five or six nights a week and decide that family time is going to be put on hold or are you going to decide right then and there you?e going to forgo that type of ambition and take some time out. For me, a period of time when the children were going out, I really elected to spend more time with family and children.
TMD: Maybe we could move in to your current job now.
TMD: Could you tell us what your average day is like? I? sure it varies day to day.
PH: It really does.
Let me just take a day like today. I started the morning at an 8:00 breakfast with other civic executives, groups like the United Way and the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Citizens?Research Council, SEMCOG, which is the organization of local governments.
We get together once a month just to bring each other up to date on what we?e doing in our respective organizations and often those meetings turn out to go, as it did today, for a couple of hours, because there are a lot of areas where we can help each other get our work done. The Untied Way, for example, is very concerned about its fundraising drive for the Detroit area, because not only is the economy in recession, but for very good reasons people are channeling charitable contributions to New York and to organizations like the Red Cross. He wanted to alert me and the others who have in our groups companies that help the United Way campaign go forward, that we need to sensitize our members. That went on til 10.
I came back here to make some phone calls. Presently we?e working on a partnership with the Detroit Public Schools and we have been raising some funds to help the new Schools CEO with various projects that he has that he can? fund strictly with public funding and so I made a couple of calls dealing with that issue. I was off at 11:30 at a luncheon where U of M economists were giving a report to Wayne County businesses and government leaders on their economic forecasts for Wayne County specifically over the next three years and so I spent time not only enjoying lunch but also hearing the forecast.
Got back here at 2:00. Had a short meeting with a couple of our staff members because we?e working on our work program, our objectives for the coming year. We have an executive committee meeting coming up and we?e preparing that report for them. Spent a little more time on the phone, received a call from the mayor and had to dash out a memo to our directors on the security state we?e in and I? meeting with you.
A lot of my time is spent in the community with various groups. While our mission at Detroit Renaissance is economic development, it? economic development quite broadly defined. It? not only our lending activity to try to assist developers that are converting older buildings into lofts, housing units. We have a lending program for African American entrepreneurs who are looking to grow their businesses in the city. So we do some bricks and mortar work but we also are very involved in economic development more broadly defined, such as the health of schools and working with the K-12 institutions in particular.
And our cultural institutions. One of the aspects of quality of life in this region and city is the great amount of arts and culture that we have not only in regional institutions but local arts organizations and we?e been engaged in trying to get a regional tax passed that will supports arts and culture. We barely failed in that effort last election, in that effort, last year. But we?e looking to try again next year
And so, you know, maybe a day will take me out to meeting with a coalition of cultural institutions or political leadership at the county and city level to work on that project.
Every day is a different chore, or challenge, and I shouldn? call it a shore because I really love the work. Certainly it? challenging but it? very fulfilling.
TMD: One follow-up question: Are residential developers, have they shown more interest in property here in Detroit and downtown Detroit, like you were saying loft conversions and knowing cities like Chicago that the last five, ten years it has been extremely popular in bringing the community back to downtown and that area and I was just wondering if the same thing is true here in Detroit.
PH: It is and it? sad to say I believe that there is potentially more investment interest today in the city among not only private developers but nonprofit community development organizations than there is the capacity to accommodate that investment, and that gets into a whole array of policy and city services issues because so many people have left the city of Detroit over the past three or four decades [that] you have a tremendous amount of what is called tax-reverted property.
The city has in its possession at least 40,000 parcels that because of delinquent tax payments it? come back to the city. And so you would think with all this land we should easily be able to accommodate the interests of developers.
While the fact is a lot of the property has clouded title and you need to work through title issues, the pricing issues ?how expensive is it going to be to obtain -, just the process issues ?how long is going to take to acquire it. And so we?e very involved in working with the city, and the state, and, increasingly, the county. Because under a new law that we helped to get past, the county is increasingly involved in tax-reverted properties.
The private sector needs to work with the different layers of government to try and get this property processed faster and back into the hands of developers who have an interest. Now that? a long answer to your question but I think of all the things I?e found here in my five year of experience I think what startles me most is how much interest there is to do not only middle income housing in neighborhoods, affordable housing for lower-income residents and now, increasingly upper-income lofts downtown because there is an interest in staying or returning to the city. But we need to accommodate that interest by improving processing services.
TMD: You mentioned a little bit about the effects of charitable donations going to New York in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Could you elaborate a little bit more about that the effect of that, on the attacks and also the way the economy is going.
PH: The University of Michigan forecast actually was brighter than I would have anticipated in that, for example, in Wayne County, there will be a loss of jobs projected in the next three years, particularly in transportation and manufacturing, as you would expect.
That the message really was that certainly what happened in New York and Washington put us into a deeper recession or really put us into a recession, but we were a slower economy anyway. On the other hand, they do project over the next three years that we will begin to come out of it. And also, in a city like Detroit, and the region now, we are a more diverse economy. So whereas a recession ten years ago would?e meant unemployment rates approaching 10 percent, we?e talking about only five and a half percent by their projections.
Now, here? the caution they threw out today, and I certainly understand it: is their projections are based on stability in the next couple of years – without a lot more incidents – and if we have more terrorist attacks and it affects the psychology of the economy then I anticipate that the effort to redevelop the city will be significantly slowed. And that simply is because smaller businesses but larger companies that want do more investment will be much more introspective.
They?l be in survival mode themselves. Yeah, it? a cause for great concern. Where we are today is, after the initial shock of the attack, is more of a normal economic cycle and if we don? have any more disruptions I really believe the city will continue on an upward path with more investment. But really, I think, what is encouraging is there is more interest in investing in neighborhoods, too. Schools are absolutely critical to that. I do not believe that we will actually increase population in the city in the next ten years unless there is marked improvement in education opportunity for kids because families aren? going to stay or come to communities where there aren? good opportunities to learn for their kids.
TMD: So what are you, this is sort of an unrelated question, what, at Detroit Renaissance are you doing to lure businesses to the city and are you using your experiences in politics as sort of, is that ?
PH: Well the interesting thing is we?e not a chamber of commerce or a local economic development corporation so we don? try to compete with the Chamber or the EDC in business attraction marketing programs or business retention, that sort of thing. What we are is a group of 50 directors, most of whom are CEOs of the major companies – automobile-related, financial and utilities – in the Detroit region with this focus on economic development, again, broadly defined.
We are strictly dues supported. We have a relatively small staff of nine. What brught the group together 30 years ago was the feeling that with, at the time, racial unrest in the city and economic decline, CEOs need to come together to talk about how, collectively, they can strategize to help improve the infrastructure of the city that makes investment possible and leverage collectively not only their own resources but work with foundations and the public sector to make the community a place where people want to live and invest.
So, I will give you a summary of the kind o work we?e doing, but you know what has evolved over time, as I said before, is when, let? say the Chamber of Commerce or the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation has a prospect, let? say a housing developer that may want to do business in the city, we may be able to help with pre-development lending, which is that initial lending for design work, legal work that will allow usually smaller businesses to go to a bank and get conventional lending.
When the CEOs came to the realization that for some of the investments in the city conventional lending is not enough – you need some subsidized lending – our companies put together a Detroit investment fund capitalized at about $50 million and that? there specifically to do lower-than market rate lending and what we call gap financing – you can get some money from conventional lends but not enough to do the deal. So that? another way we?e been involved.
I mentioned the cultural funding piece, but we have been working now for several years with the cultural institutions to get them to collaborate in their programming and to do more outreach to smaller arts organizations in the region and in the city, which I think has really improved not only the financial condition but the state of arts and culture. You?l see that we are working with Wayne State University in this summary, on a research and technology park. We did some of the funding to develop the concept. But, see, we?l be able now to work through our companies to promote potentially joint ventures between smaller research firms and some of the major companies to locate in this research and technology park. Wayne State? interests, of course is the commercialization of some of the research they?e doing.
That partnership is a great example of where, I think, traditional companies are increasingly thinking about how will the city will be attractive in the future to younger people and the newer economy businesses. And, you know, we look around at other cities around the county and the reality is that some of the best opportunity for development comes from young people who want the urban experience and don? need to set up offices in glass high-rises but are interested in old warehouse districts and sort of the arts and culture and educational opportunities that a traditional core city provides.
So It? those kinds of things. We can? be all things to all people and we have generally been in the business of pre-development lending for housing, working on improving the schools, and through this Detroit Investment Fund, now really trying to assist the sort of newer economy activities.
TMD: Just one follow up: I know a lot of cases residential developers come to a city for help for financial help or whatever. How does Detroit Renaissance and the city sort of work together or distribute, you know, allocate responsibility for dealing with a company like that?
PH: Yeah. That? why we meet a lot. One of the civic execs that meets with us a lot is the director of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.
So we compare notes. We constantly remind each other of our roles and are careful not to step on each other? feet. But, you know, if they have a prospect and they know that prospect needs some gap financing, or maybe some pre-development lending, they can send that person our way.
It? amazing to me how much word of mouth will bring in customers to us in that often, the developers who are working on loft conversions, say, are true urbanists who are pioneers, taking a lot of risk, are not well capitalized and do a lot of talking with each other, a lot of supporting of each other, work with nonprofit community development organizations and they all know who we are and in fact we have an advisory committee to look at loan applications that is made up of community development organizations representatives. That? another way we get the word out.
We do a newsletter. But we?e worked pretty hard, though there? a lot of alphabet soup around here, we?e worked pretty hard to with our other partners to make sure we?e not competing with each other to provide the same services. There? enough to be done here that we can complement each other? work.
TMD: Two similarly related questions. Are there more businesses coming into the city than going out right now and the same with residential development?
PH: The latest census figures show that we did lose population again, over this ten-year period but that the population decline has slowed. And if you look at the new housing starts in the last three to four years, the starts are increasing to the point where last year Detroit was in the top ten of communities and housing starts in the region over the decade.
There are some encouraging signs though we?e losing population, or have lost population, the decline is slowing and it? beginning to turn around. The major challenges for businesses right now is the great amount of restructuring going on in the automobile industry. So it? hard to gauge. What you have right now is a lot of mergers and acquisitions occurring and so, for example, the Guardian Building, which you can see out the window, the orangeish brick building, was the headquarters of MichCon, MCN Energy. MCN Energy has merged into Detroit DTE Energy and so all of the MCN Energy people are moving out of that building into the DTE headquarters and that will involve the loss of some jobs as mergers usually do. What? going to happen with the Guardian Building is I think there will be some smaller businesses that fill it up and maybe some residential units.
I cannot tell you whether the downtown has seen a net loss or gain in the past few years. There just aren? numbers you can rely on. But I can tell you that the occupancy rate of commercial office buildings has been encouragingly high, even with mergers and acquisitions that General Motors moving to the RenCen has meant an increase in the occupancy in the RenCen. CompuWare building a new headquarters downtown is probably 3,000 new employees who weren? here and will have spinoff affects, will attract other smaller businesses. So I? encouraged about the trend, though it? not a slam dunk. We are not guaranteed of growth downtown in the next ten years but I think the opportunity for it exists given some of the larger company decisions that have been made and, again, the interest in small technology companies, younger people living in the city and beginning to open up their own entrepreneurial activity.
If you drove through the downtown today the most striking thing would be the absence of retail and the number of really abandoned first level shops. I visited enough cities lately to know that it? a common problem. Unless you have more people living in your cities, you?e not going to attract the retail you want or hold it. And that? why we, working with the Greater Downtown Partnership, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, are focused mainly on building conversions for residents. We think the retail will probably follow the residents. There will be some retail mainly restaurants, entertainment venues, that are attracted by the new stadia. But when it comes to shopping for everyday necessities ?food, clothing – we need more residents in town. Downtown.
TMD: So how do you get them to come together, the residents and the commercial aspect? Which do you think will come first and then which will follow?
PH: Well the commercial has come first in the central business district. But now you?e beginning to see more interest in taking some of the older buildings that used to be retail and turning that into housing. So there are an encouraging number of loft developments happening.
I think we will see much more growth of residential and potentially retail if we can ever get resolved the question of whether casinos will be on the riverfront or no. My sense is that casinos won? end up on the riverfront. If that is resolved in the next year, there will be much more interest in looking at the riverfront especially east of the Renaissance Center for residential and some retail development.
I think one of the greatest disappointments over the history of Detroit is the misuse of our riverfront. First, industrial, now abandoned warehouse, and tied up with the debate over casinos. We need to take advantage of our water as quickly as we can. If we can get residential there that will be a huge boost I think to the downtown.
TMD: Is it not zoned right now for residential?
PH: It is mixed use. And really the zoning is not the issue. The issue was the decision by the mayor a couple of years ago to put the casinos down there. For the last couple of years, the city has been trying to acquire the land for that. They haven? been able to acquire all they needed. Now it turns out that probably two of the casinos are happy to stay at the sites where they are. So now it? down to one casino, maybe wanting to be on the riverfront. But I don? think it? going to happen.
TMD: Is there any future for some of the great buildings of the city that are now abandoned like the Michigan Central Depot or the Book Cadillac Hotel? Is there any future for those in your opinion?
PH: I? like to think so but the Hudson? building was very instructive. There was a lot of interest in trying to preserve the Hudson? building but ultimately the city, after several false starts, concluded it wasn? financially feasible for a developer to come in and convert the Hudson? Building.
It appears the city is concluding the same thing about Tiger Stadium. They put out a request for a proposal and there were a couple of developers who came back with concepts for the use of Tiger Stadium which involved tearing down some of the stands but building lofts around the field – sounds kind of cool. But when they got into the hard numbers, could you finance it? Couldn? do it.
I talk about Tiger Stadium because it? even harder for, now it? privately owned, but I think the Central Depot is one of the more beautiful structures in town. But who can come in and afford to redevelop it and rent out the space. Will there be a market for it? And it appears there isn?.
Book Cadillac: The city has been, I think, more focused, because we need hotel space, believing, and there is interest in residential housing, that there potentially could be use for that building. But that? an example where, at least the last I heard, was that there issues over who owned it, you know, who really has title to it. The city presumes it? theirs but there are a couple of parties who feel they still have a stake in that building.
The larger the building the harder it is to think about redevelopment.
TMD: Would you say the older the building too, because ?
PH: Yeah, although some of the older smaller-scale buildings, you really have interest. Among the, especially the developers interested in loft conversions. It? mainly the scale it seems more than the age.
TMD: Do you worry about, I know construction costs have been going up quite a bit lately and is that a problem that might become a bigger problem?
PH: There still is a gap in the city. But I think if you asked, not being a developer but I certainly have talked to a number of developers, they would say the main gap is not construction cost, which tends to be uniform around the region. It depends more on the competition for construction work. And when you have a major project like the Metro Airport terminal going on, it really ties up the construction worker.
The main gap in the city is related to infrastructure costs. Sometimes it? cleaning up contamination. Downtown it? usually a very serious issue of is there sufficient parking. What about redoing sidewalks and streets and sometimes utilities, the water and sewage? That? a very expensive item.
By the way we were very involved in advocating that Detroit? revenue sharing from the state not be reduced as its population was reduced over the next few years. The Legislature did approve a policy that says Detroit? revenue sharing, which is about $1.3 billion annually, will be held harmless for seven years while the city tries to rebuild. There are no strings attached to that revenue sharing but we do feel that the city, with a weak tax base, needs help in rebuilding infrastructure.
Another issue is tax rates. Our predevelopment lending activity has really acquainted us with some of the policy issues that we can help with. But let? take a developer of a a building that has virtually no value. When he first purchases that building the tax rate of 72 mils is no big deal because it? assessed on a building with no value. Then he restores the building and all of a sudden 72 mils is way out of line in the surrounding communities and creates a huge gap. We were involved in getting passed into law getting passed a tax abatement, a property tax credit, for approximately two-thirds of that 72 mils over a period of up to twelve years for a person that takes an obsolete building and converts it into productive use.
So you know we?e trying to find ways to close these gaps but the reality is you can? rely on those kinds of tax abatements forever because the city needs to restore its tax base. This gets into more of a state and federal question. But at some point, you know, we as a society we have to decide how serious we are about rebuilding our core cities. The fact is that core cities have to do more to help themselves and improving the efficiency of city services but that should not become an excuse for saying there? no role for federal and state help monetarily in making up the difference for very weak tax bases. If we are not willing to commit money as a society to rebuilding our cities, the cities will not be able to rebuild themselves. That? my opinion.
TMD: With Canada right across the river there, I was just wondering what has been Detroit Renaissance? dealings with groups in Windsor, in Ontario, I guess.
PH: That? gets into the Detroit Regional Chamber? role and again our companies, we have the CEOs of these companies. Some of the CEOs sit on the Detroit Regional Chamber Board but it? usually other representatives from those companies and the Detroit Regional Chamber? role is focused on regional business attraction and retention in partnership with the city, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, but the Detroit Regional Chamber does a lot of marketing and a lot of international work with Canada.
So, our companies are involved through the DRC in doing a lot of cooperative programs with the Windsor Chamber. For example right now they?e working very hard on the border crossing issue. It? a huge issue that is going to require a lot of cooperation from the governments and the businesses, figuring out how to move commerce more quickly when you?e got higher security.
TMD: What? it really going to take, in your opinion, to get people back into the city. I mean I think that? really the issue, getting the bodies into the city. I mean how much of it is a safety issue?
PH: The perception that it? not safe to live in Detroit is a huge problem still. And I don? know what you do about it because if you watch the evening news there? almost every night a story on a crime which is random. The reality is, if you look at the statistics, downtown we have a very safe downtown and some wonderfully safe and high quality neighborhoods. We have some blighted neighborhoods where concentration of poverty and all of the impacts of that show up in random crime. But it? an issue that the next mayor is going to have to address, I think, through more community policing, the reliance on data as to where crime is occurring and the deployment of police more effectively. That gets into the whole issue of best practices and how you change city services.
I would say it is security. It is the quality of education. It is cleanliness.
And it? not so much the failure to invest in things like garbage pickup but it? the great dilemma the city has: it? a huge geographical area with a population that? less than half of what it was back in the early fifties. And the question comes can the next mayor politically decide to provide quality services but not in every corner of the city, you know, which services are you going to prioritize, but also geographically do you have to make some choices in your long-range planning. You know I would say if you could address those three things we would turn the corner. I? convinced young people especially like urban areas at least a growing number of young people and if you look at what has happened in other cities there are revivals that are going on and showing in the way of increased population.
I think diversity is a strength we have here. We talk about diversity a lot but what has been somewhat viewed as a plague of racial conflict over time is also an opportunity in my opinion. The fact that we?e in a global economy and companies increasingly are having to learn to work with diversity all over the world is a plus here.
You see more joint ventures where companies want to figure out how you make diversity work in the workplace and want to figure out how you make diversity work in the workplace and want to figure out how you successfully market to a diverse population.
And I think that? one of the assets we have here and it? showing up in parts of the city. All you have to do is go to southwest Detroit and check out Mexicantown and you can see what potentially ethnic diversity can do for a community. Or the Arab community in Dearborn. I mean these can be real positives for our cities.
TMD: Second to last question: I think it was a year or so, Herman Gardens, was that, the housing projects over by the Lodge and they tore down what must have been half of them or so, half of the buildings. What is the future for subsidized housing in the city? Are they moving to more of a long-term?
PH: Yeah. That is the plan. I am not an expert in subsidized housing but I can tell you that the first thing that has to be resolved in the city is our relationship with HUD. The federal government has told Detroit that they will continue to withhold money for support of subsidized housing if we don? as a city clean up the administration of public housing.
The mayor is working with HUD and wants to, in effect, create a private housing agency. Today Detroit is one of only a couple major cities that has housing as a city agency. The mayor is probably headed to court because he has moved in the direction of privatizing the agency. City Council has opposed him and is suing him. So there is a lack of agreement in city government on how to deal with the administration of housing. In this case, I think the mayor is right. I mean, if we don? find a way to satisfy HUD, all of the talk about the need to address subsidized housing the city goes for nouhgt because our main source of money will be cut off.
TMD: The last question is how long do you expect to be doing this as head of Detroit Renaissance and do you foresee any eventual return to politics?
PH: I don? know. Now our children are twelve and nine. Now it? almost harder to think about going back now that I know how wonderful it is to have more of a private life and the ability to get home at night for dinner more often, to have some weekends to ourselves, to be a part of their soccer and all the activities they?e in.
I think as they get a little order I would be intrigued by the idea of returning somehow to the public sector. But for now I am not looking to jump right away because I am really happy doing what I? doing. Maybe with what happened on September 11 one of the things that will change for a good long time – I never say forever – but I do think we?e going to look at government differently again and maybe the public sector in the years ahead will have more of a constructive role.
Before September 11 I would?e told you that one reason I? so happy to be here as opposed to government is that there? been such skepticism about government that really I think increasingly the reaction in communities is through public-private partnerships where the nonprofit and private sector are getting much more involved. So I feel like I can accomplish as much at the local level, at the community level, through what I? doing now as I was able to do in Lansing. You know that may change in the next couple of years.
We may once again say that public policy is not only important but absolutely necessary to the solutions to some of these problems then maybe I? be more tempted to go back as our family grows older.